Can Caleb Williams Take the Bears to the NFL Playoffs in 2024?

Can presumptive No. 1 overall pick Caleb Williams guide the Bears to the postseason in 2024? Recent rookie quarterback examples suggest it's possible.

Barring a complete surprise, the Chicago Bears will make USC quarterback Caleb Williams the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft. Hope will spring eternal in the Windy City as Bears fans hope their favorite team has landed a franchise-changing superstar under center.

Could Williams guide the Bears to the playoffs as early as his rookie season? Or is the NFC North too strong a division for Chicago to sneak into the dance in 2024?

Are the Chicago Bears and Caleb Williams Playoff-Bound in 2024?

The Bears haven’t made the postseason in four years and haven’t posted a winning record since 2018. Still, Williams’ pending arrival — and Chicago’s late-season defensive turnaround in 2023 — could make the Bears a darkhorse playoff team next year.

Let’s run through three data points that could help determine whether Chicago is a realistic postseason hopeful in 2024.

1) Chicago’s Offseason Improvements

Bears general manager Ryan Poles and head coach Matt Eberflus are pinning a potential Chicago ascension on Williams’ shoulders alone. The club made numerous additions over the offseason to help bolster its depth chart around its new signal-caller.

Poles’ acquisitions actually began last fall when the Bears sent a second-round pick to the Washington Commanders in exchange for pass rusher Montez Sweat. Chicago liked what it saw from the 27-year-old — who posted six sacks and 14 QB hits in nine games with the Bears — and signed him to a four-year, $98 million extension.

MORE: Which Teams Need a QB in the 2024 NFL Draft?

Chicago didn’t let up once the offseason officially got started. The Bears traded for Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen, pairing him with DJ Moore to form one of the NFL‘s best wideout tandems. Free agent RB D’Andre Swift is also on board, while Poles extended CB Jaylon Johnson and signed S Kevin Byard to fortify Chicago’s defense.

And the Bears aren’t done adding! In addition to the No. 1 overall pick, Chicago also owns the ninth overall choice. Poles could consider trading up for Ohio State WR Marvin Harrison Jr. or cross his fingers and hope one of Malik Nabers or Rome Odunze falls to No. 9.

2) The NFC North Is a Challenging Division

Of course, the Bears finished last in the NFC North a season ago — and they weren’t the only team in the division to supplement their roster this offseason.

The division-champion Detroit Lions bolstered their offensive line by extending Graham Glasgow and signing Kevin Zeitler while adding defenders like D.J. Reader, Marcus Davenport, and Carlton Davis III. The Green Bay Packers also made the playoffs last year and then signed RB Josh Jacobs and S Xavier McKinney in free agency.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings suffered significant free-agent losses in QB Kirk Cousins and EDGE Danielle Hunter. But they also brought in QB Sam Darnold, RB Aaron Jones, EDGEs Jonathan Greenard and Andrew Van Ginkel, and LB Blake Cashman over the past month. If the Vikes trade up for one of the draft’s top QB prospects, they’ll be a 2024 contender, too.

Here’s how the odds to win the NFC North stack up heading into the draft, via DraftKings:

  • Detroit Lions: +150 | Implied probability: 40%
  • Green Bay Packers: +210 | Implied probability: 32.26%
  • Chicago Bears: +265 | Implied probability: 27.4%
  • Minnesota Vikings: +1000 | Implied probability: 9.09%

3) Recent Playoff Appearances by Rookie QBs

If you’re looking for an example of a highly-drafted rookie quarterback taking a fading franchise on a surprising playoff run, look no further than last season.

The Houston Texans ranked 30th in PFN’s Consensus Power Rankings entering Week 1 of the 2023 campaign. After selecting QB C.J. Stroud second overall, Houston won the AFC South, advanced to the Divisional Round, and now looks like everyone’s favorite Super Bowl pick in 2024.

Since 2011, nine full-time rookie starting quarterbacks have taken their respective teams to the playoffs:

  • C.J. Stroud, Houston Texans (2023) | Lost in Divisional Round
  • Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers (2022) | Lost NFC Championship Game
  • Mac Jones, New England Patriots (2021) | Lost in Wild Card Round
  • Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens (2018) | Lost in Wild Card Round
  • Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys (2016) | Lost in Divisional Round
  • Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (2012) | Lost in Divisional Round
  • Robert Griffin III, Washington Commanders (2012) | Lost in Wild Card Round
  • Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts (2012) | Lost in Wild Card Round
  • Andy Dalton, Cincinnati Bengals (2011) | Lost in Wild Card Round

The 2011 season is an important cutoff because that’s when the NFL’s new collective bargaining agreement instituted slotted contract values for rookie draft picks. With rookie QBs making less than ever, teams were able to construct a more talented, more expensive roster around them.

Among the cases above, the 49ers (Jimmy Garoppolo), Ravens (Joe Flacco), and Cowboys (Tony Romo) still had veteran quarterbacks taking up significant salary cap space. Those teams might not have been able to take advantage of their rookie QB contracts as much as others on the list.

KEEP READING: Has a Rookie QB Ever Won the Super Bowl?

The Bears are dealing with no such veteran, making their situation much more akin to what the Texans faced in 2023. Houston boasted the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year (Stroud and pass rusher Will Anderson Jr.) and got contributions from unheralded players all along its roster last season.

Chicago will likely need similar luck. But if Williams delivers on his promise as early as his rookie year, there’s no reason the Bears can’t at least be in the 2024 NFL playoff conversation.

Miss football? The 2024 NFL Draft is almost here. Pro Football Network has you covered with everything from team draft needs to the Top 100 prospects available. Plus, fire up PFN’s all-new Mock Draft Simulator to put yourself in the general manager’s seat and make all the calls — lone wolf or with your friends!

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