Bears fans enter the 2023 offseason full of optimism, and for good reason. The team currently has:
- Justin Fields, who took a big step forward in 2022, and looks poised for bigger things in 2023 and beyond.
- The first pick, which can be traded for a host of picks because they don’t need a QB.
- The most cap room in the NFL by over $30 million.
The 2022 season may have seen the Bears stumble to a league-worst 3-14 record, but fans are rightfully excited about the possibilities for improvement heading into 2023. Recent NFL history, however, tells us that we should temper our expectations for just how much better the Bears will be next year.
One Awful Season
Let’s start by looking at teams who had one awful season, similar to Chicago’s three wins in 2022. Over the last 15 years, dating back to 2008, there have been 33 teams who had 3 or less wins in a season. Here’s how the next year went:
- Average of 5.9 wins, median of six.
- Eight of 33 teams (24%) finished above .500.
- 11 of 33 teams (33%) had four or fewer wins.
That’s not very encouraging; fewer than one in four teams finished with a winning record, and more than one in three still lost at least 75% of their games the following year. If you’re more of a visual person, the graph below shows the range of wins for the teams in this sample.
As you can clearly see, the majority of teams who are as bad as the Bears were in 2022 stay pretty bad the next year. And of the eight who bucked the trend, six had a new head coach, new QB, or starting QB who was a rookie in the bad year and improved tremendously going into year two, when QBs historically make their biggest jump. The Bears don’t fit either of those profiles.
Back-to-Back Bad Seasons
Let’s expand the search now to look at teams that have had two consecutive bad seasons, similar to Chicago in 2021 (six wins) and 2022 (three wins). This shows that one bad year isn’t a fluke, but rather there is a clear talent deficiency on the roster that needs to be addressed.
Keeping the same sample since 2008, I found 32 instances where a team won six or fewer games in one year and then four or fewer the year after that. Perhaps allowing for a slightly less poor season in year two compared to the Bears’ three wins might allow for more optimistic comparisons.
Looking at the next year, which would be comparable to 2023 for the Bears, we get the following results:
- Average of 6.4 wins, median of six.
- Nine of 32 teams (28%) finished above .500.
- Nine of 32 teams (28%) finished with four or fewer wins again.
If you’re more of a visual person, the graph below shows the range of wins for the teams in this sample.
Just like in the one-year sample above, the majority of teams stay bad or mediocre the following year. And once again, most of the teams that turned it around (six of nine in this case) had a new coach, new QB, or QB leaving rookie status. Even then, only one of the nine teams who finished above .500 ended up with more than ten wins, so the ceiling on this turnaround seems to be more good than great.
The Wrap Up
No matter how you look at it, the majority of teams in the Bears’ position remain below average for at least one more year. The Bears have significant resources to improve this offseason, but also need a whole lot of improvement to even approach average.
A jump to around seven wins seems like a realistic form of improvement for the Bears, with perhaps reaching nine or ten wins, and thus being a low-level playoff team, being the most optimistic scenario. The Bears should be better in 2023 but are probably looking more realistically at having a chance to really be good in 2024 or 2025.