NFL 2014 Preview – Chicago Bears

The Chicago Bears collapsed late in the season for the third straight year in 2013.  After a Week 16 massacre against the Eagles, Chicago still controlled its own playoff fate heading into the season finale.  But Green Bay dashed their postseason hopes, beating Chicago at Soldier Field.

http://s1.ibtimes.com/sites/www.ibtimes.com/files/styles/contributors_nets/public/2011/12/05/200306.jpg

The Chicago Bears collapsed late in the season for the third straight year in 2013.  After a Week 16 massacre against the Eagles, Chicago still controlled its own playoff fate heading into the season finale.  But Green Bay dashed their postseason hopes, beating Chicago at Soldier Field.

This year, the Bears must finish better if they want to play into January.  And it starts on the defensive front.

Opponents gashed Chicago on the ground in game after game.  The Bears ranked dead last in run defense, giving up over 400 rushing yards more than the next worst team.  This was partially due to injuries; however, they also just lacked the talent and discipline to stop the run.

This year, the Bears will have former Dallas Cowboy defensive tackle Jay Ratliff for a full season.  The four-time Pro Bowler joined the Bears mid-season last year, but was plagued by injuries.  They also drafted DT’s Ego Ferguson (LSU) and Will Sutton (Arizona State), whom they hope make an early impact.  At defensive end, the Bears signed four-time All-Pro Jared Allen from the Vikings and ex-Raider Lamarr Houston.

Chicago’s defensive strength is their depth at corner, where they return former Pro Bowlers Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings and drafted Virginia Tech standout Kyle Fuller in the first round.  If the corners can return to creating turnovers at a high rate, this team can easily win the NFC North.

That’s because the Bears offense will be among the most explosive groups in the NFL.  Chicago returns all five starters on an offensive line that meshed incredibly well last season.  Second-year guard Kyle Long, a Pro Bowler in his rookie season, anchors this talented group.

Finally, quarterback Jay Cutler has ample help at the skill positions, something he couldn’t say his first few years with the team.  Receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery may be the most lethal duo in the league, Martellus Bennett is an underrated tight end and running back Matt Forte may be the team’s best player.  Forte reached career highs in rushing yards (1,339) and receiving yards (594) and matched his previous career high in touchdowns (12).

The Bears currently stand at 14-1 to win the 2015 Super Bowl and 15-2 to win the NFC.  Their schedule difficulty is in the middle of the pack; they have the 15th most difficult schedule (.496 opponents’ win percentage).