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Speculation Station: Who Will Rise? Who Will Fall? Who Could be a Dark Horse Contender?

| March 5th, 2018

All right, Bears fans. We’re still a couple weeks out from the official start of free agency, and while a few noteworthy cuts, extensions, trades and franchise tags have all taken place we’re still pretty much just…. waiting.

I’m not a data wizard like John, nor covering a lot of breaking Bears news like Andrew, so I’m diving headfirst into the deep, consequence-free waters of speculation. Think of this article more like a conversation between two drinking buddies at the bar. Open a beer while you read if it helps, and come join me! The waters are warm and not to be taken too seriously.

This week we’re talking about expectations. More specifically, two teams I think will exceed expectations in 2018, and two I think are heading towards disappointment. I also picked one (wild guess, complete dark horse, probably doesn’t stand a chance, but what the hell, it’s March?) team that I feel on a gut level might have a breakthrough year.

I tried to mostly steer clear of the super obvious (by that I mean I didn’t pick the Browns to still be terrible), and it goes without saying (but I’m going to say it, anyways) that moves made in free agency and the draft, along with the other 50 million variables that might change a course of a season, could greatly affect my views on these five teams come the start of the season.

For now these are my predictions:

Two Teams Primed to Improve

Chicago Bears

I mean, this is DBB, guys. Obviously I’m going to include them. Most every fan has it in their hearts that *this year* is going to be *the year* their team gets awesome, right? The great news for Bears fans is this year we actually do have a lot to be excited about! Including:

  • A talented young QB who has the potential to make a significant leap from Year 1 to Year 2.
  • A new energetic head coach and a high quality support staff bound to inject energy into the locker room.
  • A good amount of cap space so Pace can target quality players that can do things like “run routes” and “catch the ball”.
  • Prestige and history that comes with playing for a franchise as distinguished as the Bears makes Chicago a very attractive location for top free agents.

Add a few more guys via FA and the draft to shore up our offensive line and strengthen our defense, and you’re looking at a competitive young team dying to show the rest of the league they’re ready to be taken seriously. Now I’m not quite as optimistic as Andrew, or Jordan Howard for that matter, but the Bears *are* going to be markedly better this year, and they’re going to be fun to watch.

San Francisco 49ers

OK, this one is kind of obvious, but they’ve got to be included. After spending the last few years at the bottom of the NFC West, things in San Francisco are definitely trending up. I’m not sold on the whole “John Lynch is playing seven-dimensional chess as a GM” hype, and I also realize at some point Jimmy G will actually lose a game, and probably go through a rough patch, just like every other QB in recorded history. Still, I think we’ve seen enough of him to buy into the idea that the man has some serious skills.

So the like the Bears, the 49ers have:

  • A talented, young QB.
  • A similarly talented and young offensive-minded coach.
  • A prestigious football history.
  • A very attractive landing spot for free agents.

San Francisco also stands to benefit from the changing dynamics of their division. The Seahawks are no longer the uncontested champions of the NFC West. The Rams had a breakout year in 2017, but it’s too early to say whether or not that success will be sustainable. Then there’s the Cardinals who just got a new head coach, and are on the lookout for a new starting QB. It feels like it could be a rebuild season for them, but if they find the right quarterback, who knows? Either way, while I don’t know if they’re playoff bound in 2018, I expect the 49ers to be relevant in their division late into the season.


Two Good Teams That Will Struggle

Seattle Seahawks

This one stings a little. I live in the heart of Seahawks country, and I fear next season is going to be a big disappointment for many of my family and friends.

The Seahawks haven’t quite been the same team since their Super Bowl loss to the Patriots in 2014, but the weakness of their division, coupled with some impressive end-of-season runs, kept up the appearance of dominance. They made the playoffs the next two years, and advanced through the wild card round both times, but ended up getting crushed in divisional games both times. This year they didn’t even make the playoffs. It was disappointing, but it wasn’t really a surprise. Why?

  • They haven’t had a reliable run game since Marshawn Lynch left.
  • Their offensive line is God awful and, apart from a mid-season trade to acquire Duane Brown from the Texans, Seattle seems hell bent on investing nothing to fix it. Literally half of their offensive plays are just Russell Wilson scrambling for his life for 30 seconds before heaving the ball downfield. It’s worked far more often than it really ever should, but it’s ridiculous and clearly not sustainable.
  • The lauded “Legion of Boom” is now bruised, busted, and possibly on it’s way towards splitting up. Rumors are swirling that Richard Sherman and/or Earl Thomas might be traded, and even if both manage to stay, injuries have made it unlikely they’ll be the same. The Seahawks have always had a certain undisciplined streak on defense. They’ve always racked up a lot of penalties, but they were so good at shutting down basically every offense they came up against it didn’t matter. They’re still daunting, but they aren’t impenetrable, and they are starting to look more and more untethered.

I’ve watched almost every Seahawks game the last five years, and I’ve got to tell you this year was the first year it just wasn’t any fun. I mostly felt a mixture of boredom and frustration. This is coming from someone who, by the way, can get into almost any game or match of any sport if it’s on in front of me for more than 10 minutes.

The whole vibe coming off the Seahawks last year was bad, and I don’t think it’ll be better in 2018.

Pittsburgh Steelers

Yeah, I admit this one might be a bit of reach, but I just have a gut feeling the Steelers will struggle in 2018. My reasoning?

  • Maybe it’s the uncertainty surrounding two of their best players: Antonio Brown and Le’veon Bell. This is less about whether or not they’ll get traded, I fully expect both will return in 2018, though it’s possible they won’t. But the team dynamics, especially when it comes to Brown seem fraught and toxic. When your own coach publicly calls you “selfish” and “foolish” it’s clear some tension exists. Still, they played through whatever inner turmoil they were dealing with last year and ended up going 13-3. This alone isn’t enough of a reason to doubt them.
  • Maybe it’s because Big Ben is old and broken? He’s 36, and his body has taken one hell of a beating over the years. He seems like he’s one bad hit away from literally just exploding into a pile of dust on the field. His stats haven’t changed much, and there’s no denying his talent, but I just don’t think he has that much left in the tank, physically or emotionally, for that matter.
  • They gave up 45 points to Jacksonville. At home. In the playoffs. I know we’re talking about the new and improved Jags here with a solid defense, an impressive rookie RB, and a version of Blake Bortles that doesn’t average seven interceptions a game, but still. The Steelers defense isn’t anything to write home about. The loss of Ryan Shazier absolutely hurt them, and their current salary situation doesn’t give them a lot of room to add any big defensive free agents in 2018 (especially if they sign Bell to a long-term deal).
  • They lost to Mike Glennon. They. Lost. To. Mike. Glennon. I mean, technically they lost to Tarik Cohen (before defenses could easily read how the Bears were going to use him) and the Bears defense, but still. Being the only team Mike Glennon beat as a starter for the Bears just seems like an ominous sign of things to come….. (Note: To like the five Glennon defenders on here, this is meant to be taken as a bit of a joke…)

The Steelers still have a ton of talent on the team, and they benefit by not playing in a particularly strong division. (As of now, my reaction to the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns remains a resounding “meh” often veering into “lol” territory.) They could absolutely put together another winning, playoff-reaching season, but *if* they do indeed struggle, I won’t be the least bit surprised.


Team I Think Will Have a Really Good Season

Because Why the Hell Not?

Detroit Lions

I don’t know, guys. This is 95% speculation and 5% legitimate reasons. I mean it’s not like the Lions have been terrible the last two years. Consecutive 9-7 seasons with a a trip to the playoffs in 2016 is pretty decent considering what we Bears fans had to endure during the same time period. Still, they failed to capitalize on opportunities, and were disappointing enough that they fired head coach Jim Caldwell at the end of last season (a move I didn’t agree with). So why do I think (or rather feel) they could surprise the league in 2018?

  • Matt Patricia. I have no idea if Matt Patricia is going to be a good head coach or not. Success as a coordinator is far from a guarantee of similar success at HC. I do know he’s got a hell of a football mind, he’s a fantastic problem solver, and he’s got to be eager to prove himself as worthy head coach material.
  • Matthew Stafford is a legitimately good quarterback. I know half of you are scoffing at that, but I like Stafford, and it’s not just because I’ve got a soft spot for the gunslingers. In his last two seasons he’s managed to cut down on his turnovers and play smarter, while still being able to sling it, posting his career best QB rating last year. I think he still has room to improve. If he stays healthy next season, and the Lions find him a running back to help carry some of the burden, I think he could do some really special things for his team.
  • The NFC North has the potential to be a toss up in 2018. I agree with Andrew on the state of the NFC North, although I’m clearly much higher on the Lions than he is. Green Bay and Minnesota go in as the favorites, but their vulnerabilities are also clear to see. Every team in the division has a shot in 2018, which brings me to my last point…
  • Shit happens. In the last few years the Cubs and the Astros have won the World Series, the Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors, Sergio Garcia won the Masters, Leicester City became Premier League Champions, and the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl. Cinderella stories happen in sports all the time. Sometimes you have to wait 108 years, and sometimes all it takes is a good offseason. Maybe it’s just Detroit’s time.

OK, that’s it for now. Let me know all the ways you think I’m completely wrong (I’m sure I am!), and share all of your crazy bold predictions for 2018. This is the time of the year where people take their football opinions way too seriously, so have some fun with it and remember, your guesses are almost always just as valid as people who get paid millions of dollars to spout theirs on national television.

Cheers!

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