We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams over the course of 32 days (or so) leading up to the start of the 2015 season, as we move on the NFC North. We begin the division with this preview of the Chicago Bears, coming off a last-place finish in the division last season.
The Bears’ 5-11 record in 2014 was their worst record since 2004, when they also won just five games. With a bad season comes changes, including new head coach John Fox. The Bears also traded one of their two best wide receivers, Brandon Marshall, to the Jets in exchange for a fifth-round draft pick, leaving WR Alshon Jeffery as the main team’s main wide receiver.
The Bears’ poor season wasn’t necessarily the fault of the offense. QB Jay Cutler had one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for 3,812 yards and 28 touchdowns in 15 games. RB Matt Forte surpassed 1,000 rushing yards for the fourth straight season, totaling 1,038 and six touchdowns. He also added 102 receptions for more than 800 yards and four touchdowns. Jeffery’s 2014 saw him catching 85 balls for 1,133 yards and 10 touchdowns. TE Martellus Bennett had a career year, securing 90 catches for 916 yards and six scores. The defense was definitely to blame for for the five-win season, allowing opponents to score the second-most points in the league.
Following the trade of Marshall, Jeffery will have to step up his game a bit and catch more than 85 passes to help make up for some of the lost production because there’s not a clear No. 2 wide receiver on the roster. The closest player to that description would be WR Eddie Royal, signed as a free agent in the offseason, but the best season of his career was his rookie season — in 2008. On the positive side, his second best season was last year, when he had 62 receptions for 778 yards and seven touchdowns. Looking to improve the defense, the Bears signed LB Pernell McPhee — who had a career-best 7.5 sacks last season — and S Antrel Rolle in the offseason.
Looking ahead at the Bears’ schedule, it doesn’t start off easily. The season starts with home games against the Packers and Cardinals before heading off to Seattle to battle the Seahawks in week three.Their road game at Green Bay comes in prime time on Thanksgiving night, which comes just four days after a week 11 home game against Fox’s former team, the Broncos. Overall, it looks like a tough schedule for the Bears. Obviously an improved defense will be the key to finishing better than 5-11 this season. I can see them improving on that record, but I don’t think they’ll end up better than .500 this season, which would mean a fifth-straight season without a playoff appearance.