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Unpopular Opinions

Chicago Bears will make the playoffs again despite shaky start

Listen, I don't try to live my life as a contrarian. That's not true -- I kind of do. I spend a lot of time in public houses and taverns, and I have a two-hour commute that allows me to hear a lot of the sports world's most popular opinions. Sometimes, I think it's best to take a look at the other side.

In this space, I articulate positions that are the opposite of what most people think -- unpopular opinions, if you will -- and explain why, well, my unpopular opinions are right and everyone else is wrong. Below, I explain why the Bears are in worse AND better shape than it might seem.

The Chicago Bears are 3-2. And as a Bears fan, it sucks. But I'm here to tell you that it's not as bad as it seems right now.

Before we dive into that, let me explain -- especially to those of you who are fans of teams with actual losing records -- why Chicago's 2019 season has seemed like a disappointment thus far.

Yes, the Bears have won more games than they've lost. In fact, this is the same record they had after five games last season, which ended in an NFC North title and a playoff berth. But even after the 2018 Bears lost to the Dolphins to drop to 3-2, you knew that team was going to the playoffs. And really, it was just a missed postseason kick that kept them from going to the Super Bowl. (I know what I just wrote.) This year's second loss, a difficult-to-explain defeat to the Raiders in London, has cast this 3-2 start in a different light.

It's like how when you find $20 in your pocket: Sometimes you go, "This is just fantastic. Let's get some froyo!" And sometimes you say, "Hey, what happened to the other $80 that I had? And why does my mouth taste like cough medicine?"

I would go so far as to say I have never been so disappointed in a winning record since the final season of Lovie Smith's coaching career in Chicago. In a way, this is the fault of the current coach, Matt Nagy, who raised the expectation level in the Second City in 2019 after everything went so well in his first season on the job, with Chicago reaching the 12-win mark for the first time since 2006 and participating in the postseason for the first time since 2010.

Performing well out of the gate can be a curse for coaches. It's like dating. You don't want to go all Ted Mosby during your first date, steal a French horn and tell your date that you love them. Because you're going to have a hard time living up to that standard. Bears fans likely went into the season thinking about making a deeper playoff run than last season. Most fans of the Dolphins, by contrast, went into the season thinking about which college quarterback they were going to pick in the 2020 draft. So you see, it's very different.

As I hinted above, I'm trying to stay positive, which is rare for a Bears fan. (My dad blamed this tendency on me being raised in sunny Southern California and never having to shovel snow as a child because we moved from Schaumburg, Illinois before I was in first grade.) And I promise, we're going to get there! But before I can do that, even the cockeyed optimist in me must face some pretty harsh realities first.

Mitchell Trubisky has not been the quarterback a lot of us had hoped for. And believe me, we don't ask for a lot out of our quarterbacks. Mostly because we've lived through some bad play under center. I'm sure you've heard (or read) this from me previously, but the three best Bears quarterbacks of my lifetime, pre-Mitch, are, in order:

1) Jim McMahon
2) Jay Cutler
3) Walter Payton on the halfback option

Trubisky missed the loss to the Raiders after suffering a shoulder injury in Week 4, so you can't pin anything from that on him. (He could be back in time to face the Saints in Week 7.) But while he could someday approach that list above, so far in Year 3, he's been looking more and more like the modern-day Kyle Orton. In his first season under Nagy, Trubisky put up 230.2 yards per game with a 24:12 TD-to-INT ratio and 7.4 yards per throw. Instead of progressing as a quarterback, he's dipped significantly in each of those categories (193 yards per game, 3:2 TD-to-INT ratio, 5.6 yards per attempt) in his first three games this season.

(Yes, those are Rex Grossman-esque numbers, but trust me, nobody deserves to be compared to Rex Grossman. In fact, if I'm rounding out my list of best Bears quarterbacks of my lifetime, I'd leave four blank and say five is a tie with every other Bears quarterback in my lifetime who isn't Rex Grossman.)

And then there's the running attack. Rookie David Montgomery hasn't set the NFL on fire as we'd hoped when he was drafted in the third round, tallying 225 yards and two scores on 69 carries. Fellow rookie running back Josh Jacobs, taken in the first round by the Raiders, scored two touchdowns and posted 143 yards from scrimmage against the vaunted Bears defense in that London loss. And since I have eyes (and a fantasy team), I couldn't help but notice that former Bear Jordan Howard, traded to the Eagles in the offseason, was torching the (expletive) out of the Packers a few weeks back. This is far from ideal.

All of this has added up to a team that is scoring 17.4 points per game, which ranks 28th in the league -- marking a significant point of divergence between the Bears of today and the Bears of 2018. Like this year's 30th-ranked group, last year's Chicago squad struggled to pick up yards, ranking 21st in that category, but those Bears were at least able to score, ranking ninth with 26.3 points per game.

But now we get to our first ray of hope. I don't really blame the quarterback or the running back. Rather, it's on the offensive line, whose play -- Chicago ranks 18th in pass blocking and 29th in run blocking, according to Pro Football Focus' grades, after ranking fourth and 12th, respectively, last year -- has probably been the biggest surprise of the season. Because there is a lot of talent on that line, including past Pro Bowlers Charles Leno Jr., Cody Whitehair and Kyle Long. While many Bears fans likely have a scapegoat in mind in terms of who is at fault, I'll stop short of calling out a player by name. The bottom line is, there is too much talent up front for the line to continue to struggle moving forward. It's not unreasonable to expect the O-line to play up to the expectations I had for it entering the season, bringing the rest of the offense up to speed along with it.

Another positive: Allen Robinson is the superstar wide receiver we all deserve. He had seven receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns against the Raiders, and he's caught six or more passes for 60 or more yards in four of Chicago's five games thus far. If you watch the tape, you'll see he's been crushing it this year.

The defense, ranked fifth in yards and second in points allowed, is still really good, despite allowing the Raiders to become the first team to score more than 15 against them this year. But that was in London, and games in the UK are weird. Plus, as a Derek Carr fan, I'm not surprised he played well, so I'm not going to get too worked up about it. The Bears still rank fifth in DVOA, according to Football Outsiders, which would seem to belie any notions that this defense is regressing after a standout 2018 campaign.

And dare I be the one to point out that the team now has a kicker?! Yes, after Cody Parkey's ill-fated playoff boot left a black mark on the psyche of everyone even tangentially associated with this team, Eddy Pineiro is on his way to becoming a Chicagoland legend, having made all nine extra-point tries and eight of nine field-goal attempts. Keep it going.

I'm also a big believer in Nagy. I know some bitter Chicago fans think he could actually be the second coming of Marc Trestman (don't ever say that), but the dude can coach. Does he get too cute with some of his play-calling? Sure. He's like a point guard who would sometimes rather pull up for a 3-point shot instead of taking a sure-thing layup. But he's an Andy Reid disciple. Let's just be glad he can manage the play clock.

The fact that the NFC North is the best division in football by a wide gap might seem daunting. But let's not crown anybody just yet. The 4-1 Packers are on top for now, but new coach Matt LaFleur and quarterback Aaron Rodgers look like that couple at a dinner party who, while they are smiling, will both curse each other out when people are out of earshot. Kirk Cousins might be coming off his best game yet, but he hasn't exactly been lighting it up consistently for 3-2 Minnesota, and I'll just take this opportunity to point out that it looks like Chicago's receivers actually like their guy. As for the 2-1-1 Lions, well, they are the Lions. Which is a bit unfair, but even Lions fans will read that and be like, yeah, he's not wrong.

All of this is to say that, even with the Bears' 3-2 start looking shakier than last year's 3-2 start, and even with some foreboding matchups (vs. Saints, vs. Chargers, at Eagles, at Rams, vs. Cowboys, vs. Chiefs) on the schedule, they're still going to reach the playoffs.

So take this Week 6 bye to gain some perspective and come back at it next week. Oh, and make sure Howard is in your fantasy lineup.

Follow Adam Rank on Twitter @adamrank.

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