Chicago Bears Bold Prediction Time

“Hope springs is eternal” is an often-used axiom when MLB players convene for spring training each new season. The Bears can certainly apply that turn of phrase now that Caleb Williams has been named the team’s No. 1 quarterback. Williams represents a new hope of sorts. Chicago has an alleged quarterback curse, and the rookie is expected to break that.

However, there is a lot more to the 2024-25 Bears than just Williams. Chicago finished 7-10 last season, including four losses decided by a touchdown or less. The Panthers finished with the NFL’s worst record, giving the Bears the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft. Chicago drafted Williams with that pick and then selected Rome Odunze at No. 9. GM Ryan Poles also added WR Keenan Allen and OL Ryan Bates via trade, and he signed RB D’Andre Swift and TE Gerald Everett in free agency. WR D.J. Moore and TE Cole Kmet will also flank Williams in Chicago’s offense.

Further, the Bears finished with one of the top scoring defenses in the league after acquiring DE Montez Sweat mid-season from the Commanders. When that move was made, Chicago ranked 28th in scoring defense (27.3 ppg) and 23rd in total defense (341 ypg). From that point through the end of the regular season, Chicago ranked sixth in scoring defense (17.9 ppg) and 10th in total defense (309.2 ypg). With most of the band back together for the coming season, Eberflus and Co. should field another stout defense.

Yes, hope springs eternal, so let’s make some bold predictions for the upcoming season.

Poles Will Extend Head Coach Matt Eberflus

A lot of Bears fans dislike Eberflus and rightfully so. He’s led Chicago to a 10-24 record since replacing Matt Nagy and burned through his first QB1, taking just two seasons to do that. Justin Fields was traded to the Steelers as soon as Poles knew Williams was his guy. Eberflus has also burned through his first set of offensive and defensive assistants since arriving. The upcoming season rests squarely on his shoulders.

That said, we can dismiss the Bears record since Coach ‘Flus took the reins. Chicago tanked through much of his two seasons, and because of that, didn’t find its identity until halfway through last season. Eberflus directly reflects the character of this team, specifically on defense. He is a strong leader of men and is a very good coach when given the personnel that fits his system. He’s one defensive tackle shy of having the right players in place, though he needs some depth, too.

Team president Kevin Warren preached continuity as soon as the 2023-24 season ended. Most fans thought he was talking about Fields, but I believe that was a vote of confidence concerning Eberflus. The head coach will be extended unless the upcoming season quickly falls off the rails.

“This is reminiscent of the process that we went through in St. Louis,” Warren said at the time. “It’s reminiscent of the process we went through in Minnesota. There were many times that we were in meetings and we would say, ‘We’re not making enough progress too quickly,’ and we would have to take a step back and say: ‘But are we on the right track, and are we focused on the right things?’ And as I sit here today, unequivocally, I believe that we have the right set of individuals …

“It just seems like that third year is a critical year for having things start to meld. I’m extremely confident because I’ve lived this before. I understand how it galvanizes an organization, a football team, a city, and a fanbase when you’re able to go through very difficult times and be deliberate, be fair, make good decisions, be forward-thinking, have innovation, and bring in the right people who can help you be a champion not only in the community, on the field but also in this business.”

Expect Warren to extend Poles before his contract is up, too.

A Breakout Star Will Emerge on Defense

Sweat made the defense a whole lot better last year, but the unit has been trending up after taking a significant step back. Poles shed the team of Khalil Mack once he arrived, and wasted no time in trading stars Roquan Smith and Robert Quinn. Everybody expected the GM to immediately build an offense around Fields, but his first draft picks were Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker.

Last year, most fans expected Poles to take NT Jalen Carter, but he traded down and chose OL Darnell Wright instead. The executive loves to zig when everybody thinks he’s going to zag, and Poles operates best when he keeps analysts on their heels. He has a plan in place, but won’t reach to fill a need. Chicago could have drafted Carter, DE Lukas Van Ness, or DT Calijah Kancey, but Poles had a much higher grade on Wright, so he was the pick.

DT Gervon Dexter was selected with the second-round pick Poles acquired from the Ravens for Smith. CB Tyrique Stevens was chosen three picks later. Stevenson had a great rookie season, but Dexter was worked slowly into the defense. The rookie tackle split snaps between Andrew Billings, Justin Jones, and fellow rookie Zacch Pickens at the position. The starting position is his to lose this year, and Dexter is a bona fide breakout candidate.

Dexter finished the season with 2.5 sacks, 20 combined tackles, 12 QB hits, and two pass deflections. His 11.9 pass rush win percentage ranked third among rookie interior defensive linemen trailing only Carter and Kobie Turner. Both were finalists for the 2023 Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Dexter finished the season with a 65.9 pass-rush grade but had a disappointing 36.2 run-defense grade. His overall grade of 50.9 ranked 20th among the Bears’ defensive players.

Sweat believes the second-year three-technique will be a force this season.

“You’re gonna see man. He’s pretty good,” Sweat said about Dexter. “I feel like he’s still just kind of unlocking himself and being himself. And I think that’s gonna really flourish this year, but he’s a really talented kid. He’s one of those quick [defensive] tackles and was strong as hell. It’s really is really a sight to see. But yeah, he’s gonna jump out on the scene for sure.”

Poles didn’t sign or draft a replacement for Jones, who joined the Cardinals as a free agent. That’s telling. Dexter will be a beast this season if he improves his run defense.

The Bears Will Have a Top NFL Offense

A high-powered offense in Chicago is about as rare as a cold day in Death Valley. Poles has supplied Williams with a plethora of weapons that would make any quarterback successful (or envious). That includes Fields and Mitchell Trubisky, of course, but heck, you could make a case for Mike Glennon, Jimmy Clausen, Jason Campbell, and Matt Barkley, too. Okay, maybe not.

Williams alone is a massive upgrade, but a mix of Moore, Allen, Swift, Kmet, Everett, and Rome Odunze gives Chicago strike-at-any-moment potential. The offensive line will need to play better, but the weaponry is in place. Shane Waldron will be a big upgrade over Luke Getsy, too.

The Bears are 4-14 under Eberflus when they and their opponents combine for 44 points or more but were within one score of winning six of those games. That’s going to change this season.

Williams Will Be Named Offensive Rookie of the Year

Williams will split some votes with Odunze, and he’ll face fierce competition from Jayden Daniels, Drake Maye, Marvin Harrison Jr., Malik Nabers, and Brock Bowers. None of those players have the supporting cast that Williams does.

C.J. Stroud won the award last season after leading the Texans (10-7) to the playoffs. He finished the season with 4,108 passing yards and 23 scores, completing 319 of 499 attempts. I’d pump the brakes a tad on a 4,000-yard season by Williams, only because it’s never happened in franchise history, but he has the weapons to do so. The rookie will need to average 242 passing yards per game to reach that benchmark. Fields eclipsed that mark six times in 40 games; Trubisky did it 20 times in 65 games with the Bears.

Poles Could Trade Two More Starters This Season

Chicago’s third-year GM has jettisoned nearly every player he inherited from the previous regime. Kmet and Jaylon Johnson earned contract extensions but Poles’ confidence in the team he was given is apparent. He traded Fields, Mack, Smith, and Quinn, and let Marcus Robinson, David Montgomery, Eddie Jackson, and Darnell Mooney leave via free agency. Two players will start the 2024-25 season on Poles’ bubble: Teven Jenkins and Khalil Herbert. Both are entering the final years of their rookie contracts and both were drafted by Ryan Pace.

Both are good players who have been hampered by injuries throughout their careers. The Bears need Jenkins more than Herbert, but need has never stopped Poles from dealing a player: Smith and Quinn are perfect examples. I doubt Poles will offer either an extension, so a trade is a very strong possibility if both players stay healthy. That said, Jenkins and Herbert probably won’t return next year even if neither is dealt.

The Bears Will/Will Not Make the Playoffs This Year

Chicago lost five winnable games last season but overcoming those types of losses is a bigger leap than one might expect. The Bears have a rookie starting at quarterback and play in one of the league’s toughest, youngest divisions. The Packers are led by Jordan Love and made the postseason as a Wild Card team. The Lions lost by three points in the NFC Championship game. The Vikings have one of the division’s better drafts, grabbing top-10 players J.J. McCarthy and Dallas Turner.

The Bears have the division’s easiest schedule and were 5-4 last season against opponents they will play again this season. They’ll have to win more than two games against Green Bay (9-8), Detroit (12-5), and Minnesota (7-10) however. Chicago also needs to start better than 1-5, which was their record after six contests last year. Eberflus will hear very loud calls for his head if the Bears start slowly no matter their early-season matchups.

Still, Chicago’s lack of elite defensive opponents — only the 49ers and Panthers ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense last season — should help the Bears in their quest to make the playoffs for the first time since losing 21-9 to the Saints in the 2020 playoffs. Chicago should win at least nine games this season, but that may not be enough in the stacked NFC. Warren, Poles, Eberflus, and Williams will stress progress over postseason all season, but make no mistake, they all believe this is a playoff-caliber team. It’s too early to make that call, but the potential certainly exists.

The Bears Will Get Their Lakefront Stadium

I was a firm believer that the team would move to Arlington Heights. I’ve reversed course and expect Warren to do whatever it takes to get the Bears a new stadium on Chicago’s lakefront.

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