Over the course of 32 days (or so) I will be previewing all 32 NFL teams, followed by an overall season prediction post, leading up to the start of the 2014 season. This post is previewing the Chicago Bears.
You’ve gotta wonder if the Bears’ 8-8 record in 2013 would have been better if QB Jay Cutler didn’t miss five games due to injury. With one of the NFL’s top running backs in Matt Forte and two big playmakers with WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, could they have been a playoff team under first-year head coach Marc Trestman if Cutler was healthy for all 16 games? We could get a chance to find out with the key offensive players all returning for the upcoming season.
Cutler played well in his 11 games, despite a 5-6 record, and QB Josh McCown — who’s now with the Buccaneers — was a more-than-capable fill-in in Cutler’s absence, throwing for 13 touchdowns in just 224 passes. Marshall and Jeffery each finished in the top 10 in receptions and receiving yards last year, while Forte finished second in rushing yards. But a down year from the defense — ranked 30th in the league — didn’t help matters for the Bears.
Looking ahead to 2014, the offense looks to have another big year, but if Cutler misses significant time — he hasn’t started 16 games since 2009 — Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen are the other quarterbacks on the roster, each likely a significant drop-off from what McCown did in relief last year. But the key to a successful season could be a comeback year for the defense, which added veteran DE Jared Allen in the offseason, to keep the games from becoming shootouts.
The road to the playoffs won’t be easy for the Bears with the Packers, who are contenders pretty much every year, and the Lions, who have a potent offense of their own, in the division. Some roadblocks in the schedule include road games against the the Patriots and a primetime game against the 49ers in the first regular season game in their new stadium, which will likely be a tough environment for the visiting team.