In John Fox’s second year in charge of the Chicago Bears, the team somehow regressed to finish 3-13 in the 2016 season. While many pointed the finger at Jay Cutler, the injured reserve list told a different tale. With two new additions to the quarterback room, one with a huge contract and one with the expectations of an entire fanbase that come with being the second overall pick, will either be successful in guiding the Bears out of the doldrums of the NFC North and to a brighter future in 2017? Our Bears 2017 season preview tries to answer that question.


2016 summary

With lofty ambitions placed on the Bears from the fanbase following an apparently impressive free agency and draft… the Bears did what the Bears usually do and finish 3-13 and dead last in the NFC North. Incumbent quarterback Jay Cutler started the season before his annual midseason injury leave, which led to a quarterback carousel consisting of Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley and David Fales.

Despite the mess at the quarterback position, the Beard did manage to unearth a running back to follow in the footsteps of the impressive lineage Chicago boasts at the position. Jordan Howard was a fourth-round draft pick, but looked like a first-rounder on the field, cruising his way to 1,313 rushing yards and giving glum Bears fans a glimmer of hope of what is to come in the future.

The defense had its ups and downs over the year, but an inexperienced secondary – featuring the likes of UDFAs Cre’Von LeBlanc and Bryce Callahan – was left badly exposed after veteran Tracy Porter left the lineup. At least Leonard Floyd, the ninth overall pick, showed huge promise at the outside linebacker position as he collected a healthy seven sacks in his rookie season.


Personnel Changes

Cutler, the franchise leader in passing yards, was released by Chicago after eight years in Illinois as the Bears management decided to look to the future at the quarterback position.

Following Cutler out the door was Alshon Jeffery, who played the 2016 season under the franchise tag. The Eagles convinced Jeffery to head to Philadelphia on a one-year deal, leading to a meltdown across Chicago message boards.

However, on the first day of free agency the Bears opened up their wallet to ink deals for quarterback Mike Glennon (which led to another meltdown on Chicago message boards), speed receiver Markus Wheaton from Pittsburgh, Miami tight end Dion Sims, and 32-year-old Quintin Demps, a safety from the Broncos.

The biggest change to the Bears roster came via the draft when general manager Ryan Pace traded two third-round picks and a fourth-rounder to move up one spot to select quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Trubisky represents a huge gamble but a gamble that the Bears believe will lead them to a new era of success.

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Team Strengths

The Bears have a young, dynamic trio headlined by the aforementioned Jordan Howard. While Howard will no doubt carry the ball numerous times every game, the Bears have Jeremy Langford and Tarik Cohen, two speedy backs that have big play potential once Howard has worn down opposing defences.

Kyle Long and Josh Sitton are the stars of an offensive line that should only get better this year. The duo form one of the best interiors in the NFL with sophomore center Cody Whitehair and the group was pivotal in blowing open lanes which led to Howard’s rookie success. Tackles Charles Leno Jr and Bobby Massie grew better over time last year and should look to start where they finished off.

The linebacking core is easily the Bears biggest strength of defence and Jerrell Freeman has thrived in Vic Fangio’s 3-4 scheme since arriving in Chicago. As Freeman and Danny Trevathan clog up the middle, Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Willie Young feast on quarterbacks off the edge with the trio’s rushing styles complementing each others perfectly.


Team Weaknesses

There is a clear lack of experience and reliability at the cornerback position for the Bears. Kyle Fuller missed the whole of last season through injury while newly signed Prince Amukamara has hardly been the picture of good health throughout his career. The Bears desperately need a number one corner to step up this year and while Marcus Cooper is a solid option at number two, he could easily be exposed if expected to cover the likes of Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Golden Tate twice a year.

With Jeffery leaving for pastures new, head coach John Fox will lean on breakout star Cameron Meredith and the oft-injured Kevin White to assume his role as the number one receiver. The Bears signed Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright to be their deep threat and slot receiver respectively but still lack that consistent number one who is going to move the chains. If the Bears are relying on Victor Cruz to return to his former self, they may be in for a long season.

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Best Case

Glennon does a solid if unspectacular job as the Bears quarterback but Trubisky does enough in spot duty and garbage time to convince the hierarchy that their gamble paid off and impress the Bears enough to start in the near future. Ideally, the Bears continue to step forward in the right direction without winning too many games to ensure they get another good pick in the next draft. The Bears simply do not have enough to challenge for the playoffs yet but could ride Howard to 7-9, second or third in NFC North.


Worst Case

Glennon flunks and Trubisky is what every draftnik predicted – that is, simply not ready to play in the NFL. Howard struggles to replicate his rookie season success and the injury issues that decimated the Bears roster last year occur again as Chicago limps to 3-13 and last in the NFC North. Again.

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Prediction

The Bears should improve marginally, only because it can’t get much worse. Although I predicted 8-8 for the Bears last year, I could not foresee the injury bug that crippled our chances. I think the Bears get six wins despite Glennon rather than because of him, as Howard shows he is no fluke. The pass rush will once again shine but the youth in the secondary is once again exposed, forcing the Bears to properly address the issue next year. 6-10, fourth in the NFC North

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