Are the Bears a contender or pretender?
According to NFL Network analytics expert Cynthia Frelund, they will earn a wildcard berth in the NFC playoffs—primarily due to the addition of Khalil Mack.
"The trade for Khalil Mack changed the Bears' season projection before Week 1, vaulting them up from fourth in the NFC North to seventh in the NFC," Frelund wrote on NFL.com. "Mack has generated the second-highest perimeter pressure rate (19.4, per PFF) himself, but what's more impactful is how he's catalyzed the biggest season-over-season defensive-front total pressure increase in 2018. In other words, the Bears' defense as a whole was above average before Mack (with a preseason projection of No. 13), but his addition has propelled them to third-best in my model.
"One example: Akiem Hicks has been able to generate an 18 percent improvement in pressure rate on passing downs. One of the ways my model ranks defenses is by their consistency in giving their team's offense the ability to win, even if the offense has periods of inefficiency. The Bears currently generate 6.25 more first downs per game than they're allowing (the fourth-best rate in the NFL) and give up the fourth fewest points per play (0.28; the average is 0.37) and the third-fewest total points per game.
"It's an ideal defense to be paired with a second-year QB in a first-year head coach's system. Through four games, the Bears now project to finish sixth in the NFC -- and their arrow is trending up."