CHICAGO BEARS (12-5)
New faces: Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, CB Buster Skrine, WR Cordarrelle Patterson, K Eddy Pineiro, RB David Montgomery, RB Mike Davis, WR Riley Ridley, G Ted Larsen.
Key losses: Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, S Adrian Amos, CB Bryce Callahan, WR Josh Bellamy, RB Jordan Howard, K Cody Parkey, G Bryan Witzmann, G Eric Kush.
Strengths: Pass rush and front seven overall are led by OLB Khalil Mack, who could improve on 12½-sack total after having full offseason and preseason to get ready - last year he had neither due to holdout. Roquan Smith, in second year, and veteran Danny Trevathan at inside linebacker combine with DE Akiem Hicks and NT Eddie Goldman to key what was last year’s No. 1 run defense. Pass coverage is nearly as good behind All-Pro S Eddie Jackson, All-Pro CB Kyle Fuller and veteran CB Prince Amukamara, although it seems unlikely Bears can duplicate last year’s league-high 27 interceptions. Coach Matt Nagy’s creativity, overall personnel versatility featuring RB Tarik Cohen, WR Allen Robinson, WR Taylor Gabriel and Patterson, and veteran blockers, create hope offense will produce more big plays.
Weaknesses: No one can be sure Pineiro is answer after kicking game ended last season with Cody Parkey’s double-doink missed field goal. QB Mitchell Trubisky improved greatly last year, but still needs consistency. Neither Montgomery nor Davis is proven NFL starter in backfield. Offensive line depth, particularly behind starters Charles Leno Jr. and Bobby Massie at tackle, is problem. Once Clinton-Dix and Skrine gain their bearings, little about defense should be troublesome, but scheme under Pagano has changed somewhat and it could slow down defenders for at least part of season.
Fantasy Players To Watch: Robinson. Bears paid him like top receiver in free agency but he was coming off torn anterior cruciate ligament and made just 55 receptions. In this training camp, Robinson looks step faster, more athletic, and has become Trubisky’s go-to receiver. Cohen always will be coveted fantasy player because of ability to score from various offensive positions.
Vegas Says: Win Super Bowl 15-1. Over/under wins 9½.
Expectations: Improvement of Trubisky’s downfield passing accuracy, within pocket and outside it, is anticipated by coaches. Bears picked up option year of OLB Leonard Floyd. Even with coordinator change defense can become more devastating if Floyd justifies management’s faith by making leap to elite pass rusher. Montgomery and Davis give Nagy more versatility on offense as receivers out of backfield, and maybe offense then becomes less predictable. Schedule can make it tougher to repeat in NFC North: It’s fifth toughest (.520 opponents’ win percentage) and last year they played NFL’s easiest schedule (.430). Of course, such projections rarely are accurate.
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