With just days before the 2021 NFL season kicks off, the time has come to get the wheels turning on those projection machines, which will crunch some numbers and spit out forecasts for the year to come. And over at ESPN, they’re kicking it into overdrive with a projection module that simulates the season 20,000 times.
But there is just one that stands out above the rest — Simulation No. 13,330.
Simulation No. 13,330 begins as you might expect, with Andy Dalton as QB1 for the Chicago Bears. To make matters worse, this projection has the Bears limping to a 1-3 start. Seeing the Bears stumble out of the gates in a stretch that features two teams who didn’t make the playoffs last year stings (yes, even in a simulation). HOWEVER, it is this bottoming out that leads to a spark that will light the fire that brings joy to Soldier Field.
That’s because in Simulation No. 13,330, Justin Fields gets the nod after the Bears pull the plug on the Dalton experience. And while it isn’t immediately sunshine and rainbows as the Bears fall to 1-6 after Fields’ first three starts, this minor setback sets up for a major comeback. And with Fields being the catalyst, it’s got me dreaming about the big things that happen to allow for this particular simulation to finish with a Bears playoff berth.
Boom! A win against the 49ers at Soldier Field. Another one against the Steelers in a Monday Night Football matchup on the road against. Victories against the Ravens and Lions would soon follow. Ultimately, it would lead to a Week 18 showdown against the Vikings with a playoff spot on the line. And much like 2018 and 2020, Chicago’s football team disposes of Minnesota and dashes its postseason dreams. Darnell Mooney snags two touchdown passes, but it’s Eddie Jackson sealing the win with an interception against Kirk Cousins (hey, we’ve seen that before!) that gets the Bears a 20-16 win and spot in the postseason.
As a Bears fan, I’ll gladly accept this scenario playing out in reality. It would be the ultimate in-season comeback story. And that it would star Fields as the catalyst only gets me more juiced up about the possibilities. Think about it. The idea of Justin Fields saving the season and leading the team to the postseason *DESPITE* having a losing record is a tale that would make Hollywood executives blush. Just imagine the narrative surrounding Chicago’s next great hope pulling through and delivering upon arrival. Swoon.
Sure, making the postseason this way would come with potential complications. How would we view GM Ryan Pace after a losing season while simultaneously celebrating the team’s third playoff trip in four years? What would we want the Bears to do about Matt Nagy? Someone should get credit for the in-season rebound. Why not the coach who held it together? And I won’t even go down the rabbit hole of who to pay to keep a playoff team together while needing to build for the future. But in the end, that this possibility exists somewhere in the universe fascinates me. And I badly want it to play out this way in 2021.
Does this feel like a long-shot? I would say yes. But a soul-crushing Kirk Cousins interception in a prime-time game that seals the Vikings’ fate is one of the most realistic things a simulation has spit out. So pardon me if I don’t need to use my full imagination to envision this scenario playing out.