Chicago Bears 2023 season preview and predictions
This appeared in the original VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on June 29, 2023.
Matt Youmans: Either you believe in Justin Fields, or you think the Bears are fooling themselves by believing he’s a true franchise quarterback. Chicago general manager Ryan Poles shipped the No. 1 overall pick in a trade to pile up draft picks, acquire a No. 1 receiver in DJ Moore and start using a massive amount of salary-cap space to rebuild the roster. This team is on the rise, but that’s easy to say for a team at the bottom. The Bears lost their final 10 games to finish 3-14, including 0-6 in the division. Fields has a stronger supporting cast, so it’s time to start winning.
Start with the bad news for the Bears — their offense ranked a distant last in passing yards (130.5 ypg), and Fields was sacked a league-high 55 times. The good news is Chicago led the NFL in rushing (177.3 ypg) by a wide margin with Fields running for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. The trade with Carolina that brought in Moore will be a big help to Fields, who has improved receiving options with Moore flanked by Chase Claypool and Darnell Moody and tight ends Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan. Running back David Montgomery bolted for Detroit as a free agent, but Khalil Herbert, D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson are talented runners. The biggest concern is the offensive line. First-round pick Darnell Wright from Tennessee is slated to start immediately at right tackle. The development of the line and Fields’ ability to mature as a passer will be the keys to the car moving more effectively after the Bears ranked 23rd in scoring (19.2 ppg).
While most debates about the Bears start with Fields, the defense must make the most improvement after ranking last in the NFL in scoring (27.2 ppg) and sacks (20) and 31st in rushing (157.3 ypg). Poles signed end DeMarcus Walker and linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Veteran safety Eddie Jackson returns to lead a promising secondary that includes safety Jaquan Brisker and corners Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Johnson. The defense has a long way to go, but it’s getting there, and Poles needs another year to continue rebuilding.
On a Monday night in late October, Fields passed for 179 yards and a touchdown, rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown, and the Bears pounded the Patriots 33-14 as big road underdogs. Chicago rushed for 243 yards against Bill Belichick’s defense in one of the most stunning results of the NFL season. That’s how good the Bears could be when it all clicked. Of course, it all soured after that as the team lost 10 in a row to finish the season. The schedule is soft enough, starting with games against the Packers and Buccaneers, for Chicago to find hope for a quick turnaround. It also helps that Aaron Rodgers, who owned the Bears with a 22-5 record against them, is gone from Green Bay. Fields is not surrounded by the same type of team Jalen Hurts had in Philadelphia last year, so that comparison of young quarterbacks falls short. The bottom line is it’s tough to predict a three-win team to make the leap to eight wins, so look Under 7.5 on the win total.
This appeared in the Updated VSiN NFL Betting Guide released on August 31, 2023.
Michael Lombardi: This summer, a quick receiver screen and check down to the running back in the Bears first preseason game has created a sensation not seen in Chicago since 1936, when 120,000 fans turned out to watch Billy DeCorrevont play his final high school football game. (You can learn more about Billy and others in my new book, Football Done Right, coming to your favorite bookseller on September 5th.) Starting quarterback Justin Fields is the new hero in town (sorry Billy), and all the Bears fans' hopes are attached to him being great.
What has been ignored this summer has been whether the Bears' defense can improve. In the first preseason game, when everyone including our Femi Abebefe was starstruck with Fields, the Titans with Malik Willis at quarterback moved the ball down the field against most of the Bears' defensive starters. It was concerning for someone like me who is highly skeptical of the Bears' defense which must rely on turnovers more than forcing stops. Remember in head coach Matt Eberflus’ last year as defensive coordinator in Indianapolis, the Colts ranked 16th in yards allowed but second in forcing turnovers. Yards can be accumulated in his defensive scheme as prodding the ball out is the main point of emphasis.
Player to Watch: WR Chase Claypool
General manager Ryan Poles had plenty of salary cap space to play with, and he spent wisely, with his biggest splash coming on the trade that netted him wideout D.J. Moore. The connection between Fields and Moore has been fantastic throughout training camp, but don’t sleep on Chase Claypool. Before suffering a minor injury, Claypool was looking unguardable in training camp at times. Moore’s placement as the team’s top receiver should create opportunities for Claypool and Darnell Mooney, and tight ends Cole Kmet and Robert Tonyan have flashed during camp too. Overall, Fields is primed for a nice improvement over last year’s pedestrian passing numbers now that he’s in Year 2 of the offensive scheme, and this team can still lean on the rushing attack. - Lester A. Wiltfong Jr., Windy City Gridiron (@wiltfongjr)
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