As everybody knows, it’s been a rough stretch for the Bears. They’ve won a total of 14 games in the three years since Ryan Pace took over and lost at least 10 games in each of those seasons.
Now many fans, myself included, see a young quarterback in place and a new coaching staff designed to help him succeed. Better times are on the horizon. After all, teams with a good QB on a cheap rookie contract are usually pretty good for most of that deal. If you believe Trubisky will be even an average NFL QB, things should be looking up for the Bears.
But before I get too carried away planning a downtown parade route, I want to look at recent history to get a sense of a realistic best-case scenario for what the Bears’ next few seasons could look like. Again, I want to emphasize this is not what the Bears’ next few seasons will look like. This is an historically realistic, best-case scenario.
But hey, free agency is starting next week and we’re all dreaming big, so let’s have some fun.
The first goal has to be making the playoffs, so let’s start there.
Since the Bears are on a bad three-year run, I looked at all playoff teams since 2007 and tracked their performance in the three years before making the playoffs.
The table below shows averages and low values for wins each season, plus the number of teams (out of 132) who had marks the same as or worse than the Bears. Full data can be seen here.
A few thoughts:
- It’s not surprising that playoff teams tend to be pretty solid in past years too. For all the talk of parity in the NFL, the average playoff team was slightly better than average in each of the three seasons prior to making the playoffs. The Bears are clearly not at that point right now.
- When you look at any one season, things don’t look too bad for the Bears. Plenty of teams have gotten into the playoffs after one bad season.
- Where you start to see a bit of a problem is when you look at the accumulation of three straight bad seasons. Only 5 out of 132 playoff teams since 2007 have done that following a stretch featuring 14 or fewer wins over the last 3 years. If you change the threshold to losing at least 10 games every season for 3 straight years before making the playoffs, then a 6th team gets added in.
- Here’s the good news for Bears fans: 4 of those 6 teams featured a young QB making a jump in play and thus leading his team to the playoffs for the first time. Those were the 2016 Oakland Raiders (Derek Carr, 3rd season), 2017 Tennessee Titans (Marcus Mariota, 3rd season), 2010 Detroit Lions (Matthew Stafford, 3rd season), and 2012 Washington Redskins (Robert Griffin III, 1st season). A 5th (2017 Jacksonville) featured a new coach that helped get better performance out of many players already on the roster.
– Lessons Learned –
Based on the last three years, history suggests they are not likely going to make the playoffs in 2018. A jump to respectability first is more likely and could set them up for a playoff run in 2019. If you want a really optimistic view, however, you could note that most teams who make a similar jump from bad to playoffs have either a young QB or a new coaching staff who make an impact, and the Bears could potentially have both of those.
Of course, the ultimate goal has to be more than just making the playoffs. Let’s think big about what it might look like for the Bears to win a Super Bowl.
This time I looked only at Super Bowl participants since 2007. I looked at wins their previous three seasons, as well as how long it had been since they last suffered a losing season, and how many times they had made the playoffs in the three years prior to winning the Super Bowl. Full data can be seen here, and I want to look at each of those criteria 1 by 1.
– Wins Over Previous 3 Seasons –
This chart below shows the number of teams that fall in various ranges of total wins in the 3 seasons prior to making the Super Bowl.
This shows clearly how far the Bears have to go before they can realistically be viewed as a Super Bowl contender (reminder: they’ve won 14 games the last three years). 20 out of 22 teams to play in the Super Bowl over the last 11 years – including all 11 winners – have won at least 24 games in the three seasons prior to winning the Super Bowl, meaning they have averaged at least an 8-8 record. The Bears would have to go 16-0 to reach that mark in 2018, or win a total of 19 games over the next two years to fit that profile going into the 2020 season.
Meanwhile, 12/22 teams – more than half – averaged 10+ wins a season in the three years before the season they made the Super Bowl. The typical Super Bowl participant is a team that has been consistently good for a stretch of years.
And I’ll note those two 18-win teams were the 2016 Falcons and 2008 Cardinals. They both lost close games and have yet to reach the Super Bowl again.
– Playoffs Previous 3 Seasons –
The table below shows how many times in the 3 years before playing in the Super Bowl teams made the playoffs.
Once again we see that the Bears have a ways to go before fitting the typical Super Bowl profile.
- 16 of the 22 teams made the playoffs at least 2 of the prior 3 seasons to the year they won the Super Bowl.
- Only 1 Super Bowl winner did so without making the playoffs at all the previous 3 years (thank you, 2017 Philadelphia Eagles), and they had won at least 7 games in each of those seasons.
Again we see that the Bears are at least one year away from being serious Super Bowl contenders, and most likely two years (in a best-case scenario).
– Time Since Last Losing Season –
The chart below shows the number of teams that fall in various ranges for how long it has been since their last winning season (“1 year” meaning they had a losing season the year before playing in the Super Bowl).
Once again we see that teams don’t just go from being bad to winning the Super Bowl. The 2017 Eagles are the only team to make a Super Bowl in the last 11 years off of a losing season, and even then they were 7-9, a mark the Bears haven’t touched since 2013. Half of the teams in Super Bowls over this stretch haven’t had a losing season in more than 3 years prior to playing in the Super Bowl.
There are a bunch of different ways to look at it, but we reach the same conclusion every time. Teams that make the Super Bowl have usually been consistently good for a while.
The first goal for the Bears has to be making the playoffs, and realistically that’s a long shot in 2018, though they do share some similarities with the few other teams who have bucked that trend. And even a best-case scenario has them at least one year, and most likely two, away from winning a Super Bowl.
Based on the patterns outlined above, the most realistic best-case scenario to lay out for the Bears would look something like this:
- 2018: 8 or 9 wins
- 2019: playoff berth
- 2020: Super Bowl
A reckless optimist could say it’s possible they move that schedule up a year, but this is the most realistic ideal path to the Bears’ next Super Bowl title.