In anticipation of the upcoming NFL season, Head & Heart Sports will feature one division each week until the season begins and preview each team’s 2016 outlook. This week we take a look at the NFC North, beginning with the Chicago Bears today.
Recap of 2015: Bears fans will be happy to forget the 2015 season. Head Coach John Fox’s first year in the Windy City only yielded six wins and a last place finish in the NFC North. The Bears offense was up and down and nothing really went as planned in Chicago. First round pick WR Kevin White missed the entire season due to an injury, while stars Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery were also oft injured during the year. This came after the Bears traded stud WR Brandon Marshall to the Jets in the offseason, so Jay Cutler was really hamstrung to find help on offense. The offense was still OK overall, but could not carry the subpar defense (31st in Defensive DVOA) so the team suffered as a whole. The Bears actually went 5-3 on the road, but only won one game at Soldier Field in 2015. The only big bright spot of the season was beating the rival Packers in Green Bay on Thanksgiving night, spoiling Brett Favre’s halftime retirement ceremony.
Significant Additions: LB Danny Trevathan, LB Jerrell Freeman, DL Akiem HIcks, QB Brian Hoyer, OT Bobby Massie, G Josh Sitton
Significant Subtractions: OC Adam Gase, RB Matt Forte, TE Martellus Bennett, OT Jermon Bushrod, DE Shea McClellin, S Antrel Rolle, K Robbie Gould
Potential Impact Rookies: LB Leonard Floyd, OL Cody Whitehair, DL Jonathan Bullard
Team Strengths: The Bears will be in Year 2 of the transition into a 3-4 defense, but their front seven is probably the biggest strength of this team right now. Last year, Pernell McPhee (Note: McPhee will start the season on the PUP list and miss at least six weeks) was a top ten pass rusher according to Pro Football Focus, and the Bears added first rounder Leonard Floyd to rush the quarterback opposite him. New linebacker additions Danny Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman should also much improve their pass and run defense. Look for the Monsters of the Midway to make a comeback in 2016 and put some fear back into opposing offensives.
Team Weaknesses: To put it mildly, the Bears have a lot of problems. With the loss of Matt Forte, the running game will be a major question mark this year. Jeremy Langford steps in as the starter, but he is pretty unproven after a so-so rookie campaign, and behind him are a slew of late round picks and unproven guys. Compounding the lack of backfield talent, the Bears offensive line has a ton of issues. Outside of Kyle Long, the cupboard is pretty bare on the Chicago offensive line, although they did just add ex-Packer Josh Sitton this weekend. On the other side of the ball, the secondary could be the downfall of the Chicago defense. They have two solid players in CB Kyle Fuller and S Adrian Amos, but otherwise it is pretty bleak. Tracy Porter is well past his prime and the rest of the secondary are highly unproven rookies. Maybe they should add some of these guys to up their game?
Fantasy Players to Watch: Long gone are the days of Jay Cutler being a week to week starter in fantasy. While he will have some nice weeks here and there, he is nothing more than a bye week fill-in this season. Jeremy Langford has solidified himself as the lead back for Chicago, but he honestly isn’t a very good player (3.6 ypc last season). That being said, his volume alone will be enough to make him atleast a flex option, and maybe even an RB2 this year if he stays as the #1 and is healthy. At wide receiver, can Alshon Jeffery please stay healthy this year? This guy has all the makings of a top 10 wide receiver if he can just stay on the field. Cutler loves to zero in on one guy, and that guy is definitely Jeffery when he is on the field. When relatively healthy in 2013 and 2014, he finished as top 12 WR both seasons. If he can get back to that level, I am pretty high on Alshon this year and am hoping for a bounceback campaign. I would avoid the other Bears receivers though, including Kevin White, unless Alshon isn’t out there for an extended period of time. I do like Zach Miller at tight end as a late round option. He signed a big extension this offseason and can definitely be the safety valve and red zone option for this team.
2016 Outlook: The Bears did not do a whole lot to improve their roster for 2016, but simply getting healthier could really help this team, especially for the pass catchers. If the combination of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White can get anywhere near the level of Alshon and Brandon Marshall in the past, this offense could be fairly dynamic once again. The running game will struggle though, so keep your expectations low Chicago fans, especially with offensive mastermind Adam Gase leaving for Miami. On defense, I expect them to improve from last year for sure, as the bare bones of their 3-4 scheme is clicking into place. Their front seven should be good, especially at stopping the run and rushing the passer. If they can force opposing QBs into quick throws, that could really take pressure off an inexperienced secondary. Altogether, the Bears will not be super competitive this year, but they should exhibit some positive signs for the future as the rebuilding process continues. One thing to watch for is if this is Jay Cutler’s last season in Chicago. If things keep going south, it might be time for a break up.
Record Prediction: The nice thing for Chicago is that their schedule looks to be pretty bearable. They only play one playoff team in their first six games (at Houston) and line up to play a slew of below average quarterbacks including Brock Osweiler, Carson Wentz, Dak Prescott, and Blake Bortles. Later in the season, they have a few more easy matchups against Tennessee and San Francisco, along with teams like Washington, Tampa Bay, and New York (Giants) that could go either way this season. There is definitely a scenario where the Bears win a lot of close games and sneak into the last NFC Wild Card spot. However, I am still pretty bearish on this team and project them to finish 5-11. On the bright side, the Cutler Era may come to an end, ushering in the Deshaun Watson Era in Chicago.
Photo Credit: Chicago Tribune