Optimist Alley 2022 NFL Season Preview: All Eyes on Justin Fields for the Chicago Bears

Hope springs eternal for every fanbase this time of year, and who am I to rain on that parade? 

It’s time for Optimist Alley, which focuses on the positive of all 32 NFL teams heading into the 2022 season — because there’s always a silver lining if you look closely enough.

Past Previews: ATL I DET I HOU I NYJ

Today’s Team: Chicago Bears

Season Win Total: 6.5 (Under -150; Over +125)
Odds to Make Playoffs: Yes +450; No -650
Odds to Win Division: +1400
Odds to Win Super Bowl: +15000

Da Bears, Da Bears, Da Bears… are starting over. 

Coach Matt Nagy and GM Ryan Pace were fired this offseason, making way for Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles.

Poles wasted little time in stripping the roster down to bare bones, and after a couple years of blindly hoping Mitchell Trubisky or Andy Dalton would be the answer, it was the only rational play.

The weird part? The old regime drafted quarterback Justin Fields last season, trading an extra first-round pick to go get him, so it’ll be interesting to see if he indeed becomes the long-term answer, or if Eberflus will want his own guy.

Fields has tools and promise, so while it’s not the most ideal scenario, the Bears can take a two-pronged approach with this: see what they have in Fields while also easily pivoting to a different quarterback in this year’s draft or next if he doesn’t work out.

Honestly, it’s a better setup than, say, the Jets, who are probably going to waste a couple years with the Zach Wilson experiment.

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Three Reasons For Optimism

The Defense: The offense is a who’s who of who? But the defense still has some big names that can get the job done, and some intriguing youngsters. Linebacker Roquan Smith is among the best in the NFL at his position, while edge rusher Robert Quinn and safety Eddie Jackson are Pro Bowl-level talents. Young cornerback Jaylon Johnson has showed promise, while rookie defensive backs Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker are reportedly picking things up quickly. Chicago is projected to have the 10th-best defense in the NFL this season by Football Outsiders, which would keep the team competitive most weeks. 

Fields’ Offensive Fit: The Bears were trying to fit a round peg in a square hole last season, as Nagy didn’t seem particularly interested in tailoring his offense to Field’s dual-threat abilities. New play-caller Luke Getsy will likely use a play-action-heavy offense that focuses on bootlegs, deep shots and other things up Fields’ alley. It’s still unknown if Fields will morph into a franchise signal-caller, but we should have a much better indication after this season compared to a chaotic rookie campaign.

The Philosophy: The Bears tried to rebuild on the fly a season ago, but predictably, it didn’t go well. Poles changed tact this offseason, trading Khalil Mack, allowing Allen Robinson to walk and doing very little in free agency. Chicago was never going to be in Super Bowl contention, and a teardown is always the approach I prefer when teams are in purgatory. If Fields doesn’t develop this season, the Bears could be in the running for Bryce Young or C.J. Stroud. If he does, they could possibly get a defensive star like Will Anderson in the draft. The Bears got worse this offseason, but it helps set them up better in the future.

Three ‘Over’ Bets For The Bears

TE Cole Kmet over 585.5 receiving yards (-115): Kmet found a nice chemistry with Fields a season ago, finishing the year with 60 catches for 612 yards on 93 targets. He played in all 17 games, and the odds are he could miss one or two this year, which means the per-game average must bump up slightly to hit this mark. I believe it will, as Fields likes to throw to the middle of the field and Kmet will be his most trusted pass-catcher in that area. 

WR Darnell Mooney over 950.5 yards (-105): By the looks of these two ‘over’ bets, you might think I’m more optimistic than most about the state of the Bears’ passing game. I’m not. But Mooney and Kmet are the two legitimate aerial options for Fields. Seriously, look at the other pass-catching options: Byron Pringle, Tajae Sharpe, Velus Jones, Jr., Ryan Griffin, N’Keal Harry, etc. Mooney might only be a No. 2 wide receiver in terms of talent, but he’s going to get WR1-type targets, which makes the ‘over’ the play.

QB Justin Fields over 3.5 rushing touchdowns (-140): Fields is a big dude, which makes him a natural threat near the goal-line. Coaches don’t like using their quarterback as a battering ram too often, but it’s hard to resist when a touchdown is so tantalizingly close. Fields only had two rushing touchdowns a year ago but he averaged 7.5 in his two years as a starter at Ohio State. Bettors are hitting this over hard already, as it’s the obvious play.

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If You’re Feeling Very, Very Bullish

Bears to concede the fewest regular season points (+5000): Is this likely to happen? No. Is it worth a shot at 50/1 odds? I think so! As mentioned previously, the Bears should have a good defense this season. And with the limitations on offense, it would make sense for them to try a ball-control philosophy that focuses on plenty of rushing attempts between David Montgomery and Fields, which will milk time off the clock.

It’s that type of combination that could result in several 17-13 losses. If Chicago can avoid back-breaking turnovers and becomes obsessed with the field position game, it could finish the season allowing the fewest points in the NFL.

OK, A Small Dose Of Pessimism

Maybe the offense will turn out OK long-term, but this season is going to be brutal. The wide receiver corps is probably the worst in the NFL and the offensive line could also be bad. Add in a young, unproven quarterback, and there is going to be a lot of pain this year.

The Bears’ season win total was originally listed at 7.5, and the under got hammered so quickly that it dropped to 6.5. Even at that figure, most continue to take the under. 

The short-term outlook is rough, and it remains to be seen if the new head coach/general manager combination will be any better than the last.

The Encouraging Conclusion

Fields is a very intriguing quarterback who wasn’t good last season, but did enough for Bears fans to hold out hope about his development. His Completion Percentage Above Expectation was minus-3.0, which isn’t optimal but was decisively better than Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson, the top two picks in the draft.

His sack and interception rates were high, but hopefully with experience comes progress in those areas. Fields has shown a penchant to throw a good deep ball, as his big-time throw percentage of 6.1 was easily best among the rookie quarterbacks. He obviously has the dual-threat abilities as well, so Bears fans should be cautiously optimistic about his ability to become the guy.

Chicago is going nowhere this season, but if Fields progresses enough, the offense can be built up heading into 2023, while the defense should still have enough talent to be among the better units in the NFL.

The Best Bears Bet For 2022: Justin Fields ‘over’ 3.5 rushing touchdowns

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