Jordan Howard has plenty to be confident about ahead of the 2018 season.
The Chicago Bears finally have a young, talented quarterback for the future: Mitchell Trubisky. They got rid of the questionable game managerial abilities of John Fox and hired Matt Nagy, a chip off the Andy Reid coaching block, to be the team’s new head coach.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio did well enough last season to interview for a head coaching job or take an assistant job elsewhere, but he’ll continue working with one of the league’s most underrated defenses. Mark Helfrich, the former University of Oregon head coach, was brought in as the Bears’ new offensive coordinator. Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota, coached by Helfrich at Oregon, put his stamp of approval on that transaction.
“He’s going to be a force for [the Bears],” Mariota told CBS Chicago about Helfrich. “Very lucky, for sure.”
Given all of the changes in the Bears’ organization, it’s very easy to see why Howard is soaring with confidence. The new league year hasn’t officially started yet, and the Pro Bowl running back is already guaranteeing a playoff berth.
“The Bears are definitely going to have a winning season,” Howard said during an appearance on NFL Network’s Good Morning Football. “We’re going to get to the playoffs. So I guarantee we get to the playoffs.”
A more realistic guarantee would be the Bears winning more games than they did last season. They should be a better-coached team, and they’ll get back many of the players they lost in last year’s injury-plagued season. They also have the opportunity to add talent through the draft and free agency.
The Bears are definitely improving, but playoff contention might be a few years away.
It would help if they weren’t competing in the NFC North, which has suddenly become a murderer’s row. The Minnesota Vikings have turned a corner after a deep playoff run last season, and Aaron Rodgers will be healthy and back behind center for the Green Bay Packers in 2018. Even the Detroit Lions could be more competitive next season under the guidance of Bill Belichick’s disciple, Matt Patricia.
Fox’s refusal to open the playbook for Trubisky makes the quarterback an enigma heading into his second season. The Bears also need to address the lack of dependable receiving weapons on the roster. Former first-round pick Kevin White lives on the injured reserve list, and the Markus Wheaton experiment was a complete bust. Kendall Wright was the team’s best receiver last season with only 59 catches for 614 yards and one touchdown. Cameron Meredith should be back at some point next season, but he’ll also return with question marks after a serious knee injury knocked him out all of last season.
There are far more questions facing the Bears than any other team in the NFC North.
“Football is football. We can compete with anybody,” said Howard. “We showed that in a lot of games last year. The Vikings, the first game they beat us by three points. The Lions beat us by three points. The Packers, we struggled with the first game; the second game we almost beat them. We can compete with anybody in the NFL. You’ve always got to be confident. If you’re playing the game, you might as well be confident. If you’re not confident there’s no reason to play.”
The Vikings, Packers and Lions all have the potential to be better than they were last season, leaving the Bears in a situation where they’ll continue playing catch-up. There’s too much ground to cover to have the kind of season Howard envisions.
The Bears making the playoffs is a heart-over-head prediction.