It’s no secret that the Bears have one of the best defenses in the NFL.
Despite facing slight regression in 2019, they still managed to put together one of the league’s better units. They forced the third-fewest interceptions and had the eighth-fewest sacks, but they still had the eighth-best defense according to DVOA.
High-quality pieces are already in places in the forms of Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller, and other talented defenders like Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan also form out a well-rounded unit. Though the loss of Eddie Goldman hurts, the return of a healthy Akiem Hicks and the substitution of Robert Quinn at edge rusher in place of Leonard Floyd provides there a chance the Bears bounce back and put forth a result more resembling that of their 2018 selves, a unit Football Outsiders ranked as the second-best defensive performance of the decade—trailing only, coincidentally enough, the 2012 Bears.
Though not the end-all, be-all of defensive statistics, a good defense generally doesn’t give up too many points. Elite units like the Patriots, Bills and Ravens—all playoff teams—rounded out the top three in fewest points per game allowed in 2019, while no team in the bottom 10 of points allowed made a postseason appearance.
After ranking fourth last season, the Bears are getting odds of only +1600 to finish top of the league in points allowed in 2020, good for ninth-best odds in the league and tied with Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Minnesota.
It’s encouraging for Bears fans to see the team place in the top 10, but it’s hard to argue that any of the teams they’re tied with have a better defense than they do. The Titans lost such producers like Jurrell Casey and Logan Ryan on defense and, while they still have a talented unit that added some good players this offseason, they arguably didn’t move the needle too much. The Vikings executed a pseudo-rebuild of their defense by replacing numerous proven veterans with rookies, while the Colts are an admittedly underrated unit but not one that should be considered elite.
Granted, there are some non-personnel-related factors that play into how many points a defense gives up per game. A team’s offense must usually succeed in keeping their opponents’ offense off the field by executing lengthy drives. While the Bears have placed in the top half of the league in time of possession the past two years, one could argue their overall suspect offense could have bettors worried. Strength of schedule could also be a factor, and with the Bears having the 13th-toughest schedule in the NFL heading into the 2020 season, they could be going up against some talented offenses.
Nevertheless, Chicago does seem to be on track for another great year defensively. If they can stay healthy and work on forcing turnovers at a more efficient rate, that could be enough to help boost them back into playoff contention.