Josh Buckhalter looks at the Chicago Bears and the precarious territory in which they’re treading and makes his predictions ahead of the new NFL season.
Can Khalil Mack and the new Monsters of the Midway guide this team to another playoff berth or will they be hamstrung by their woeful offense? Rumblings from training camp cast doubts.
Matt Nagy’s first year in Chicago led to a 12-4 season and the Bears first postseason appearance since 2010. Last year, however, everything that went right the year before went wrong. Injuries and regression hit hard and left a lot of questions to be answered this coming campaign. That includes what happens to Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace in 2021.
The most pressing question the Bears face is at quarterback. After making a significant investment to draft Mitchell Trubisky (ahead of some notable classmates) and going all-in to acquire Mack, they had to trade for Nick Foles as insurance. In essence, these are two one-hit wonders. Trubisky had an okay sophomore season in 2018 but was bad in 2019. Foles has one really good regular season (really 10 starts) and his magical run ending in a Super Bowl MVP and ring.
Neither guy has been able to distinguish himself in camp so far. With no preseason games, that is at least a little concerning. It’s been said the Bears just need competent play at the position to be Super Bowl contenders. Despite the low bar, they still have an uphill battle to being a threat.
An underwhelming group in 2019, they were dealt a possibly significant blow when starter David Montgomery went down in practice on Wednesday with what appeared to be a non-contact injury. The sophomore ran for nearly 900 yards and had over 1000 yards total with seven scores while splitting time with Tarik Cohen, who is more of a receiving threat.
Chicago was already out to show improvement in their ground attack. If Montgomery’s injury is as bad as feared, they will have to reconfigure the backfield. Perhaps that means undrafted free agent Artavis Pierce or converted wideout Cordarelle Patterson take on larger roles.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
We don’t really know what to expect from this group. Part of that is on the uncertainty at quarterback. But the receiving corp has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency in its own right. Led by Allen Robinson, there is potential for solid production but that means improvements from Anthony Miller and contributions from veteran Ted Ginn.
Tight end is a key to Nagy’s offense but the position has been a disaster during his tenure. Chicago paid a hefty fee for veteran Jimmy Graham’s services but the early reports are promising on a return on that investment. His presence eases the burden on second-round rookie Cole Kmet. Together they give the Bears their best tight end unit since Martellus Bennett left town.
Offensive line play might have been the only thing worse than what they got out of their quarterbacks last season. A merely ok group was downright bad in 2019 and had their performances highlighted by Trubisky and former backup Chase Daniel being unsuccessful. There biggest improvement will need to be in the run game, regardless of who’s carrying the ball.
Akiem Hicks’ return means everything. Even with Mack on the edge, the Bears lacked the inside compliment the ninth-year man out of Regina provides. Nose tackle Eddie Goldman opted-out due to COVID making Hicks that much more important to the Bears success against the run. So far, reports out of camp are that he, Bilal Nichols, and Roy Robertson-Harris look as good as advertised.
Chicago lost some depth from this group but added to their front lines. Robert Quinn has been one of the best pass-rushers over the past couple of years and should finally provide a bookend for Mack that Leonard Floyd (Los Angeles Rams) never did. Rookie Trevis Gipson will look to be the third man in a rotation that could certainly use one.
The health of starters Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith is paramount after inside linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski turned his strong play in spot duty into a lucrative contract with the Las Vegas Raiders.
Half of the jobs in the Bears secondary are up for grabs. Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson, both former All-Pros are locked into their roles. But unproven Kevin Toliver and rookie Jaylon Johnson will battle to start at the other corner. Meanwhile journeyman Tashaun Gipson and special teams standout Deon Bush both vie for the starting strong safety job. The guys in front of them will weigh heavily on their production no matter who starts.
Last year’s kicking derby resulted in Eddy Pineiro winning the job and hitting 23 of 28 attempts. That was an improvement over Cody Parkey’s tragic 2018 season but wasn’t great. Still, Chicago’s opting to keep two legs on the team reportedly has more to do with COVID than Pineiro.
Punter Pat O’Donnell has his issues but isn’t among the top worries this team has. The Bears had one of the better special teams units in the league around 2010. They have been trying to get back to that level ever since.
Chicago lost Goldman and his backup, John Jenkins, to COVID opt-outs. They are currently dealing with Quinn and Johnson being slowed at camp. While the latter two won’t be coming back in 2020, the latter pair should and be major contributors. Fingers are currently crossed for Montgomery up at Halas Hall.
Best Bears Bets
Trubisky for MVP was a popular bet last off-season. We probably won’t see many people getting in on that this time around. But there are still some appealing bets to be made.
Chicago was 4-12 against the spread last season and only hit the over six times. The offense that doesn’t figure to be much better, if at all, so that trend could continue this season. Even their Week 1 opponent, the Detroit Lions, don’t offer much clarity. Chicago split against the spread and over/under when facing them in 2019.
You could always take the Bears straight up, as they have beaten Detroit four straight times. But they come in as the underdog against Detroit. Even with their current streak DraftKings has them at +112 for this game.
That’s tough to turn down given the schedule and abundance of questions surrounding this team.