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Hub Arkush: Are Bears here to stay as contenders?

January 10, 2019

The most impressive thing about the Chicago Bears’ 12-4, NFC North title season is how they arrived from so far, so fast and so unexpectedly.

The Bears’ turnaround came on the heels of four consecutive last-place finishes in the division, a span in which they went 19-45 and were unquestionably one of the worst teams in the NFL at the end of the 2017 season.

But as most of you know, going from worst to first in the NFL over the past 16 seasons not only isn’t that unusual, it’s become somewhat of a thing.

At least one team has made the leap now in 16 of the past 17 seasons, and including this year’s Bears and Houston Texans, 25 teams in total have turned the trick.

But what’s happened to those teams immediately following the celebrations of their division crowns?

That news is not so good.

Sixteen of those 25 teams failed to win a playoff game, 21-of-25 failed to win more than one playoff game and only the 2003 Panthers, 2009 Saints and 2017 Eagles made it to the Super Bowl.

You can be disappointed in Cody Parkey — NFL placekickers made 232-of-294 field goal attempts between 40 and 49 yards this year, 79 percent — but the odds were stacked against the upstart Bears beating the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles last Sunday, and it gets worse.

Of the 23 teams that have gone from worst to first in their divisions over the 16 seasons from 2003 through 2017, only six made it back to the playoffs the following year.

Very, very few of these sudden turnarounds have had legs. And you thought it had been a tough enough week already?

But wait, come in off the ledge, there is a very bright spot from which you can begin your recovery.

One of those six clubs that did repeat was the 2006 Bears, who not only made it back to the playoffs again but went all the way to the Super Bowl in Miami before losing to the Colts.

While the finish hurt a bit, even in defeat, we did get to see Prince do Purple Rain in Miami in the rain in one of the best Super Bowl halftime shows of all time.

But I digress; let me to get to my real point.

While the odds are obviously stacked against them, if ever a worst-to-first club was built to continue trending upwards rather than crashing and burning, it is these Bears.

Matt Nagy had an outstanding rookie year and might even end up the NFL Coach of the Year, but he made rookie mistakes — more that a few — and he is certain to be better next year.

For the first time since the 1940s and Sid Luckman, the Bears might finally have a franchise quarterback.

Mitch Trubisky made a quantum leap from his rookie year to this season. He still is nowhere near his ceiling, and we can now assume no stage will be too big for him as he had one of his best statistical passing days ever Sunday in spite of a second-quarter scare that clearly limited his mobility.

Beyond Trubisky, of the rest of the Bears’ best players – Robinson, Miller, Burton, Howard, Cohen, Long, Whitehair, Daniels, Hicks, Goldman, Nichols, Mack, Floyd, Trevathan, Smith, Fuller, Jackson, Amukamara and Callahan – only Long, Hicks, Mack and Amukamara are at or close to their ceilings, and every one of them is guaranteed to be around for a while, except Callahan, who hopefully will return.

This team almost certainly is going to get a lot better.

The only real concerns are injuries and replacing Vic Fangio as the team’s defensive coordinator after he was hired Wednesday as the Denver Broncos’ new head coach.

But there are solid Fangio replacements out there to work with as much talent as the Bears have assembled on defense.

You can’t predict or project injuries, so why worry?

The odds might be against it, but common sense says it’s time to brighten up, Bears Nation, as these Bears should be even more fun next year.

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