Bold Predictions for Bears' 2021 NFL Season
The Chicago Bears made the playoffs in 2020 despite posting an 8-8 record. Forging a more formidable roster for the long term was an obvious goal this offseason, as the team made a few significant changes.
The most notable was parting with 2017 first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. The Bears brought in veteran Andy Dalton to replace him and traded up for Ohio State signal-caller Justin Fields.
A large portion of the 2021 season will be spent developing Fields as the quarterback of the future.
However, this doesn't mean that the Bears cannot also push for the postseason. They have been there twice in three seasons under head coach Matt Nagy and have many of the pieces in place to succeed. while Saturday's 41-15 preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills was disappointing, there is plenty of reason for optimism this season.
Here are three bold predictions for Chicago's upcoming campaign.
Chicago Will Have 2 1,000-Yard Receivers
Passing was not Chicago's strong suit with Trubisky and Nick Foles under center last season. The Bears finished ranked 22nd in passing yards and just 26th in yards per pass attempt. Yet wideout Allen Robinson II still managed to produce 1,250 receiving yards on the year.
Robinson is a virtual lock to again top the 1,000-yard mark. However, he isn't going to be the only Bears receiver to do so in 2021. Second-year man Darnell Mooney is set to explode as long as the Bears get better play from their quarterbacks this season.
Mooney, who compiled 631 receiving yards and four touchdowns as a rookie, has been one of the biggest standouts of Bears camp. Nagy recently praised both Robinson and Mooney.
"They're putting their own little flavor on things," Nagy said, per Larry Mayer of the team's official website. "We always say, 'Don't run the lines [in the playbook].' They're running the lines, but they're putting little stuff on it and it's getting them wide open."
Mooney should be in line to start for the entire season after starting only nine games in 2020. That, along with his second-year growth, a better quarterback situation and the new 17-game schedule, will make Mooney a 1,000-yard receiver.
Justin Fields Will Start at Least 8 Games This Season
While Fields is Chicago's future at quarterback, the Bears aren't going to rush him on to the field. The plan has been to start Andy Dalton in Week 1, and that has not changed through the preseason.
"We need to see him in the regular season," Nagy said of Dalton, per ESPN's Michele Steele.
Dalton can be the steady veteran who leads Chicago through the early portion of the schedule, but keeping Fields on the bench all year isn't going to happen. The rookie has too much upside, and it will be a surprise if he isn't starting after the Week 10 bye.
Sitting Fields early makes some sense. In the first nine weeks, Chicago has tough games against the Los Angeles Rams, Cleveland Browns, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Giving him that time to learn from the sideline could do a lot of good for the former Buckeyes standout.
However, Dalton is not the long-term answer in Chicago, and the Bears are going to want to get a look at what they have in Fields before season's end. Given the physical tools Fields has at his disposal, the Bears could decide midseason that the rookie also gives them a better chance to win games.
Dalton will hold down the job early, but expect Fields to start close to half of Chicago's games in 2021.
Chicago Will Have a Winning Record, Miss the Playoffs
Improved quarterback play will make Chicago a more balanced team in 2021. That should be enough to deliver at least a small improvement to the win total. However, while the Bears will go 9-8 or better this season, getting back to the postseason will be difficult.
Eight wins isn't going to be enough to make the playoffs this year. While two teams—Chicago and the 7-9 Washington Football Team—made the postseason without winning records in 2020, the competition level has been raised.
Washington, which added quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick this offseason, should be better. So will the San Francisco 49ers, who have players like Jimmy Garoppolo, Nick Bosa and Deebo Samuel returning from injury. The Arizona Cardinals should also be a factor in the NFC wild-card race.
And as long as Aaron Rodgers remains healthy and under center for the Green Bay Packers, Chicago isn't likely to win the NFC North.
Expect the Bears to remain in the wild-card hunt for most of the season, though they will fall short. Fans shouldn't be too upset, though, as they will still be a winning club with a bright future at the quarterback position.