Immediate impact. Win-now. Home run.
These are some used descriptors for not only the Bears’ 2018 NFL Draft class, but their entire off-season since hiring head coach Matt Nagy back in January. Chicago has experienced a dramatic makeover in the past four months with additions of Nagy, Allen Robinson, and Roquan Smith among others. So much so, that many believe they’re on the brink of returning to contention. It almost goes without saying, but the Bears should be one of the NFL’s most improved teams going into the 2018 season.
Unless you’re bettors in Las Vegas, that is.
Yes, of everyone buying the Kool-Aid on the Ryan Pace, Mitchell Trubisky, and Nagy-led Bears after the meat of the off-season, it isn’t those who put money on teams to win.
Despite having one of the best improvement periods in the NFL, sports betting website Bovada - which reflects the greater Las Vegas sentiment - has the Bears with the third-worst odds to win Super Bowl LIII next February at +10,000. Chicago sits in the same company as the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Cincinnati Bengals, and New York Jets as bottom feeders. That’s post-draft madness and after every acquisition made.
Even while these odds are set in May, too much of a kerfuffle shouldn’t be made about the public perception of the Bears yet. After all, these are always based on a combined factor of national popularity and recent success. Seeing as how Chicago hasn’t made the postseason since 2010, they have neither piece of that formula.
Furthermore, while the Bears’ draft results look outstanding on paper, none of it matters until these players play a game and help launch the team back into relevance. By extension, the same goes for a second-year leap of Trubisky and impact of Nagy as a coach. Trubisky first actually has to make that leap, and Nagy has to at least coach one game before the public takes the Bears seriously. Finishing above .500 record-wise would be a solid foundation towards flipping that negative perception.
From a competition standpoint, each of the Bears’ NFC North rivals in the Vikings, Packers, and Lions have had better runs of success of late. Each of which also had solid drafts on paper. It makes sense that this early in the spring, they rank ahead of Chicago and have more established faith behind them. Seeing as how each directly stands in the Bears’ way, that brings gambling goodwill down.
Let’s see how bettors perceive Chicago’s divisional rivals before the fun of next season kicks off.
The Vikings (+1200, tied for fifth-best) are the reigning North champions and improved heavily at quarterback with Kirk Cousins in free agency. That preceded adding more young secondary weapons in Mike Hughes in the draft. Minnesota should stand to again be one of the NFL’s premier teams with Cousins under center, and most of last year’s roster returning for another deep run.
Meanwhile, as long as Aaron Rodgers is quarterbacking the Packers (+1,200, tied for fifth-best), they’re always in the championship picture. That’s what happens when you have the best player in football. Green Bay experienced significant secondary upgrades with the additions of two of the top cornerbacks in the draft in Jaire Alexander and Josh Jackson. They also signed stalwart rebounding tight end, Jimmy Graham, and former All-Pro defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson back in free agency. For a team lacking depth and talent surrounding Rodgers, they did a lot to improve their roster balance.
Finally, in Detroit, the Lions (+6,000, 22nd best) had the least spectacular off-season on paper, making no huge splashes in free agency and having the worst draft of their division counterparts (at this moment). They stand above the Bears only because they’ve won nine of their last 10 meetings against Chicago. And, Matthew Stafford is still quarterback: one of the more underrated passers in football despite his distinct lack of playoff wins. You don’t get the benefit of the doubt against a team that’s humiliated you too often recently. This is that direct method of letting the games play out.
A quick scan of the top, and unsurprisingly, the Patriots (+500, best odds) and Eagles (+800, second-best) are favored to return to the Super Bowl for a rematch. Both teams bring back largely the same rosters after having off-seasons that continue to move the needle towards that title goal. The Eagles likely rank lower because of the Patriots’ more established reputation as the face of pro football, and because the collective NFC is a tougher gauntlet for a contender to plow through.
Unfortunately, the Bears can’t begin changing this betting thought process until September. You know, when the games and play starts to count in the standings. The proof is in the pudding. To their benefit, maybe they’ll work better under the radar.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.