The Bears really blew a golden opportunity to win the NFC North for the first time since 2010 last season. After all, Chicago broke the collarbone of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a Week 9 upset at Lambeau, and the Detroit Lions collapsed down the stretch. All Chicago had to do to win the division was take one of its final two games: at Philly or at home versus the Packers. The Eagles game was an embarrassing 54-11 blowout loss, while Rodgers returned for Week 17 to stick a dagger in the Bears' hearts with a game-winning 48-yard touchdown pass on fourth down in the final minute.
Under new coach and quarterback guru, Marc Trestman, the Bears finished second in the NFL in scoring at 27.8 points per game despite starting QB Jay Cutler missing a handful of games. Trestman turned backup Josh McCown, as well as second-year receiver Alshon Jeffrey, into stars. The defense was one of the worst in Bears history, ranking 30th in total yards, 30th in points (29.9 ppg allowed), and last in rushing. Coordinator Mel Tucker managed to keep his job this offseason, but he's certainly on the hot seat. He is going to use more hybrid 4-3 and 3-4 looks this season.
Key Offseason Moves
As one would expect, the Bears focused almost entirely on defense in free agency and probably will do the same in the draft. The team bid goodbye to former Pro Bowl end Julius Peppers, and tackle Henry Melton, among others. The Bears signed Vikings defensive end Jared Allen, a former Bears killer with seven straight seasons of at least 10 sacks, Raiders defensive Lamarr Houston (8.5 sacks), and Lions ends Willie Young and Israel Idonije (a former Bear). To strengthen the weak secondary, Chicago added safeties Ryan Mundy of the Giants, and M.D. Jennings of the Packers. Former Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman was re-signed.
Offensively the Bears were sorry to lose McCown, but the Buccaneers (and former Bears coach Lovie Smith) gave him $5 million a season, and a chance to start. Arguably the greatest return man in NFL history, Devin Hester, also is gone. The offense should look much the same next season, while the defense will be vastly different.
2014 Schedule (all
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at San Francisco, 8:30 p.m.
Week 3: Monday, Sept. 22, at N.Y. Jets, 8:30 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 5, at Carolina, 1 p.m.
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, at Atlanta, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, Miami, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 9: BYE
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Green Bay, 8:30 p.m.
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 16, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 13: Thursday, Nov. 27, at Detroit, 12:30 p.m.
Week 14: Thursday, Dec. 4, Dallas, 8:25 p.m.
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 15, New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, at Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Chicago has the No. 15 toughest strength of schedule in the NFL for 2014 with its opponents' winning percentage from last year at .496. The Bears play six postseason clubs. The TV networks love them this year with six games schedule for national TV (five prime-time and Thanksgiving).
The Bears are opening at home for a fifth straight season and are 6.5-point favorites on NFL odds against the Bills. Chicago has won its previous four home openers and is an excellent 18-3 in season openers played at home in the past 30 years. The Bears are 5-0 all-time at home vs. Buffalo. That trip to San Francisco in Week 2 will be the opening of the 49ers' new Levi's Stadium. The last time the Bears played at the Niners they were slaughtered in 32-7 on a Monday night in Week 11 of the 2012 season. Chicago played without an injured Cutler while Colin Kaepernick made his first-ever start for the Niners.
All Bears-Packers games are must-see TV with each winning on the road against one another last season in season-defining games. It's unusual those two rivals are done by Week 10. In fact, it's the earliest in a season since 1997. The schedule after that Week 10 Packers game only features one playoff team from last year: the Saints. They won 26-18 at Soldier Field in 2013. It was New Orleans' first win in Chicago since 2000. The Thanksgiving game is Chicago's first against Detroit on Turkey Day in 15 years, and in another scheduling oddity the Bears play on back-to-back Thursdays.
It figures to be quite frigid for that Week 17 game at the Vikings, as for the next two seasons they are playing outdoors at the University of Minnesota. Chicago has just two indoor games all year (at Atlanta and Detroit).
NFL free picks: 'Over' 8 wins on NFL odds. The key for Chicago will be to tread water until that bye, which comes at a perfect time: the halfway point of the season. The Bears close the year with five of their final seven at home, and they should be favored in all of them. They could be at Detroit too, and are likely to be in Week 17 in Minnesota.