There has been a growing feeling among local and national media alike this offseason that the Bears are a team on the rise. Several writers have pegged them as one of the most improved teams in the NFL through both the draft and free agency. Peter King recently declared they had “the best offseason of any team in football.”
It’s no secret that the writers for this site all agree the Bears are poised to make a jump in 2018 (though I have cautioned against letting expectations get too high), but today I want to address the elephant in the room: health.
To put it frankly, the Bears can’t expect to be better than the last few years unless they can find a way to stay healthier. In the last four seasons, Chicago has won 5, 6, 3, and 5 games, and in that time they have consistently been among the most injured teams in the NFL, ranking 27th, 28th, 32nd, and 31st in Football Outsiders‘ Adjusted Games Lost (AGL) metric. This is a useful metric because it weighs starters as more valuable than backups and accounts for playing through injuries as well (click the link above for a more detailed description of how it’s calculated).
By the Numbers
In an attempt to quantify the impact injuries have on team performance, I looked at how well teams did compared to how they ranked in the AGL for that season. I looked at the last five years, giving a sample size of 160 teams, and split them into quartiles (8 teams per group per year, so 40 total). Results can be seen in the table below.
[Editor’s Note: Nope, you’re not alone. I had never heard the word “quartile” either.]
These results clearly show the importance of staying healthy.
Teams in the top half of AGL account for 2/3 of playoff teams and 70% of 10+ win teams in the last five years, while only accounting for 30% of 10+ loss seasons in the same time span. Half of teams that have average or better health make the playoffs.
There’s clearly more that goes into team success than just health, but it’s an important factor, and one the Bears have struggled mightily in over the last five years. If they want to take a step forward, they need to stay healthier.
Can it be fixed?
The good news is Ryan Pace has admitted health is a problem and taken steps to improve it.
- He fired the Bears’ old training staff.
- He brought in the well-regarded Jason Loscalzo to be the strength and conditioning coach, with Andre Tucker taking over as the head athletic trainer. Tucker has been a trainer in Cleveland the last 8 years, and the Browns ranked around average overall in health over the last five years (an average of 15th in AGL over that timespan).
- If you believe health is more about players than trainers, Pace also sent frequently injured players like Pernell McPhee, Willie Young, Josh Sitton, and Jerrell Freeman packing this offseason, though frequently injured players like Kevin White, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long, and Danny Trevathan remain on the roster.
Bears fans can only hope these moves pay off. Even a jump up to average health could have a significant impact on the Bears’ fortunes. Because no matter how much the talent level appears to have increased on Chicago’s roster, it won’t translate to the field if they remain among the most injured teams in the league.