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Will Bears Luck Run Out In 2011?

Why Are Experts Dissing Us?

One thing is clearly common in reading NFL previews: the Bears are not going back to the NFC Championship game.  Not only that, our team isn’t even going to return to the playoffs.

I’ve been trying to find out why everyone seems to be picking the Bears to fall this season.

In search of a legitimate opinion with insight, I’ve found something interesting concerning the Bears’ chances in 2011.

An eye-opening, jaw-dropping piece by Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com:

The Bears rode an awesome, unsustainable, life-affirming year of luck to the NFC Championship Game last season. Nobody can take that away from them. But let’s pick away at that record to reveal why they will be terrible in 2011.

Let’s start with the numbers. The Bears were 7-3 in games decided by a touchdown or less, and that includes a mostly meaningless loss to the Packers in Week 17. Winning close games at that rate is not a product of talent. In 2009, with virtually the same roster, the Bears were 3-5 in games decided by a touchdown or less. Since the strike season of 1982, there have been five other teams that were 7-3 in touchdown-or-less decisions in a given season. Those teams were 13-20 in those games the following year. That’s not a small-sample fluke, either. If you take the 135 teams since 1982 that won at least four games by a touchdown-or-less and put up a winning percentage in those games of .700 or better, those teams were 496-478 in close games the following year, a winning percentage of .509. In 2009, the four teams who fit that criteria were the Colts, Vikings, Raiders, and Chargers. They were a combined 22-4 in close games. They went 12-16 in 2010. There’s no real reason to think that the Bears will be bad in close games in 2011 (that’s the “Gambler’s Fallacy”), but there’s also no reason to think they will be particularly good in them, either.

The advanced numbers aren’t kind to the Bears, either. The Pythagorean method of using points scored and allowed to predict team performance pegged the Bears to be a 9.5-win team. Football Outsiders estimated that the Bears would have won just 8.2 games against an average schedule with average luck. Brian Burke’s Generic Win Probability stat said that the Bears would win an average of just 51 percent of their games against league-average teams at a neutral site.

Now, let’s throw in the common sense. Those wins included three victories over teams that were forced to play their third-string quarterback for part or all of the contest. Their Week 1 victory over the Lions needed the referees to wipe a perfectly good Calvin Johnson touchdown catch off the slate. Their 11 defensive starters missed a total of only eight games all season — three from Zack Bowman (who was promptly benched), one from Lance Briggs, and four from Pisa Tinoisamoa. Brian Urlacher missed more time in 2009 than the entire defense combined in 2010. That’s not going to happen again, especially with a team on which at least six of the defensive starters will be 30 or older in 2011.

Finally, there’s the harsh reality of the league’s taking away the one thing the Bears did best. The one consistent significant advantage Chicago has had over its competition over the past few seasons has been on special teams. The Bears averaged 25.4 yards per kick return last season, the second-highest rate in football. They were third in 2009 and fifth in 2008. That advantage is gone, and while there’s no doubt that Devin Hester will make a few scurries out of the end zone, chances are that he won’t contribute three touchdowns on kickoffs again. On the other hand, chances are that it won’t really matter. With an average amount of injuries and luck, the Bears would have been a mediocre football team in 2010. With a tougher schedule and the league’s new special teams rules coming their way in 2011, mediocre might be a stretch this season.


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