Schrock: Game-by-game predictions for Bears' critical 2023 season originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
When the NFL released the 2023 schedule, I spat out instant game-by-game predictions for the 2023 Bears’ season. I did this without seeing the roster at work or knowing what issues might arise during training camp.
Well, Week 1 arrived, and with more information about all 32 teams, the predictions need updating.
The Bears’ improved offensive line took less than 10 snaps together during training camp. Left guard Teven Jenkins is on short-term injured reserve with a leg injury, meaning Cody Whitehair had to shift back to left guard so Lucas Patrick can get the nod at center.
With the O-line shifting every day of camp, the Bears’ offense had a tough time finding its footing. DJ Moore is special. He gives the Bears an easy button they didn’t have offensively last season outside of Justin Fields’ legs. Chase Claypool had a good start to camp but missed the last three weeks with a hamstring injury. He’s now fully healthy but missed valuable time on turf building chemistry with Fields.
As for the Bears’ defense, talk of going from pathetic to pristine might be premature. The back seven has a chance to be special. I think linebacker T.J. Edwards might end up being the best player on the unit, not named Jaquan Brisker. Tremaine Edmunds will create problems in the middle.
But the defensive line still looks like an issue. If the Bears can’t consistently stop the run or get to the passer, it doesn’t matter how good the linebackers and secondary are this fall.
The 2023 season is a critical one for this rebuild. Does Justin Fields do enough to cement himself as a franchise signal-caller? Did Ryan Poles make the right moves?
Let's find out:
Week 1: vs. Green Bay Packers
When the schedule was released, I thought there was no way the Bears could lose this game to the Packers.
An August watching a clunky offense fail to find its rhythm behind a shifting offensive line has erased that thought from my mind.
Jordan Love looked good in the preseason. The Packers have talent on defense, employ a two-headed monster at running back, and own one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
Last season, the Packers averaged just under 200 rushing yards per game against the Bears. The Bears’ “improved’ run defense didn’t show up in the preseason.
Still, I don’t want to live in a Chicago where Jordan Love waltzes in and beats the Bears in the first game of the post-Aaron Rodgers era.
Justin Fields outduels Love, and Kyler Gordon seals a Week 1 win with a late interception.
Bears 28, Packers 24
Week 2: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
People still talk about the Bucs like this is the team that won the Super Bowl and had a chance to repeat during the first two years of the Tom Brady era.
But times are different in Tampa.
Baker Mayfield parlayed a wild Thursday night win over the Raiders into one last starting gig, but I don’t think Tampa will be the place that resurrects him.
Tyrique Stevenson and Eddie Jackson both pick off Mayfield, and the Bears run for 240 yards as a team in a boring Week 2 win.
Bears 27, Bucs 17
Week 3: at Kansas City Chiefs
The 2-0 good vibes get hit by a semi in Week 3.
Patrick Mahomes blitzes the Bears, and the offense can do little to keep up.
Chiefs 38, Bears 17
Week 4: vs. Broncos
I don’t know what to make of Sean Payton’s reclamation project in Denver.
Payton was hired, in part, to fix Russell Wilson. But he might be beyond fixing.
Still, the Broncos invested heavily in rebuilding their offensive line and plan to run the you know what out of the football.
Broncos 23, Bears 17
Week 5: at Washington Commanders (Thursday Night Football)
Al Michael and Kirk Herbstreit got a front-row seat to the Bears-Commanders Big Ten East rock fight special last season. They get that gift again this fall.
The Bears couldn’t keep Fields clean against the Commanders vaunted front four last season. The same story unfolds this season, but Fields puts on his cape and rescues spotty pass protection with his legs.
Fields rushes for 155 yards and two touchdowns as the Bears win a gross affair in Landover, Maryland.
Bears 17, Commanders 10
Week 6: vs. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings went 13-4 last season by going 11-0 in one-score games.
That won’t happen again in 2023, but the Vikings still are a terrible matchup for the Bears.
Back to .500.
Vikings 31, Bears 20
Week 7: vs. Las Vegas Raiders
Native son Jimmy Garoppolo and the “we might be rebuilding but might be trying to contend” Raiders come to town in Week 7.
Josh Jacobs pummels the Bears’ spotty run defense, but Fields finds DJ Moore for two touchdowns in the first half to keep things even. With the game tied in the fourth quarter, Fields hits Chase Claypool from 10 yards out to give the Bears the lead with 1:20 remaining.
Jaylon Johnson picks off Garoppolo to seal the win.
Bears 31, Raiders 24
Week 8: at Los Angeles Chargers (Sunday Night Football)
Justin vs. Justin on Sunday Night Football, what could be better?
For the Bears, a lot of things.
New Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore opens up the playbook, and Justin Herbert throws for 352 yards and four touchdowns as the Bolts rout the Bears.
Chargers, 35, Bears 20
Week 9: at New Orleans Saints
A 4-4 start to the season has the Bears alive heading into November, but a trip to the Bayou to face the first-place Saints won’t help their cause.
The Bears crumble under the deafening noise of the Superdome as Derek Carr throws touchdown passes to Michael Thomas, Chris Olave, and Juwan Johnson to send the Bears home under .500 and licking their wounds.
Saints 30, Bears 16
Week 10: vs. Carolina Panthers (Thursday Night Football)
Al and Kirk return to Soldier Field for the: Do You Have Any Regrets Bowl, sponsored by future draft capital.
The Bears turned down the opportunity to draft Bryce Young, electing to stick with Justin Fields and trade the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers for Moore and a pile of draft picks.
Young might end up being special, but this Panthers team is not.
Yannick Ngakoue sacks Young twice, Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker both notch interceptions, and Moore blisters his former team to the tune of seven catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
Bears 28, Panthers 13
Week 11: at Detroit Lions
Are the Lions for real? We’ll find out.
Are they still better than the Bears? Undoubtedly.
David Montgomery rushes for 137 yards and two scores, Aidan Hutchinson sacks Fields twice, and the Bears flop at Ford Field again.
Lions 34, Bears 20
Week 12: at Minnesota (Monday Night Football)
Amid a 2-4 stretch, the Bears need a win to stay afloat entering their bye week.
Getting Kirk Cousins in primetime is the perfect elixir for a weary Bears defense.
Cousins throws three picks (Jackson, Gordon, Stevenson) while Fields throws for 260 and rushes for another 80 in a convincing win.
Bears 30, Vikings 20
Week 13: BYE
Week 14: vs. Detroit Lions
A win over the Lions in Week 14 can guarantee the Bears at least a .500 record in the division.
Not so fast.
But there’s no quit in the Bears.
However, Lions quarterback Jared Goff returns serve by leading a seven-minute fourth-quarter drive that ends with a 6-yard touchdown pass to Gibbs to retake the lead.
The Bears’ offense gets the ball with one final chance to tie the game and send it to overtime. A big completion to DJ Moore puts the Bears in the red zone, but Jack Campbell picks off Fields in the end zone to end the comeback bid.
Lions 31, Bears 24
Week 15: at Cleveland Browns
Justin Fields’ first career start quickly turned into a nightmare two years ago in Cleveland. Fields was sacked nine times as then-head coach Matt Nagy failed to adjust the game plan to keep his rookie quarterback upright.
The Bears’ offensive line, whatever it looks like in Week 15, doesn’t do a much better job this time around.
Browns 30, Bears 20
Week 16: vs. Cardinals
Will new head coach Jonathan Gannon have the fire in his belly to play Kyler Murray and risk messing up his chance at Caleb Williams? Doubt it.
Roschon Johnson rushes for 105 yards, and Fields throws three touchdown passes (Kmet, Mooney, Claypool) as the Bears snap the two-game skid.
Bears 27, Cardinals 13
Week 17: vs. Falcons
The Falcons are a trendy pick to win the NFC South this season. I’m not sure I buy that, but their young offensive weapons and improved defense will make life tough for the Bears on New Year’s Eve.
Bijan Robinson opens the game with a 75-yard touchdown run, and the back-and-forth affair begins.
Both offenses trade blows, and the game is tied at 27 midway through the fourth quarter.
On third-and-7 from around midfield, Gervon Dexter breaks free and has a clean shot at Desmond Ridder. But the Falcons' young quarterback slips free and finds Drake London for a 33-yard gain.
Four plays later, Ridder once again breaks contain, this time juking Jack Sanborn before scampering into the end zone from 6 yards out to give Atlanta the lead.
Fields’ desperation heave from the Falcons’ 40-yard line as time expires is batted down to eliminate the Bears from playoff contention.
Falcons 34, Bears 27
Week 18: at Green Bay Packers
Despite the Bears being eliminated from playoff contention, this game gets the Sunday night treatment, with the Packers needing a win to secure the division title over the Lions.
Playing spoiler is all the Bears have left, but Jordan Love is much sharper this time around.
Love throws three touchdown passes, including a go-ahead strike to Romeo Doubs with 1:11 remaining.
Fields hits Kmet and Mooney for chunk plays to get the Bears into Packers territory, but Robert Tonyan drops a pass on fourth-and-6 to end the game and the season.
Packers 27, Bears 24
Record prediction: 7-10
I can already hear everyone hollering, but this is a 125 percent improvement over last season.
The Bears should be more competitive, and I think they’ll win games they would have lost last season. Fields will take a few steps forward as a passer, throwing for 3,400 yards and 25 touchdowns, but the offensive line will be a constant problem, and the defense will struggle to get stops.
A fast start in the first five games is vital if the Bears want to have any hope of contending for a playoff spot this fall.
A 3-2 record in the first five games should allow them to survive a tough stretch in the middle of the season that includes four road games in five weeks.
If the Bears don’t sink during the middle part of the season, they will exit the bye week with a manageable stretch of games and a chance to sneak into the playoffs. But they’ll need Fields to be great, not good, for that to happen.
This roster still has several deficiencies that will be tough to cover up.
A 7-10 record with positive evolution from Fields is a win, but the Packers winning the division will make it a little less sweet.