The Chicago Bears finished the 2016 season with a 3-13 record. They then navigated the offseason by adding a mix of veterans, who project to serve as short-term starters, and draft picks, who aren’t expected to be starters in Week 1. The overhauled 2017 Bears, then, will start at least six new players when the season begins on September 10 against the Falcons.
Yet, despite the significant roster turnover and numerous question marks at various positions on the roster, the Bears aren’t expected to be the NFC’s worst team this season. In fact, they aren’t eve projected to be the worst team in their division. Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus unveils his first round of NFC projections for 2017, and the Bears can be viewed as a team on the rise.
Jahnke projects the Bears to finish with a 7-9 record in 2017, which would represent a four-win increase from a struggle-filled 2016 campaign. And, at 7-9, they’ll climb out of the NFC North cellar, too – as the Detroit Lions would hold that particular distinction with a projected 6-10 mark.
That would be quite the drop-off after a playoff season in 2016 where the Lions were one win away from hoisting the NFC North crown. Detroit would be one of three teams with worse records than the Bears, along with the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Rams finishing with identical 4-12 records.
So how do the Bears make a four-game improvement and get head coach John Fox to within one win of a non-losing season:
“In 2015 their best guard was Kyle Long, their best defensive lineman was Eddie Goldman, their best pass-rusher was Pernell McPhee, and their best cornerback was Kyle Fuller. All of them played fewer than 500 snaps in 2016 due to injury. They hit on 2016 draft picks halfback Jordan Howard (81.0), center Cody Whitehair (87.2), and linebacker Leonard Floyd (65.1). Both the offense and defense have a lot of pieces that haven’t played together before, but on paper this team is much better than their 3-13 record last year indicates.”
Earlier in the offseason, Fox offered up the idea that the Bears might not be too far away from being competitive. And when you dive into the revamped roster, the Bears have added talent and depth to put together what is arguably the best group of starters in the NFC North. Even Peter King of SI.com’s The MMQB believes the team is a well-quarterbacked season away from being a good team.
Surprisingly, there is a significant amount of optimism for a team that has won just nine games in two years. But with new faces throughout the roster who have upside and/or high floors, there are some things that are worth getting excited about. Of course, the number of new players could take a while to gel and that might sink the team’s optimism early in the season – especially when facing the most challenging part of its schedule. But it’s starting to become clear that the Bears are moving in a positive direction.
Even still, the Bears have a long way to go to catch the top of the class. PFF projects the Atlanta Falcons (12-4), Dallas Cowboys (10-6), Green Bay Packers (10-6), Arizona Cardinals (10-6), and Seattle Seahawks (10-6) to be the NFC’s five best teams.