Chicago Bears 2023 Season Preview and Win Total Prediction

profile image of scottkacsmar

NFL Pick: 2023 Chicago Bears Under 7½ Wins +110 at BetOnline

BetOnline logo
2023 Chicago Bears Under 7½ Wins +110
Visit Site

The Chicago Bears pulled off the unthinkable by earning the No. 1 pick despite beating a 3-win team that seemed to have that pick on lockdown. But the Bears decided to keep their core together and trade the pick to Carolina, picking up a new wide receiver (D.J. Moore) in the process.

But is Moore enough to create a breakout passing season for Justin Fields? He already had one of the best rushing seasons in NFL history for a quarterback, but with the Bears not able to pass or play defense, a 3-14 record was the result of that mixture.

The top sportsbooks are giving the Bears over/under 7.5 wins, which would more than double the team’s output a year ago. The NFC North is also wide open with Aaron Rodgers leaving Green Bay for the Jets. Can Chicago be the team that steps up this year with a rare 3rd-year breakout from Fields as a passer?

The Changes That Matter

The Bears are one of 7 teams to bring back the same head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, and starting quarterback this season. That is a surprising decision for a 3-14 team, but their hands were a bit tied with the coaching staff only having 1 year and no slam-dunk quarterback prospect like Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck in this draft class.

By sticking with Fields, the Bears are hoping the other pieces can improve his game, and the defense has a lot of room for improvement.

Adding D.J. Moore Is Big, But Is It Transformative?

Most wide receivers in the NFL are interchangeable, but some possess an elite set of skills that can truly transform an offense into something greater.

  • Some receivers have incredible speed that makes them ideal for a deep threat (Tyreek Hill and Randy Moss).
  • Some receivers have very good body control or size to win the contested catches in the end zone to score a lot of touchdowns (Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins).
  • Some receivers are dominant after the catch where they can show off their strength and agility (Deebo Samuel and Terrell Owens).
  • Some receivers are incredible route runners, allowing them to get open, even when double-covered, for a high catch rate (Stefon Diggs and Antonio Brown).

D.J. Moore really does not fit any of these categories. That is not to say a possession receiver who can catch the occasional deep ball is not useful for a team, but he is not going to change this offense’s fortunes like Tyreek Hill (Dolphins), Stefon Diggs (Bills), and A.J. Brown (Eagles) did for their young quarterbacks when they switched teams.

We have already watched Moore spend 5 seasons in Carolina where he did not do much to elevate the subpar quarterback play there:

  • Moore only caught 59.1% of his targets in Carolina, and Fields is a 59.7% passer in his career with the Bears.
  • Moore has not topped 7.5 yards per target in either of the last 2 seasons.
  • All 7 quarterbacks who attempted at least 40 passes to Moore failed to throw him more touchdowns than they did interceptions when he was the target.
  • Moore had a career-high 7 touchdown catches last year, his first season with more than 4 scores.
  • The Panthers were only 4-11 (.267) when Moore had 100 receiving yards in a game and 7-18 (.280) when he had at least 85 yards.

Remember, the Bears are trying to get their quarterback to have a breakout season. He has not arrived yet as a passer. In 2022, Fields’ passing success rate was 36.7%, which ranked next to last and was even lower than his rookie season (38.2%).

The early returns on Moore from the preseason got some fans excited when Moore took a screen pass for a 62-yard touchdown. Fields also had a 2nd touchdown pass in that game that involved at least 55 YAC to his running back. Then against the Bills over the weekend, Fields found Moore open in the middle of the field, and he made tacklers miss for a 40-yard gain that was mostly YAC again.

Good luck expecting to see this often this year.

Mooney’s Impact on the Offense and Fields

In the entire 2022 NFL season, there were 5 pass plays that gained 55 or more YAC on a throw that was at or behind the line of scrimmage, including 3 touchdown plays. The Bears had 2 such scores in one preseason game. It’s not going to be a new thing for them in games that count. Moore’s longest YAC plays in the 2022 season were 8, 13, 14, 16, and 19 yards.

The amusing thing about both Moore plays this preseason is that Fields would likely be marked with an inaccurate throw on each as Moore had to reach back for the screen, and he dropped to one knee to catch the low ball against Buffalo.

Moore will be the new No. 1 wide receiver and could finish with solid totals if the Bears throw enough, but it is hard to see how he is going to drastically make Fields a better passer. Claypool constantly leaving his feet to catch passes and Mooney coming back from a torn ACL does not bode well for the depth of this receiver room, so do not judge the success of Moore by the raw totals he has. It will be about Fields’ efficiency, and just giving him Moore and a rookie right tackle (Darnell Wright) does not feel like enough to expect a breakout year.

Improving the Defense

When the Bears are having a good season, the defense is usually dominating and creating a bunch of turnovers and short fields for the offense. That was not the case in 2022 when the Bears allowed the most points in the league, had the fewest sacks (20), ranked 32nd in net yards per pass attempt, and allowed a league-high 31 rushing touchdowns.

It was a terrible defense, which is why the Bears were 0-12 when they allowed more than 20 points last year.

Things can only get better from here, but do not expect a huge turnaround to an elite unit like this team needs to win. Adding defensive end Yannick Ngakoue should automatically be worth at least 8 sacks, which is his minimum in every season of his career. His problem is he seems to join a new team every year as the Bears will be Ngakoue’s 6th team since 2019. But enjoy the sacks while you can.

Defensive end DeMarcus Walker comes over from Tennessee after a career-high 7.0 sacks in 2022. Maybe he can repeat that, but he has never been a high-snap count defender.

The Bears traded linebacker Roquan Smith during the season to Baltimore last year. They added Tremaine Edmunds from the Bills in what looks like a lateral movement between defenders who have not fully lived up to their 1st-round status or else they would still be with their draft team.

The Secondary

The secondary is filled with home-grown players, still led by safety Eddie Jackson. But the corners (Jaylon Johnson, Kyler Gordon, and 2nd-round rookie Tyrique Stevenson) are going to have to be much better if this unit wants to make a huge improvement.

No defense was worse at getting off the field on 3rd down than the Bears last year, who allowed a conversion 49% of the time. Some positive regression there should be helpful, but this defense still has a long way to go.

2023 Schedule Analysis and Pick

With the 2nd tier in the NFC looking wide open behind the Eagles, 49ers, and Cowboys, it is understandable why some want to pick the Bears to step up this year. But one must understand that the Bears were the worst passing offense and worst overall defense last season. We do not know if Fields or Eberflus is the real deal yet, and this roster is not a wide receiver away from competing.

Since 1970, there have been 144 teams to rank in the bottom quarter in offensive passing efficiency and scoring defense. The Bears were only the 4th such team to rank dead last in both. But of those 144 teams, only 32 (22.2%) had a winning record the following season.

Of those 32 teams, 30 of them went with a different head coach, starting quarterback, or key coordinator the following season. Most changed the quarterback or head coach, which are the biggest changes a team can make. Think the Jaguars hiring Doug Pederson last year, the 2012 Colts drafting Andrew Luck, the 1999 Rams going with Kurt Warner after Trent Green was injured, the 2013 Chiefs hiring Andy Reid and acquiring Alex Smith, etc. Big changes.

Of those 2 teams without the big changes, the 1987 Eagles were done in by the strike games with replacement players (0-3 record) as they were 7-5 in the regular games started by Randall Cunningham. That is not a good example.

Remarkable NFL Turnarounds

That just leaves the 1979-80 Falcons, one of the weirdest turnaround stories in NFL history as a 6-10 team improved to 12-4 and ended the Rams’ then-record streak of 7 straight division titles. In addition to returning coach Leeman Bennett and quarterback Steve Bartkowski, the Falcons also had the same leading rusher (William Andrews) and top wide receivers (Alfred Jenkins and Wallace Francis) in 1980.

But one thing that did help the Falcons in 1980 was a stellar draft that included a Pro Bowl rookie tight end in the first round (Junior Miller), and linebackers Al Richardson and Buddy Curry split the Defensive Rookie of the Year award. Kenny Johnson, a 5th-round corner, started 16 games and intercepted 4 passes that year too. Linebacker Joel Williams also stepped up huge in his 2nd season with 16 sacks after playing sparingly in his rookie year.

Can History Be Repeated?

With the Bears, the defense has a shot to not finish last as the Vikings gutted a lot of veterans and the Lions still must prove things. But it is still realistic to see Chicago as the worst passing offense in the NFC North, which will make all of those division games tough to win after going 0-6 last year.

The Bears should do better than 0-6 in division games this year, but if Jordan Love is legitimate in Green Bay, then it may be another losing record in the division for Chicago.

The schedule is not overly daunting, but it also is not as easy as the draw the teams in the NFC South have this year. The Bears will have to play the Chiefs (Week 3), Chargers (Week 8), Saints (Week 9), Browns (Week 15), and Commanders (Week 5) on the road. The only game they look like an overwhelming favorite for would be hosting Arizona in Week 16.

Going from 3-14 to 6-11 or 7-10 would be an improvement for this team after the major flaws they had on both sides of the ball last year. But expecting them to go over 7.5 wins is too much in my view. Take the value with the under for your NFL picks.

NFL Pick: 2023 Chicago Bears Under 7½ Wins +110 at BetOnline

2022 Recap: You Can Run, But You Can’t Win

While the Bears started 2-1 last season, any objective analyst could have projected that was fool’s gold. They beat the 49ers in a monsoon in Week 1 on a field that was barely playable. They lost convincingly in Green Bay in prime time again. They edged out the Texans in an ugly game that was decided on a late interception to set up a short field goal.

The Bears started last season attempting fewer passes than any offense in the NFL in over 40 years. This was not going to work out, and only late in a 12-7 loss to the Commanders did the team seem to realize letting Justin Fields cut loose with his legs would be their way of moving the ball.

Fields did it again in a 33-14 upset win in New England, and the Bears soon became the 1st team in NFL history to rush for at least 230 yards in 5 straight games. But they were only 1-4 in those games. The Bears also became the 1st team in NFL history to lose 3 straight games after scoring at least 29 points.

Fields’ Struggles

When Fields needed to pass more in game-winning drive opportunities against the Dolphins, Lions, and Falcons, he was unable to even get into field goal range, and the Bears lost all those games by a combined 7 points.

Soon enough, the team’s most efficient running back (Khalil Herbert) was injured and missed 4 games. No. 1 receiver Darnell Mooney tore his ACL and missed the last 5 games. The Bears traded for wideout Chase Claypool from the Steelers, sending a high 2nd-round pick. He only had 14 catches for 140 yards in Chicago as the Bears seemed unsure what to do with him.

The passing game just never materialized as Fields rushed for 1,143 yards and 8 touchdowns in 15 games. But Fields also had 30 net passing yards on 28 pass plays in his final game of the season against Detroit, a 41-10 loss.

A Disappointing Season and the No. 1 Draft Pick

The Bears finished 32nd in scoring defense, which was a bad look for rookie coach Matt Eberflus, a defensive specialist. But thanks to Houston coming back to beat the Colts in Week 18 to finish 3-13-1, the 3-14 Bears earned the No. 1 pick in the draft.

Their reward for a dreadful season that saw the team go from 6-11 to 3-14 when things were supposed to be heading the opposite direction.

*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.