Several factors played a role in the Chicago Bears getting to the top of the NFC North standings last season, after spending so many years wallowing in the basement, but Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith highlights dumb luck and cites data from FootballOutsiders.com that notes the Bears were the NFL’s pretty darn fortunate from a health perspective last year.
FINALLY! The Bears catch a break … and it’s not a bone of some sort.
Football Outsiders’ adjusted games lost metric quantifies which teams were dinged the most because of games lost due to injuries. And according to the site’s findings, the Bears were football’s third-healthiest team. Only the Ravens and Bills had better luck in the health department last year. To be clear, there is no denying the Bears were blessed with better health, I’m not sure that fairly paints a picture of the situation. So let’s try and do that. Because if we are to point out how lucky the Bears were last year and credit “dumb luck” as part of why they made the move from the outhouse to the penthouse, then I suppose it’s fair to underline how unlucky the Bears were with injuries in the previous years.
No team faced worse injury news than the Bears between 2015 and 2017. This is not hyperbole. And frankly, it wasn’t even close. We tackled the subject in June 2018 when Football Outsiders editor Scott Kacsmar noted the Bears posted an AGL number of 366 from 2015-17. During that three-year stretch of injury-plagued football, 47 Bears players finished the season on injured reserve, and led to the team losing 558 man-games to IR stints. And to think, things were at their worse in John Fox’s final two seasons. The Bears set a Football Outsiders record with an AGL number of 158.8 as they led the league in injuries in 2016. It got better (statistically, speaking) a year later, but the situation was still unfathomably awful. Because even as the Bears’ AGL number was 118.1 in 2017, it was still the second highest in football, trailing only Washington. Those are eye-popping numbers.
Hoping to remedy the issue, the Bears’ offseason house-cleaning efforts went beyond the coaching staff. The team hired a new head trainer and strength/conditioning coach. And while we can’t necessarily quantify how that impacted the Bears’ injury situation, I suppose a case can be made that a change in direction didn’t hurt things. Improvements in conditioning and training, as well as upgrades to the facilities at Halas Hall could conceivably have helped the Bears be healthier than they had been in years. Throwing it all under the umbrella of “health” doesn’t truly capture the essence of the thing.
Sure, teams that get suddenly healthy take a step back and regress to the middle the following year. It happens like clock-work. But if that is the case in Chicago, falling to the middle would be a major improvement from where the team had been during their most unfortunate times.
In the end, better injury luck aided the Bears’ season of rejuvenation. But replacing John Fox with Matt Nagy led to a change in culture, offensive game-planning, and better vibes surrounding the team. From there, Nagy’s arrival also helped in the development of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, whose play as a second-year quarterback was a significant improvement from what he showed as a rookie. Before all that could even take place, GM Ryan Pace also hit home runs in free agency and the draft to build out the roster in what was widely regarded as a winning offseason.
And I guess that Khalil Mack trade helped a bit, too.