The Chicago Bears won the NFC North in Matt Nagy’s first season as head coach, going 12-4. Since then, they have had two 8-8 seasons and haven’t sniffed the division crown again.
The fourth-year for a head coach is always a big one, as many teams will determine his fate in that season. Will they be able to make the necessary to save his job, or will they fall flat, which would result in him being fired.
The Bears are in a good position to succeed and get Nagy off the hot seat in 2021. Here are four reasons Chicago can win the NFC North this season.
4. Their Schedule
The Bears will be the beneficiaries of an interesting schedule quirk. For the first time in their 102-year history, Chicago will not play back-to-back road or home games for an entire season. This puts the Bears in some good company.
Over the last decade, any team that doesn’t have to play back-to-back road games has gone on to win their division. The 2019 Baltimore Ravens went 14-2 without consecutive road games and earned the No. 1 seed in the playoffs. The Packers won the NFC North in 2013 with a record of 8-7-1 and the Atlanta Falcons in 2012 won their division with a record of 13-3.
The Bears are hopeful this is a trend that will continue for them this season.
3. The Division Flaws
Taking advantage of your opponent’s shortcomings is key if you are going to win a division. For a team that has been as flawed as they have in recent years, the Bears are in good shape compared to their NFC North foes.
The Green Bay Packers still don’t know for sure whether or not Aaron Rodgers will come back to play this season. If not, they will likely turn to Jordan Love at quarterback. The Minnesota Vikings figured things out offensively, but their defense is now a mess. The Detroit Lions are entering a rebuild with a new front office, coaching staff and quarterback.
The Bears aren’t facing any of those issues. As long as they perform up to their potential, the division is there for the taking.
2. Matt Nagy Has His QB
When Matt Nagy took over as head coach of the Bears, he was given Mitchell Trubisky to work with. Trubisky helped get the team to two postseasons and had a winning record as a starter, but failed to live up to expectations of being the second overall pick in 2017. It also doesn’t help his case that Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were both selected later on.
Now, Nagy has his handpicked quarterback, as the team landed Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft. Chicago traded up with the New York Giants to select him 11th overall, giving up their 2021 first-round pick, 2021 fifth-round pick, 2022 first-round pick and 2022 fourth-round pick.
It was a steep price, but Fields could easily prove to be worth it. Now, they just have to get him on the field. Nagy has insisted that Andy Dalton would be the starter in Week 1, but that is not something anyone expects to remain the case or stay true much after that.
1. Deep, Talented Defense
In 2020, the Chicago Bears’ defense took a little bit of a step backward, finishing 14th in points allowed and 11th in yards allowed. While not terrible by any means, it was a far cry from the fourth and eighth-place finishes in 2019 and first and third place in 2018.
Getting back to that level would put the Bears squarely in the mix for the division title with the improvements the offense should make. They have a game-changer in Khalil Mack, but he is surrounded by some talented players as well.
Akiem Hicks, Mario Edwards, Robert Quinn and Eddie Goldman are quality players in the trenches. Roquan Smith is a difference-maker at the second level with Mack and there is hope Danny Trevethan can return to form. Eddie Jackson, Marcus Trufan and Tashaun Gipson hold down the backend of the defense.
There is talent there and breaking back into the top-10 defensively will help the Bears in their quest of winning a division title.