The Bears have been a tough team to predict under coach Matt Nagy.
In 2018, while some projected them as a potential breakout team, the Bears generally were ranked in the bottom 10 in most NFL power rankings, with a Vegas win total of 6.5 — and they went 12-4.
In 2019, even predictions of a modest regression were off target when they finished an uninspired 8-8.
So take it for what it’s worth that USA Today’s Nate Davis projected what might be a worst-case scenario for the 2020 Bears in his annual (and by his own admission, early) preseason predictions on Thursday — a plummet to 3-13 that still would not be bad enough to get Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence, the presumptive No. 1 draft pick. (Davis has the Giants going 2-14, which presumably would give them the option of dumping Daniel Jones or selling the No. 1 pick to the highest bidder.)
Of course, that’s still not a worst-case scenario to some Bears fans. A 3-13 season in 2020 would put the heat on Bears chairman George McCaskey and president Ted Phillips to fire general manager Ryan Pace and let a new GM start over with a top-five draft pick and likely a new coach.
Davis’ predictions drew the particular ire of Bears fans on Twitter, and the argument is pretty simple: The Bears’ top-10 defense is expected to be better with Robert Quinn instead of Leonard Floyd complementing Khalil Mack, with defensive end Akiem Hicks healthy and with linebacker Roquan Smith expected to take a significant leap after an uneven but still productive second season. And the offense might not be better with Nick Foles at quarterback, but it shouldn’t be worse. The NFC North doesn’t look any more difficult in 2020 than it was in 2019, so the Bears figure to be around 8-8 at worst.
So a 3-13 prediction seems pretty dire. But after last year’s disappointment, it’s tough to push back too hard. Many observers outside of Chicago were predicting the Bears to regress in 2019. It wasn’t outlandish but didn’t seem that likely. The Bears’ defense, which was the best in the NFL in 2018, returned virtually intact, except for Chuck Pagano replacing Vic Fangio as coordinator. Even if it didn’t replicate the 36 takeaways, it was still a formidable group with ample play-making ability. And after Nagy’s promising rookie season, the offense figured to take a natural progression in his second season. Rookie running back David Montgomery, they told us, was a better fit for Nagy’s offense than Jordan Howard.
As realistic as that sounded, the doomsayers were right. The Bears’ defense, while still a force, lost much of its bite, dropping from 36 takeaways to 19. The offense was a disaster, with Trubisky’s regression not a big surprise. But Nagy’s inability to do anything about it certainly was. In 2019, Nagy was the essence of the 21st-century, inventive offensive coordinator, with trick plays and outside-the-box thinking that figured to be enhanced as the offense matured. Instead, it all went backward, leaving Trubisky’s career in limbo and Nagy’s reputation stained.
With Foles in place, and Jimmy Graham and second-round draft pick Cole Kmet likely to upgrade the tight end position, which is key to Nagy’s offense, the Bears should avoid another drop-off. But with injuries, a disappointing offensive line, which is a huge X-factor, and Nagy closer to an unproven commodity than the next big thing, you never know. These are the Bears we’re talking about.
Then again, with all due respect to Davis, he had the Bears going 7-9 in 2018 and they went 12-4; he had them going 11-5 last year and they went 8-8. Like many of us, he has yet to be right about Nagy’s Bears. So there’s always hope. The Bears are tough to figure out. But you can never underestimate the unpredictability of the NFL.