Another branch off the old Andy Reid coaching tree successfully bore fruit, as Matt Nagy, is his first year as head coach for the Chicago Bears, took a 5-11 team to: 12-4, and the Wild Card Round of the Playoffs, with a second-year quarterback at the helm.
Much respect is due to Nagy the turnaround; but as an offensive-minded coach, coordinating the 20th best attack in the NFL (Offensive DVOA, Football Outsiders), his team did what it did, mostly because of it having the best defense in the NFL (1st DVOA), under Defensive mastermind, Vic Fangio.
Fangio’s suffocating 2018 edition of the Bears defense earned him his first shot at a Head Coaching gig, in Denver, and this year, one of the biggest changes and challenges for Chicago will be replacing Fangio’s greatness. The Bears will look to do so with six-year Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts, Chuck Pagano, who will inherit much of 2018’s defensive roster.
The Bears were one of the big surprises of 2018, and with that success now comes expectation – as BetOnline’s futures market has Chicago projected as the 5th most likely team to win the Super Bowl in 2019. Was it a flash-in-the-pan fluke, or has Chicago really supplanted Green Bay as the class of the NFC North? 2019 will define that narrative.
Super Bowl Odds: +1400
Odds to Win the NFC: +700
Odds to Win the NFC North: +170
Season Win Total: 9.5
(lines Weeks 2-16 from CG Technology as of May 16, 2019)
|1||Green Bay (TNF)||-4||.66|
|3||@ Washington (MNF)||-2.5||.55|
|11||@ LA Rams||+5.5||.31|
|12||New York Giants||-10||.84|
|13||@ Detroit (12:30p, Thanksgiving)||-3.5||.64|
|15||@ Green Bay||+3||.41|
|17||@ Minnesota||+3 (est)||.41|
Total Expected Wins: 9.13
Besides replacing Fangio, the loss of two starting Cornerbacks in CB Bryce Callahan and S Adrian Amos were Chicago’s biggest voids to fill in the 2019 offseason.
Landing five-year Green Bay starter, Ha Ha Clinton Dix, might’ve been the best they could’ve done as far as available free agents in the Cornerback department, while Buster Skrine will come in from the Jets, grading out as an average Cornerback, but allowing a 124.2 passer rating in coverage.
On Offense, they’ll part ways with RB Jordan Howard, who’s Yards per Carry has gradually plummeted since his impressive 2016 rookie campaign, in which he rushed for over 1300 yards, and nearly reached 300 yards receiving. Howard only went for 935 on the ground in 2018, as second-year scat-back Tariq Cohen burst onto the scene, with 1169 combined rushing/receiving yards of his own.
It was speculated that the Bears would address the loss of their in-between-the-tackles back early in the draft, and they wasted no time – using their first pick on Iowa State running back David Montgomery, in the third round. Montgomery was a special talent at Iowa State (2017 All-Big 12) and should be worthy early down back to compliment Cohen.
The other noteworthy pick for Chicago came in the 4th round, where the Bears looked to add another weapon to a pass Offense that lacked punch in 2018 (20th DVOA), with Georgia WR Riley Ridley, who will have a chance to start opposite Allen Robinson.
Some may be surprised to know the Mitchell Trubisky finished 3rd in the NFL, in 2018, in QBR (72.8), which is not only impressive because it was his second year, but also because it was merely his first year in Matt Nagy’s system.
Given the complexity of Nagy’s offense, I would expect this Trubisky-Nagy duo to only improve as the years go on – and adding weapons such as Ridley and Montgomery could lift this offense out of the trench of mediocrity in 2019.
The 7th best pass protecting line in the NFL should continue to thrive behind Nagy’s Razzle Dazzle, but whether in can establish an effective power run game will be another key determinant of this team’s success, given they failed to do so last season (18th), much of what was the Achilles’ Heel of the Bears Offense in 2018.
The 2018 Chicago Bears defense was about as good as any that we have seen in recent history, and much of the roster will return in-tact – minus the few key cogs in the secondary – for which they have found respectable replacements.
Again, the biggest question mark will be whether this D will be what is was under Fangio with Chuck Pagano calling the shots, and it is a reach to say that it will be given Fangio’s track record as a Defensive Coordinator compared to that of Pagano’s.
A top 5 unit without question; a top three one, maybe; but repeating as the number one defense in the NFL may be a long shot.
Notes & Nuggets
The Bears are expected to be underdogs in only four games this season, with one of those practically a Pick ‘Em type situation, Week 2, in Denver.
Save for Week 12’s matchup in LA, vs. the Rams, they will face most of their toughest tests outside of the NFC North at home, with the Saints, the Chargers, the Chiefs, and the Cowboys all coming to Soldier Field.
With only one Monday Night Football Game on the schedule, only one game will played on a short week (excluding Thanksgiving Game), and that game will be played at home, against the Vikings, in which they’re projected to be more than a three-point favorite.
Overall, the Bears will play some of the NFL’s elite teams, but the schedule sets up so that they’ll get most of their true tests in favorable spots, which could make the difference in some of the coin flip situations. With a few road games that are more than winnable (@ Denver with extra days to prepare off a Thursday Night game, @ Washington on Monday Night, and @ Detroit on Thanksgiving), and three games in which they are nearly a touchdown favorite or better, a double digit win season could easily be in the making.
With the Bears projected to be favorites in 11 games and an expected win probability of 9.13 given CG Technology’s projected spreads, the math seems to point over here.
The loss of Fangio is cause for concern, but the talent is certainly still there for that Bears defense, and Pagano is experienced enough to avoid a major drop off in production. I trust that Nagy is smart enough to hire an effective replacement.
I think that we can also expect the Bears Offense to help pick up the slack, and given the creativity and complexity of Nagy’s offense, and how little time he has had with Trubisky, the offense should only continue to improve. Trubisky is now entering his 3rd year as an NFL Quarterback, and often times this is the year things start to really click for a young QB.
I’m banking on a double-digit win season for a team that the current future betting market prices reveal as the 3rd best team in the NFC.