OK, let’s get this out of the way right now: 2016 Bears record, per “View from the Moon (VFTM),” will be 10-6.
Now, before going into specifics, if this sounds vaguely familiar, that would be because your humble and faithful narrator has posited a 10-6 mark for several of the past half-dozen Bears seasons, with good reason, and with some degree of reasonable accuracy, with extenuating circumstances.
(Those would include 2010, when the Bears won the NFC North at 11-5; the 2011 season when the Bears were 7-3 and pulling away when Jay Cutler broke his thumb; Lovie Smith’s 2012 season, when the Bears finished precisely 10-6; the second Marc Trestman 2014 year, when the Bears were near-universally expected to take the next step from their 8-8 first Trestman year; and last season, when the Bears reached 5-6 and were favored to win the next two before Robbie Gould’s surprise misses and the likes of Alshon Jeffery and Pernell McPhee were damaged).
But enough about the past, except to say that safe predictions between 7-9 and 9-7 are boring, like kissing your pillow good night.
The time-honored methodology behind VFTM analysis has three chief components.
1. Grading on a curve
VFTM begins with grading on a curve, not vapid assessments of whether the Bears are “good” or “bad.” Those don’t matter. What matters is whether the Bears have gained on their rivals, particularly the divisional ones, via free agency, trade and the draft, or those rivals slipping. Or both.
By unofficial measure, the Bears have made up ground on each of the three NFC North members that finished above them in 2015. Two starting linebackers, defensive lineman and tackle mean already the Bears are better at nearly 25 percent of their positions, not including Kevin White at one wide receiver and a healthier Jeffery at the other.
More significant: Five of the six Bears-NFC North games last season (all but Minnesota II, which followed the San Francisco and Washington demoralizers) were decided by one touchdown or less, and the combined margins of those five games totaled 14 points. Meaning: The Bears did not finish beyond the reach of the division.
Finishing last in the division sets the Bears up with last-place finishers San Francisco and Tampa Bay in their only two games not set by NFL schedule formula. Both teams were in enough disarray to get their coaches fired.
Not only do the Bears draw those two bottom-feeders; they get the Bucs and 49ers at home, which cannot again be the problem it was for the Bears last year.
The Bears’ 2015 season came unhinged with those consecutive losses at home against seeming foils San Francisco and Washington, which took the Bears from the high of reaching 5-6 after a Thanksgiving Day win at Green Bay.
Those two games epitomized a colossal problem: winning at home. The Bears were a franchise-worst 1-7 at home, including L’s to all three NFC North rivals. That won’t happen again.
These are the miscellany that aren’t quantifiable numerically or with personnel moves. In this case, John Fox stands as most notable.
Fox improved the Carolina Panthers from one win in 2001 before he came, to seven in 2002, to 11 in 2003, his second year there. The Denver Broncos went from 4-12 in 2010, before Fox, to eight wins in 2011 to 13 wins in his second year with the Broncos. Based on Fox Math, teams improve by 4.5 from his year 1’s to year-2’s.
That would place the Bears at…10-6.
(There – that wasn’t so hard, was it?)