Going 7-10 this season would be a big accomplishment for the Bears

But only if they do it with Justin Fields throwing the ball.

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Bears quarterback Justin Fields throwing against the Lions last season.

The Bears need to find out how good Justin Fields can be as a passer.

Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images

The clear-eyed, sober view of the Bears is that a team that finished 3-14 last season will double its victory total in 2023. And, maybe, if things go right, they’ll pick up another win and go 7-10. Not a bad turnaround. There would be real reason for hope heading into 2024.

But clear-eyed sobriety over the team’s chances has never been associated with the team’s fans. If you ask a typical Bears loyalist how their beloved organization will fare this season, they’ll blow a .021 on the optimism breathalyzer. They’ll say 10-7 but hold out hope for 11 or 12 victories and at least one more in the postseason. An organized, inquisitive lot, they’ll want to know where the Super Bowl is for the ’24 season.

This is the kind of enthusiasm that fuels political conventions, Tupperware parties and personal-growth seminars. It feels good until you realize you’re the owner of a set of stackable plastic bowls that you don’t need.

Too many people want to skip a step in life, in this case the part where a team has to grind to get better. Winning four more games than the season before is a big accomplishment in the NFL, even if the previous rebuilding season produced three measly victories. As far as I can tell, the rationale for the optimism around town is that the Bears got better over the offseason. There’s some truth in that assertion. They traded the No. 1 overall pick they earned for being rotten in 2022 to Carolina and in return acquired DJ Moore, who has had 1,100 receiving yards in three of the past four seasons. That’s reason enough to believe there will be offensive improvement, though the idea of an improved line is still just that, an idea.

Here’s some more truth: Every single NFL franchise and every single fan base thinks their team got better in the offseason.

It comes down to the quarterback because it always does, everywhere, but especially in Chicago, which has been a penal colony for men who throw footballs. Much of the hopefulness and much of the hesitation about the 2023 Bears has to do with Justin Fields. Believers are sure this is the year he takes the big step they’ve been pushing him to make since the Bears drafted him in 2021. Skeptics would like to see him complete some passes before they put a crown on his head.

Let’s see if doubters and the zealots can find common ground in the following statement:

If Fields rushes for 100 yards and throws for 125 yards against the Packers in the season opener Sunday, it won’t be a victory for the Bears, no matter what the scoreboard says.

“Kumbaya,’’ on the count of three?

I didn’t think so.

The zealots will see the vanquishment of hated Green Bay as proof that the Bears are living in a wonderful new world devoid of Aaron Rodgers. They’ll reprise the oohs and aahs they let out last year when Fields was telling would-be tacklers that they wouldn’t be tackling him anytime soon. These Bears fans will care about the lack of passing yards about as much as they care about a lack of farmable land in the Loop.

The doubters will see Fields’ stat line as proof that the franchise is living in the same world it’s been living in forever, the one devoid of a 4,000-yard passer. They’ll say that the only thing that matters to the short- and long-term success of the franchise is if Fields learns how to throw accurately.

The doubters will be correct. The Bears need to get to seven victories this season with visible proof that they have someone who’s in the upper half of passing quarterbacks. Justin Fields the runner is entertainment. Justin Fields the passer is substance.

The easy thing to do here is to split the difference between 10-7 and 7-10 and say the Bears will win eight or nine games this season. That way you look optimistic without looking like a wild-eyed tent-revival preacher wearing an Urlacher jersey. But I want proof of the great improvement that the pro-Bears crowd takes on faith. I want to see progress out of a defense that was near the bottom in more than a few categories last year.

I want to know if Moore is going to catch 20 passes a game or if other receivers are thinking about offering field-side assistance.

The Bears will go 7-10 this season. Clear-eyed and semi-sober, that’s me.


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