Justin Fields

3 reasons why the Chicago Bears can go from worst to first in NFC North

It’s hard for a dedicated fan base to escape the conflicting emotions surrounding the subtly silver-lined heartache of finishing dead last in the NFL. Chicago Bears fans know this position all too well, especially after the gut-wrenching 3-14 finish to the 2022 season.

But, as many fans and analysts have recognized, there were many positive takeaways from a season that had a disastrous record on paper.

Fields’ growth, offseason acquisitions, and close competitive losses are just some of the aspects from the 2022 season that have given fans hope for the future, but how will all of these things transpire in 2023? Can the Chicago Bears win the NFC North? Here are three reasons they can go from “worst” to “first.”

Justin Fields’ Growth

Justin Fields’ Growth

The Year 3 “breakout” season is a growth trend among elite quarterbacks in the NFL. If we look at players like Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, whose stats were comparable after 20 starts, it shows that Justin Fields is on the trajectory for a breakout season – especially after his strong finish in 2022.

The numbers don’t lie. Josh Allen posted a 52.8% completion rate and a QBR of 49.8 in his 12-game 2018 debut season, along with 10 TDs and 12 INT. Those numbers improved in 2019 (aside from a slight dip in QBR); and in 2020, the numbers sky-rocketed, with a completion rating just shy of 70%, a QBR of 76.6 and 37 TDs to 10 INT.

Similarly, Jalen Hurts debuted in 2020 with a 52% completion rating, a borderline-abysmal QBR of 33.8 with just 6 TDs and 4 INT – all in 15 games. Like Allen, those numbers improved the following season before peaking in Year 3. Hurts posted a 66.5% completion rate with a 66.4 QBR, 22 TDs, and 6 INT.

Last season, in his second year, Fields posted a 60.4% completion rate with a 54.0 QBR. Expect those numbers to jump with additions DJ Moore and Robert Tonyan, along with the reliable Darnell Mooney. They are expected to be fully healthy by the season opener, and a hungry Chase Claypool donning a “prove it” mentality. The weapons are there. The wide-receiver room is trending upwards.

Strength of Schedule

Strength of Schedule

The Bears lock in around the middle of the league in terms of strength of schedule, but their opponents in 2023 collectively average a .497.

While their opponents averaged a .471 in 2022, it’s relatively close to similar opposition. Now factor in the bolstering of offensive weapons, O-line, and the fact that seven of their losses last year were decided by one score. I’m loving the sub-.500 opponent record average paired with all of these offseason improvements.

NFC North Shake-Up

NFC North Shake-Up

The Aaron Rodgers departure is the obvious big change (and quite the dagger) for the reigning Green Bay Packers. A questionable Jordan Love at the helm makes the Packers look like a top candidate for “first to worst” (more so than any other division winner). The loss of Allen Lazard also strikes a prime weapon from the “new” quarterback, making things look tough for Green Bay in 2023.

While the Dalvin Cook drama is the main headline in Minnesota, let’s not forget about the major loss that the Vikings assuredly sustained this offseason: Adam Thielen. Yes, Justin Jefferson is still (obviously) elite; but the loss of Thielen makes double coverage on the passing game much more manageable for opposing teams. Thielen hauled in 70 receptions and 6 TDs compared to Jefferson’s 128 and 8. It’s a significant loss for Kirk Cousins, and with Cook heading elsewhere, Alexander Mattison will have his work cut out for him in the ground game. Also, remember that 11 of their 13 wins were decided by one score last season. Losing these key weapons will see some of those close wins turn to losses this year.

That leaves the Lions – and honestly, this could be a toss-up. I’m not entirely sold on experts pushing them as division winners, let alone NFC contenders. Dan Campbell is a great coach. I’ve been proven wrong about Jared Goff’s ability on several occasions. But while David Montgomery will help the ground, the loss of D’Andre Swift certainly hurt their running game. They were formidable down the stretch last season after an abysmal start, but that inconsistency, paired with a 2nd-place schedule in 2023, make them a fairly unpredictable team. And in terms of quarterback trajectory, offseason moves, and manageable opponents, I lean in favor of the Bears rather than the Lions in all three categories. Regardless, I am not buying the 13-14 wins some analysts project for this team.

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