Unlocked: The Chicago Bears’ road to the NFC North title

December 18, 2018

According to the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook, the Chicago Bears opened the 2018 season with the worst odds to win the NFC North, at 12-1.

The over/under for wins was set at 6.5.

And their Super Bowl odds were 80-1.

While the prospects of a Super Bowl are still a ways off – you can get them at 16-1 as of this writing – it’s fair to say the Bears dramatically overcame the odds this season on their way to clinching the NFC North on Sunday with a win against the rival Green Bay Packers.

But how did the Bears get to that spot?

Let’s start with last January

Hiring Matt Nagy

The Bears moved quickly in getting their man, and Nagy is in the conversation as the coach of the year in his first season at the helm. The offensive mastermind has changed the Bears trajectory, culture and more. Swaggy Nagy, indeed.

What we wrote at the time: Even more interestingly, several sources have told me that Nagy has had some casual contact with Trubisky since the Bears drafted him. Although Trubisky has a bigger arm, the rest of his skill set mirrors Chiefs QB Alex Smith’s very closely, and Nagy coached Smith to become the top-rated passer in the NFL this season. (Hub Arkush)

Drafting Roquan Smith

Smith was taken at No. 8 in the 2018 draft. And though the Georgia linebacker was the last first-round pick to sign, all Smith has done is lead the Bears in tackles while he’s grown into a game-wrecker as a rookie.

What we wrote at the time: I have nothing negative to say about the choice. There is little doubt in my mind Smith is one of the three or four best defensive prospects in this draft, and the Bears got much better value with Smith at eight than the Browns did reaching for cornerback Denzel Ward at four or the three clubs taking quarterbacks. (Hub Arkush).

The rest of the draft

It’s been a really solid draft class for Bears GM Ryan Pace. In addition to Smith, offensive lineman James Daniels has blossomed, wide receiver Anthony Miller has come up big in spots, and defensive lineman Bilal Nicholas has provided some much-needed depth up front.

What we wrote at the time: Nichols is the latest example of Bears G.M. Ryan Pace’s willingness to explore draft choices who played at lesser levels of competition. Last year he used a second-round pick on Division-II Ashland TE Adam Shaheen and spent a fourth-rounder on RB Tarik Cohen from FCS North Carolina A&T. (Bob LeGere).

The Khalil Mack trade

The biggest deal in franchise history. Getting Oakland to give up Mack, a generational talent, even for the steep price of all of the draft capital the Bears gave up, was more than worth it.

What we wrote at the time: This is the type of move that can totally change a franchise, as few players of Mack’s caliber ever become available via trade. The Bears did what was necessary to get him, and praise has to go to Ryan Pace, as well as Ted Phillips and the McCaskey family. To make this type of deal, everyone has to be on board. (Greg Gabriel)

Khalil Mack didn’t waste much time making his new team look pretty smart. (Eric Edholm)

Establishing Mitch Trubisky

While the national debate rages on Trubisky’s skill set, Chicago got to see Trubisky establish himself as a quarterback the Bears can win with, and elevate the Bears offense out of the doldrums. Trubisky’s Sept. 30 performance against the Bucs – six touchdowns and 354 passing yards — let the rest of the league know that the young Bears QB must be accounted for.

What we wrote at the time: After the rocky start to Trubisky’s 2018, and in the wake of some questioning his spot in the starting lineup, let’s engage in some unabashed, unbridled optimism by breaking down the six scoring plays with an eye toward scheme and QB execution. (Mark Schofield)

3 NFC North wins in 11 days

Arguably the biggest stretch of the season for the Bears came with three divisional games in a span of 11 days, two in marquee national games on a Sunday night against the Vikings and then Thanksgiving afternoon at Detroit. The Bears came away with three victories and a stranglehold on the NFC North.

What we wrote at the time: It had all been bubbling under the surface until last Sunday night, but with their performance against the Vikings, does anyone want to dispute the Bears are for real, that they’re the most improved team in the league and one of 2018’s best sports stories?

Finally, Bears fans can be thankful for their team on Thanksgiving. (Hub Arkush)

Santa’s sleigh

Or Willy Wonka. Or Freezer Left. Or Oompa-Loompa. Nagy has drawn up some exotic offensive plays that he is willing to call at any time. A fun offense with the added wrinkle of defensive players getting in on the act has been a joy to watch for Bears fans.

What we wrote at the time: Instead, the Bears make you consume volume and multiplicity. That’s the chore when facing Nagy’s offense, and it’s a lot to prepare for if you’re an opponent. And if you’re a Bears player? Well, it can just be some good, old-fashioned fun. That’s how Nagy is killing two birds with one stone with all these fancy calls. (Eric Edholm)

Primetime against the Rams

The ‘Are the Bears for real?’ questions got answered in a Sunday night slugfest with the Rams.

Oh, and Bradley Sowell scoring a touchdown.

What we wrote at the time: In just over a five-minute span to open the third quarter, the Bears had ripped off nine points scored by players who weighed a combined 630 pounds or more. Talk about a sudden — and shocking — change. (Eric Edholm)

The clincher

Avenging an opening-night loss against your hated rival to win the division title and knock the Packers out of the playoffs? Yeah, Bears fans will take that.

What we wrote at the time: Perhaps there will be more, but what we know right now is these Bears are division champs, and that feels incredibly good. (Hub Arkush)

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