The Bears head into the upcoming season intent on proving they’re closer to the 12-4 record they put up in 2018 rather than the 8-8 disappointment they delivered last year.
But it’s not just about them.
Not only must the Bears deal with the many flaws that held them back last season, they have to climb over several teams ahead of them. And that’s just in the NFC. Here’s a look at where they stand amid the best and worst of the NFL:
This is only the beginning for Patrick Mahomes. He’s about to own the league for a decade, and the Chiefs are going to stack multiple championships on top of what they accomplished last season.
It’s probably the last stand for Drew Brees, but he’s on a run of five straight seasons with a triple-digit passer rating. He was second in the league in 2019 at 116.3. The Saints were as good as anyone in the NFC last season and aren’t done yet.
Baltimore’s quick exit in the playoffs was jarring after going a league-best 14-2 in the regular season. The Ravens still have an elite defense and one of the most electric offensive players in Lamar Jackson.
The surprise arrivals of Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski made the Bucs a trendy Super Bowl pick. There’s good cause for those projections considering the team went 7-9 last season with three losses of three points or fewer. But they had a bottom-five defense, so there’s still plenty to fix.
The 49ers had the third-best point differential in the NFL last season and had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl, but there remains a question of how far Jimmy Garoppolo can really take them. He completed just 37 passes over three playoff games.
Ever since their back-to-back Super Bowl appearances, the Seahawks have been hovering on the fringe of being a real contender. The range on this team is anywhere from making the NFC title game to missing the playoffs altogether.
Perhaps it’s the pedestrian quarterback play of Kirk Cousins or the Bears’ recent dominance in the rivalry, but it’s easy to forget the Vikings have the fifth-best record in the NFL over the last five years and have made the playoffs three times. They traded wide receiver Stefon Diggs, but replaced him with first-round pick Justin Jefferson.
A case could be made that Dallas was among the most talented teams in the league last season, so how is it possible the Cowboys staggered to 8-8 rather than run away with the NFC East? The coaching change might be just the thing to ignite them.
Say whatever you want about the Packers and their questionable offseason moves, but Aaron Rodgers is still there. He’s the best quarterback of all time and he’s going to keep them in the hunt.
Every team takes a hit when it loses a superstar, but the Patriots aren’t going to collapse because of Tom Brady’s departure. They had the top-ranked scoring defense in the league last season, and there’s still ultimate trust in Bill Belichick to oversee the transition.
Much like the Buccaneers, the Colts believe they’re ready to make a leap with Philip Rivers. They also traded for game-wrecking defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. In a season that began with Andrew Luck’s shocking retirement, they managed to go 7-9. With some serious upgrades, they’re headed back to the playoffs.
The best thing the Steelers did this offseason was getting Ben Roethlisberger healthy. He’ll be ready for the start of training camp, and that puts the Steelers back on the map. He rejoins a defense that was sixth in points allowed last season.
What’s going on with Carson Wentz? That’s the biggest question facing the Eagles now and possibly for the next decade. He missed time in 2017 and ’18, then was mediocre last season. They need him to be a star if they’re going to do anything significant.
As bad as it was for the Bears to pass on Deshaun Watson in the 2017 NFL Draft, what the Texans are doing is almost as alarming. There’s major concern about whether they’re capable stewards over this incredible talent, especially after dumping three-time all-pro DeAndre Hopkins.
The Browns might be the NFL’s answer to what happened with the Golden State Warriors when they went from Mark Jackson to Steve Kerr. There’s simply too much talent here, especially on offense, for this team to stay bad. Look for new coach Kevin Stefanski to get them in the playoffs for the first time since 2002.
The Bears think they made all the right moves this offseason. The rest of the country thinks they struck out. The truth is likely smack in the middle, and so is this team. How many good seasons begin with a quarterback battle between a draft bust and a journeyman?
There’s a lot to like about the Broncos. They have a strong defense under former Bears coordinator Vic Fangio and made some nice improvements offensively. Their fate hinges on how quickly quarterback Drew Lock progresses.
The Bills are like the Vikings in that most people don’t realize they’ve been decent the last few years. Buffalo has been .500 or better in four of the last six seasons. Some consider the Bills the favorite to win the AFC East now that Brady is gone.
Ah, the Bears’ long lost twin. Great in 2018, flop in 2019 and huge questions about their future at quarterback. There hasn’t been enough change with the Rams to see them doing any better than 8-8 this season.
It was quite a run in last season’s playoffs, but the Titans completely overreacted by throwing a $118 million contract at Ryan Tannehill. This team is an obvious candidate to backslide in 2020.
The succession plan for Rivers is impressive. Tyrod Taylor is a solid contingency as a short-term starter, and they took Justin Herbert sixth in the draft. If enough things go right, they could sneak into the playoffs.
The Raiders surprised a lot of people by winning seven games last season, but that looks like their ceiling until they make some big moves. They were bottom-10 in offense and defense last season, and it’s a steep climb from there.
The best thing the Cardinals have going for them is quarterback Kyler Murray. He had a promising rookie season as a passer and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. He’s on his way up and he’ll take his team with him.
The Dolphins are headed the right way, but it’ll take some time to reach the destination. A good draft and some heavy spending in free agency will help, but they’re still a year away.
This team is falling apart. The Falcons have been in steady decline since blowing that 28-3 lead in the Super Bowl and didn’t have enough salary-cap space to keep tight end Austin Hooper, let alone make meaningful renovations.
Teddy Bridgewater is too solid of a quarterback for this team to completely implode, despite all the tearing down the Panthers have been doing as part of their rebuild.
In case you haven’t checked in for a while, the Jets are still the Jets.
It’s the end of the road for coach Matt Patricia — and maybe quarterback Matt Stafford. Patricia is 9-22-1, and his Lions are bound for last place again.
The Giants weren’t good at anything last season. They’re still working through a rebuild that’s going to last at least another year.
Picture the Jets but in Florida.
All eyes are on No. 1 pick Joe Burrow, who takes over for Andy Dalton at quarterback. The Bengals have no intention of making a run at the playoffs this season. Burrow is the only reason to watch.
Last season was a success for the Redskins in the sense that they avoided going 0-16. They completed that miracle, by the way, thanks to narrow wins over three of the worst teams in the NFL: the Dolphins, Lions and Panthers.