Beware, Bears fans, as much as you reveled in 2018, and as impressive and fun as it was to watch, how much do you know about whether it really is a harbinger of good things to come?
It’s a question that’s been nagging at me since the 2018 season ended, and I decided it finally was time to do a little digging and see what history says.
Let me be clear, I believe Ryan Pace has built one of the more talented teams in the NFL, that just happens to also be one of the youngest and most likely is going to get better.
Although there is no way to understate the significance of the loss of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, in Chuck Pagano the Bears either have the very next best thing or at least a highly qualified replacement almost certain to keep the Bears’ “D” among the three or four best in the league.
Honestly, the offense was more promise than production in 2018, and there is much work to do.
But there is a great deal of room between where Mitch Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Anthony Miller, Javon Wims, Adam Shaheen, Trey Burton, Cody Whitehair and James Daniels are now and their ceilings, and the addition of Cordarrelle Patterson and the options he offers are beyond exciting.
But as Winston Churchill once told us, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it,” and it didn’t take a lot of digging to unearth the unfortunate reality that NFL teams going from worst to first in their divisions this century have not fared well a year later.
That, in fact, is a massive understatement.
If you’re any kind of NFL fan at all, one of your favorite stats, or pieces of trivia, or both is the regularity with which NFL clubs have made the leap from last place to first in a single season.
In 15 of the past 17 seasons, at least one club – 27 in all – has gone from worst to first, with the 2002 and 2014 campaigns being the only outliers.
Nine teams have accomplished the feat once, six teams – Carolina, Kansas City, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Houston and Washington – have done it twice, and the Eagles and the Bears are the only teams to do it three times.
Here’s where it gets ugly.
Of those 25 teams (25 instead of 27 as we wait to see what the 2018 Bears and Texans do next), only seven made it back to the playoffs – including the ’06 Giants, who were an 8-8 wild card after going 11-5 in ’05, the 7-8-1 Panthers, who won the NFC South in 2014 after winning it in 2013 at 12-4 and the 9-7 Eagles last season after their 13-3 2017 Super Bowl season.
Only 11 teams have had winning seasons after their worst-to-first triumphs. One was 8-7-1 Washington in 2016, while four others were only 9-7.
Only three of those 27 teams were able to equal or surpass their first-place records one year later.
This is more than just a trend, guys.
In this century, only 24 percent of worst-to-first clubs have been better than 9-7 the next season, only 28 percent have made it back to the playoffs, and only 12 percent have improved (record-wise) the next year.
Troubling, I know, to say the least, but there is one small bit of silver lining in these disturbingly dark storm clouds.
The only one of those 25 teams, the only one of the three that actually got better and made it to the Super Bowl the year after a worst-to-first campaign was the 2006 Bears, who improved from 11-5 to 13-3.
So what are you to do, ignore old Winnie and set yourself up for a massive disappointment, or trust your eyes and keep drinking the Kool Aid?
I, for one, will be picking the Bears to win the NFC North again and at least one playoff game this coming season, if not more.
I’ve always been a sucker for a dare, but I don’t feel nearly as good about this one as I did a couple of hours ago.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at email@example.com, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.