Hard to believe, but NFL training camps are about to open. The Bears open theirs on July 29 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. Where will Chicago finish in the NFC North this season? Let's project their exact result on NFL odds.
Recapping Bears' 2014 Season
I will admit that I fell into the trap that the Bears were going to be an offensive powerhouse last season and contend for the NFC North title. After all, Chicago was second in the NFL in scoring in 2013 under first-year coach Marc Trestman, who was supposed to be some type of offensive guru. Starting quarterback Jay Cutler missed nearly half the season, and Trestman turned Josh McCown into a Pro Bowl-caliber player while he was in for Cutler.
McCown left after 2013 for Tampa Bay but the Bears had Cutler back, who presumably was going to improve under Trestman's tutelage. Plus Cutler had arguably the greatest skill position talent in the league around him in Matt Forte, easily one of the best all-around running backs in the NFL, big receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, as well as very good pass-catching tight end Martellus Bennett. True, the Bears defense again looked like a major question mark entering 2014, but Chicago could just outscore most foes.
So what happened? Utter disaster and a 5-11 record.
Despite several offseason additions like Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston, to name three, the Bears defense was even worse than expected, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 31st in points (27.6 ppg). That wasn't a huge shock, really. That the offense was just 21st in yards and averaged only 19.9 points per game (23rd) was. Starting after their Week 9 bye, the Bears scored more than 21 points just once and lost that game by 13 to Dallas.
Forte had a great season, rushing for 1,038 yards and six scores and catching 102 passes for 808 yards and four more TDs. Cutler was his typical inconsistent self, throwing for 3,812 yards and 28 touchdowns but also 18 interceptions -- he was lucky that number wasn't about 25. Both Marshall and Jeffery battled through injuries. Jeffery caught 85 balls for 1,133 yards and 10 scores but Marshall had only 61 catches for 721 (with eight TDs).
Bears' Offseason Moves
To no surprise, with the Bears missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season, ownership cleaned house. General Manager Phil Emery and Trestman were both fired. Amazingly, the defensive staff wasn't fired at first. However, that was just delaying the inevitable until a new coach was hired. First, the team hired young Ryan Pace as its new GM. The 37-year-old had spent the past 13 seasons as a member of the Saints' player personnel department, two as the director of player personnel. He's the youngest GM in the NFL.
Pace hired John Fox as his new head coach after Fox and the Broncos mutually agreed to part ways following Denver's flop in the AFC divisional round last season. Fox produced a record of 46-18 over four seasons with the Broncos, leading the club to a postseason in every year of his tenure. He also is one of only six coaches to lead two different teams to a Super Bowl, although Fox is 0-2 in that game. Fox brought along highly-coveted offensive coordinator Adam Gase from Denver. Peyton Manning loved that guy and Gase nearly was hired as the 49ers' head coach. Fox hired former 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio as his new DC and the Bears will shift to a 3-4 scheme.
From a player perspective, the biggest subtraction was trading Marshall, who had become a locker-room headache (as he tends to do after a few seasons) to the Jets for a late-round pick in the 2015 draft. The Bears also added linebacker Pernell McPhee, safety Antrel Rolle, receiver Eddie Royal and third-down back Jacquizz Rodgers. West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White was the team's first-round pick and he should slide right into Marshall's starting spot.
Chicago's schedule ranks as the 13th easiest in the league as its opponents were a combined 136-120 (.521) last season. It's not an easy start before a Week 7 bye. The Bears open as 5.5-point underdogs against the Packers and they just about never beat Aaron Rodgers. Green Bay easily swept last year. Then you have a Week 2 home game against 2014 playoff team Arizona and Week 3 trip to NFC favorite Seattle before a breather at Soldier Field in Week 4 vs. Oakland. Trips to Kansas City and Detroit follow before the bye. The Bears are likely to only be favored against the Raiders.
Following the bye, Chicago has five at home and five on the road. The only road game where the Bears may be favored is Week 16 at Tampa. The two home games where Chicago could be a favorite is Week 8 vs. the Vikings and Week 14 vs. the Redskins.
NFL Free Picks: The Bears have a wins total of 7, with the 'under' a -150 favorite. They are +600 to make the playoffs at sportsbooks. Chicago's projected finish odds are first at +1200, second at +400, third at +175 and last again at +120. First and second are out as those will be likely occupied by the Packers and Lions. Can Chicago beat out Minnesota for third? I say no. Go 'under' the wins and another last-place finish.