So much about sports talk rests on predictions. So of course one of the most difficult things in sports, year-to-year, is to do exactly that -- to predict just how good certain teams will be in the NFL. The league's huge amount of parity, high talent interdependence, and the widespread availability of replacement players at key positions -- think how easy it is, these days, to find a playable running back deep on the bench -- make the game impossible for mortals to figure out. The numbersmiths at Football Prospectus deserve credit just for getting close every year.
So it is with this year's Chicago Bears. Just what in the eff are the Bears doing, and how are they doing it?
The story should be this: A mediocre-to-bad bearded quarterback; a rookie running back; an aging offensive line with one impact player (Olin Kreutz); and a corp of wide receivers that, when their primary characteristic isn't "old" (Marty Booker), it's "slow" (Brandon Lloyd). A glance at the defense is better -- any team with Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher in all-purpose positions is going to be good -- but the Bears are still a less dominant defense than they were two years ago. And Tommie Harris is hurt again.
And yet, somehow, the Bears beat what has looked like a very good Eagles team last night. What's more, they actually looked like the better team. Same goes for Indianapolis before that. And, despite the loss, maybe even at Tampa Bay. Despite an overwhelming abstract feeling that the Bears should be just as bad as the Rams and the Raiders and the Chiefs -- somehow, they're not.
It's still early, but yesterday confirmed that the Bears can be good again.