Are the Bears Stuck in .500 Hell?

Stuck in the Middle: Teams repeating .500 records probably are not in any greater danger of remaining stuck in the middle of the pack than they are of slipping back or improving in modern football
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By finishing .500, the Bears hit a historical milestone.

In 101 years they've never been a .500 team in consecutive seasons. It's not quite a reason for celebration, nor is it a reason to fear the future.

When teams finish with back-to-back 8-8 seasons there is this grave concern they are headed for disaster the next season. Or maybe there's an even worse fear they're just mired in mediocrity and are doomed to stay there forever at 8-8.

It's .500 hell and they're stuck. Panic in the streets.

The reasoning here is if you get worse in the NFL, you have a chance to get better through higher draft picks and an easier schedule. However, if you stay in the middle, you're stuck in the middle.

None of this is true. No one can tell much of anything based on a .500 season, whether it's 8-8, 7-7, even 6-6 or 6-6-2.

It doesn't happen often, anyway, as the Bears doing it for the first in their history indicates.

In the history of pro football, including the old AAFC and the predecessor to the NFL, the APFA, there have been 23 other times when a team went .500 in successive sesaons and there is no real trend one way or the other to suggest anything beyond it's anyone's guess where the Bears could be headed. 

A few wise draft picks here, a quarterback there, and it's the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Keep making dumb decisions and .500 would be the best they could hope to achieve. 

History says this much.

When teams finally do pull out of a .500 funk, they've gotten better eight times, worse 14 times, but nine of the 14 times they got worse came consecutively from 1932 through the 1985. In other words, it has become much easier to pull out of a .500 funk by improving in modern football.

The last team to repeat a .500 record hits rather close to home, even if it wasn't the Bears. It was the Indianapolis Colts team coached by former Bears defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano. The Colts went 8-8 in 2015 and 2016, then 4-12 in 2017 and Pagano was fired.

Joe Philbin's Miami Dolphins went 8-8 in 2013 and in 2014, then they fired Philbin in the middle of a 6-10 2015 season.

If that paints a possible bleak future for the Bears, then consider Mike Tomlin's Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012 and 2013. They went 8-8 each season, then followed it with an 11-5 record in 2014 and made the playoffs four straight seasons.

Jason Garrett's Dallas Cowboys went neither way. They followed up 8-8 records in 2011 and 2012 with another 8-8 record in 2013. Three straight times they were .500, but then they won the NFC East at 12-4 in 2014.

The team which just ended the Bears' season had a similar fate under its current coach, Sean Payton. The New Orleans Saints went 8-8 each season from 2014-16. The Saints then won the NFC South each of the last four years.

It all depends on what they're doing with draft picks, in free agency and how the coaching staff handles the team. Being in the middle of the pack for a few years doesn't have to mean being stuck in limbo for years.

If such a fate does occur, there is one other way out which doesn't include losing a lot of games in the third year in order to get higher draft picks. 

Maybe this is something for the Bears to consider.

In 1948 there was a Buffalo Bills team in the old All-American Football Conference. They had nothing to do with the AFL's Buffalo Bills, the current franchise which later moved into the NFL.

These earlier Buffalo Bills went 7-7 in 1948, then went .500 again in 1949 at 5-5-2. And then they found the real way out of a .500 quagmire.

They folded.

Stuck in the Middle

Chicago Bears: 2019 8-8, 2020 8-8, 2021 ?

Indianapolis Colts: 2015 8-8, 2016 8-8, 2017 4-12

New Orleans Saints: 2014 8-8, 2015 8-8, 2016 8-8, 2017 11-5

Miami Dolphins: 2013 8-8, 2014 8-8, 2015 6-10

Pittsburgh Steelers: 2012 8-8, 2013 8-8, 2014 11-5

Dallas Cowboys: 2011 8-8, 2012 8-8, 2013 8-8, 2014 12-4

Oakland Raiders: 2011 8-8, 2012 8-8, 2013 4-12

Denver Broncos: 2008 8-8, 2009 8-8, 2010 4-12

Houston Texans: 2007 8-8, 2008 8-8, 2009 9-7

New Orleans Saints: 2003 8-8, 2004 8-8, 2005 3-13

Cincinnati Bengals:  2003 8-8, 2004 8-8, 2005 11-5

Washington Redskins: 2000 8-8, 2001 8-8, 2002 7-9

Oakland Raiders: 1998 8-8, 1999 8-8, 2000 12-4

Seattle Seahawks: 1997 8-8, 1998 8-8, 1999 9-7

Tennessee Titans: 1996 8-8*, 1997 8-8**, 1998 8-8**, 1999 13-3***

Green Bay Packers: 1983 8-8, 1984 8-8, 1985 8-8, 1986 4-12

New York Jets: 1978 8-8, 1979 8-8, 1980 4-12

Detroit Lions: 1974 7-7, 1975 7-7, 1976 6-8

Houston Oilers: 1968 7-7, 1969 6-6-2, 1970 3-10-1

New York Giants: 1967 7-7, 1968 7-7, 1969 6-8

New York Titans: 1960 7-7, 1961 7-7, 1962 5-9

Buffalo Bills^: 1948 7-7, 1949 5-5-2, 1950 Folded

Los Angeles Dons^: 1947 7-7, 1948 7-7, 1949 4-8

Boston Braves: 1932 4-4-2, 1933 5-5-2, 1934 6-6^^, 1935 2-8-1^^

*Known as Houston Oilers

**Known as Tennessee Oilers

***Known as Tennessee Titans

^All-American Football Conference

^^Known as Boston Redskins

Source: ProFootballReference.com

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