We continue our previews of all 32 NFL teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season with the NFC North. Up first in the division is the Chicago Bears, who are coming off a last-place finish last season.
Head coach John Fox looks to turn his squad around after consecutive seasons of finishing in the basement. The team lost starting RB Matt Forte in free agency when he signed with the Jets, leaving young RBs Jeremy Langford and Ka’Deem Carey to get the bulk of the carries this season. QB Jay Cutler should have a better receiving core to throw the ball to this season, after losing No. 1 WR Alshon Jeffery to injuries for much of last season. He’ll also have WR Kevin White as an offensive weapon after White missed all of his rookie season following preseason surgery that kept him out for the year.
With his limited receiving core last season, Cutler threw for 3,659 yards and 21 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 15 starts. Despite playing in just nine games last season, including eight starts, Jeffery was the top pass-catcher, with 54 receptions for 807 yards and 4 touchdowns. Outside of Forte, Langford was the team’s top rusher with 148 carries for 537 yards and 6 touchdowns in 16 games but just two starts. Carey had a limited workload, carrying the ball just 43 times for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns. Defensively, the team finished in the bottom half of the league, allowing 397 points and nabbing just 8 interceptions, the second-worst number in the league.
A healthy Jeffery will provide a significant boost to the passing game, as White should if he can live up to the expectations the Bears had for him when they selected him No. 7 overall in the 2015 draft. Losing the veteran Forte is a blow, but Langford showed some promising signs in his rookie season last year. Carey is still largely unproven, with 79 total carries in his first two seasons in the league. At No. 2 on the depth chart, he should get his first chance at a significant workload in the NFL. The tight-end position looks different for the Bears, who will be without TE Martellus Bennett for the first time since 2012, as he is now with the Patriots following a March trade; TE Zach Miller is expected to take over as the team’s starter at the position, with free-agent signee TE Tony Moeaki expected to get his share of the team’s snaps as well.
The Bears’ schedule begins with a road game at the Texans, before taking on a couple NFC East teams — the Eagles at home, followed by a road game at the Cowboys. In Weeks 7 and 8, the Bears have back-to-back primetime games against division rivals leading into their bye, with a Thursday night contest at the Packers, then a Monday nighter against the Vikings at home. The Bears have a tough stretch to end their season, with three straight games against playoff teams from last year: home games with the Packers and Redskins in Weeks 15 and 16, respectively, before finishing up at the Vikings in Week 17. If the Bears are in playoff contention late in the season, things won’t be easy for them with those final three games.