The Bears had the best point differential of any team that missed the playoffs last season, outscoring opponents by 98 points. Only 5 teams had better point differentials than that and that list does not include division winner Green Bay. They scored 23.4 points per game (16th) and allowed 17.3 points per game (3rd), good for a Pythagorean Expectation of 10.8 wins that ranked 6th in the NFL. Ordinarily, that’s a good sign for a team’s future prospects, but there are reasons to believe the Bears won’t match those figures again in 2013.
For one, they scored an absurd 70 points off of returns, as opposed to 21 points allowed off of returns. If that zeroes out, that only would cut their differential in half and I have reason to believe that it will even out. The Bears returned an absurd 10 of 44 takeaways for touchdowns last season, a ridiculous 22.7% clip. Ordinarily, teams who force that many takeaways can be expected to return 3 for a touchdown, as whether or not you score a touchdown off a takeaway depends much more on where the takeaway occurs than skill.
On top of that, they may force fewer takeaways than the 44 they forced last season. Those 44 takeaways were the 3rd highest by a team since 2002 and about 12 more than the 32.2 takeaways per season they averaged from 2007-2011. You have to go back to their NFC Championship season in 2006 to find a Bears team that forced more than 35 takeaways. Sure, they did something like last season before, during 2006, as they forced 43 takeaways, but they proved to be incapable of repeating the feat for another 6 seasons. I don’t think the Bears suddenly became a better team at taking away the ball last season, but that their takeaway total from 2012, like 2006 proved to be, was a fluke.
Part of the flukiness comes from the fact that the Bears are unlikely to recover 58.18% of fumbles that hit the ground again in 2012. Part of the flukiness comes from the sheer randomness of turnovers. Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman were by far the biggest contributors in this aspect last season, combining for 22 interceptions and forced fumbles between them, but the in the previous two seasons combined, they had interceptions and forced fumbles between them.
Charles Tillman did most of his damage with forced fumbles, forcing an absurd 10, but, while Peanut Tillman is better at forcing the ball out of receivers’ hands for a fumble than maybe any cornerback in the NFL, he managed just 7 forced fumbles in the prior 2 seasons. Tim Jennings, meanwhile, did most of his damage with interceptions, leading the NFL with 9, but he had combined for 7 interceptions in the first 6 seasons of his career. I don’t think he suddenly got better at interceptions. In 2011, he was a very solid cornerback, but not one who picked off a lot of passes. He should revert to that type of player again in 2013.
They’re highly unlikely to match the +20 turnover margin they produced last season (24 turnovers, 44 takeaways). That type of thing is really inconsistent anyway. For example, teams with 20 or fewer turnovers on average turn the ball over 25.5 times the following season, while teams that turn the ball over 35 or more times turn the ball over 28.1 times the following season. Teams with 20 or fewer takeaways take the ball away an average of 25.3 times the following season, while teams with 35 or more takeaways take the ball away an average of 27.3 times the following season. Teams with a turnover differential of +15 or higher have a turnover differential of +3.6 the following season, while teams with a turnover differential of -15 have a turnover differential of +1.5 the following season.
They won’t be a bad team in terms of takeaways in 2013 because they have a plenty talented defense, but I think you can safely estimate 10 fewer takeaways for this defense. On top of that, with the defense scoring fewer points, the offense will be on the field more often and will probably commit more than 24 turnovers. They should still be a good team in turnover margin, but they could easily be around +5 (33 takeaways, 28 turnovers), which would make a huge difference for this team. After all, they were actually outgained on the season last year (and only outgained opponents 5.0 yards per play to 4.9 on a per play basis).
It might be unfair to completely zero out their points off returns margin. They do have one of the best return men in NFL history in Devin Hester, who managed to somehow not get in on the return parade last season. On top of that, I would be pretty surprised if their turnover margin were negative this season. However, you can safely say that this team is going to have to rely more on their offense scoring more points than their defense allows in order to win games this season.
That could be a bit of a problem. Their offense scored just 19.1 points per game last season if you take out the points scored by the defense on returns. That number doesn’t tell the whole story because the offense saw fewer drives to no fault of their own as a result of the defense taking it to the house 10 times, but even on a per drive basis, they ranked 22nd in the NFL scoring 1.62 points per drive.
They rightfully made offense a big priority this off-season and did a great job helping Jay Cutler. Only one offensive lineman returns in his original spot as the Bears signed Jermon Bushrod and Matt Slauson in free agency and drafted Kyle Long in the first round. They also added Martellus Bennett to give Cutler someone to throw to besides Brandon Marshall. Bennett, along with potential breakout candidate Alshon Jeffery, give him a much better receiving corps than he’s used to.
The Bears also fired defensive minded Head Coach Lovie Smith, who, thanks largely to his tendency to hire ineffective offensive coordinators (Mike Martz, Mike Tice), never got this offense off the ground. He’s been replaced with Marc Trestman, who comes from an offensive background. Trestman hasn’t been in the NFL since 2004, but he has worked with a long list of NFL quarterbacks throughout his career, both as an offensive assistant and on his own time as a QB guru, and he spent the last 5 years orchestrating arguably the best offense in Canada with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL.
He brings with him a futuristic offensive philosophy and plans on adding more hurry up and read option (Jay Cutler’s mobility gets overlooked) to the Bears’ offense. It’s unclear if this move will pan out and it could completely backfire, but they certainly went in the right direction with their Head Coaching hire. If nothing else, the Bears’ offensive game plan figures to be significantly less vanilla that it has been in recent years. That, along with the personnel improvements they have made offensively, should lead to them scoring more points per drive this season.
However, the defense should go the opposite direction in terms of points per drive. They won’t be bad, after all they were 1st in the NFL, allowing just 1.31 points per drive last season, but the loss of defensive minded Lovie Smith as Head Coach and Rod Marinelli as Defensive Coordinator could hurt this defense. New Defensive Coordinator Mel Tucker will keep largely the same scheme in place, but he doesn’t have anywhere near the track record of Smith and Marinelli when it comes to defense.
On top of that, the Bears had the 3rd best injury luck in the NFL last season, essentially losing the equivalent of 2 important players for the entire season fewer than the average NFL team. That’s unlikely to continue in 2013. That could hurt their offense as well, but their defense had the best injury luck as their top-13 defenders (base 11 + nickel cornerback + top reserve defensive lineman) missed a combined 12 games last season. That will be very hard for the defense to repeat, especially since they’re an aging defense with 3 key players over 30, all of whom played all 16 games last season.
Players who play all 16 games repeat the feat only about half the time the following season, mostly due to pure randomness. They’ve already lost nickel cornerback Kelvin Hayden for the season, after he missed just 2 games last season. Add in the fact that they should end at least 10 fewer drives with turnovers and this is a defense that should allow noticeably more points per drive next season, probably enough to cancel out the offense’s gains in that area.
They were 10th in the NFL in points per drive differential last season and they should be right around there again this year. That could put them in the playoffs, but remember how loaded the NFC is. Even last year, they were just 6th in the conference in points per drive differential and the conference, if anything, is better this season. There might just not be a spot for them in the post-season, so, as the Bears are sadly used to, they could be on the outside looking in again this post-season, despite what should be a solid regular season.
In 3 years with the Broncos, Jay Cutler completed 62.5% of his passes for an average of 7.4 YPA, 54 touchdowns, and 37 interceptions, a quarterback rating of 87.1. However, going to the Bears stunted his statistical growth, as he’s completed 59.6% of his passes for an average of 7.1 YPA, 82 touchdowns, and 63 interceptions, a quarterback rating of 81.8. However, I don’t think he’s become a worse quarterback. In fact, he might have become a better quarterback as he’s matured. We just haven’t noticed because of his lack of supporting cast.
He should be noticeably better statistically this season. The Bears should also throw more frequently this season because they’ll have more drives (with the defense scoring on their own less often) and with Marc Trestman coming in as Head Coach. There’s some fantasy potential here for guys who are into that type of thing and I think Cutler is an underrated quarterback overall. He’ll have an occasional stinker, but you can win with him. He also has underrated athleticism, rushing for 1116 yards and 6 touchdowns on 262 carries in 93 games thus far in his career. He also ran a 4.77 40 at The Combine, which isn’t bad. Trestman could utilize that athleticism more than any Head Coach ever has.
As I mentioned, the Bears only have one offensive lineman starting in the same spot as he did last season. Ordinarily that wouldn’t be a good thing, but the Bears’ offensive line has been horrible for years, most recently grading out 19th in run blocking on ProFootballFocus and 28th in pass blocking in 2012, while ranking 27th in pass block efficiency. The Bears had 9 offensive linemen play at least 150 snaps last season and they all graded out below average. The only starter in his original spot is center Roberto Garza and he might be the worst one of the bunch. He graded out 2nd worst among eligible centers in 2011 and 28th out of 37 eligible in 2012. He’s also going into his age 34 season.
Jermon Bushrod was their big money acquisition, getting 5 years, 36 million to serve as their new left tackle. He was someone I felt would get overpaid and sure enough he did. Bushrod may be a two-time Pro-Bowler, but that’s more to the credit of Drew Brees’ quick release and pocket presence and the how overall uneducated the Pro-Bowl voting public is. Bushrod may have two Pro-Bowl appearances, but has never been close to being voted an All-Pro by the writers, who tend to be much more tuned in to the game than common fans. That shows they don’t value him much.
The Saints also didn’t value him much as they were content to let him leave. Drew Brees has one of the quickest releases in the NFL and some of the best pocket presence. The Saints don’t value the left tackle position as much for that reason and I think that’s smart of them. Bushrod has made 68 starts over the last 4 seasons, including the post-season, and has allowed just 20 sacks, including 11 in his last 3 seasons, but he’s also allowed 205 combined hits and hurries. He’s really a middling talent that Drew Brees made look better than he is. He might not even be that big of an upgrade over what J’Marcus Webb was last season, as he graded out 36th at his position on ProFootballFocus, while Webb graded out 51st.
Webb is a frequent media whipping boy and he was awful in his first 2 seasons, grading out 2nd worst among offensive tackles in 2010 and 65th out of 76 eligible in 2011. However, he graded out just below average last season and really settled down after the infamous week 2 game against the Packers, in which he allowed 2 sacks and Jay Cutler shoved him on the sidelines. He allowed just 5 sacks the rest of the way.
He’ll move to right tackle this season, which theoretically should be a good fit for him. That is the one benefit of the Bushrod signing. However much they overpaid him, he does allow Webb to move to an easier spot at right tackle, where they previously had a huge hole. However, I say it will theoretically fit him because he doesn’t seem to be having a very good camp. Perhaps he’s uncomfortable with the position (he did play primarily on the right side in 2010, his worst year as a pro) and can’t adjust his technique. Perhaps he’s regressing after a half decent season.
Whatever the case, he’s actually been benched for 5th round rookie Jordan Mills and it could be permanent. I don’t have to tell you that starting a 5th round rookie at right tackle could be a liability. He could be equally as horrific as the Gabe Carimi/Jonathan Scott combination that started there last season (both ranked in the bottom-20 among tackles despite splitting starts and their composite grade would have been 6th worst at the position). Bushrod would still be an upgrade at left tackle in that scenario, but not by much and his presence at left tackle would not give two positional upgrades as they would have liked.
Matt Slauson is the new starter at left guard and he should be a nice cheap addition for them. He’s graded out slightly above average in each of the last 3 seasons as a starter for the Jets. Kyle Long will start at right guard. He was the 20th overall pick in the draft. Ordinarily, it’s hard to rely on rookies, especially raw rookies like Long, but interior linemen tend to have a shorter adjustment period than other positions and reports on Long from Training Camp have been great. It might take him a little while, but he should be a solid starter as a rookie. The offensive line still isn’t great (let’s call it 3 average starters, LT, LG, RG, and 2 below average, C, RT), but it’s definitely upgraded and they should have more stability. Barring injuries, right tackle is the only spot where they could have to bench a player mid-season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
The Bears brought in Brandon Marshall last off-season, but after last season it was clear they needed to add someone else after him. After Marshall, who caught 118 passes for 1508 yards and 11 touchdowns on 181 attempts, no one else had more than 44 catches (Matt Forte), 375 yards (Earl Bennett), 3 touchdowns (Alshon Jeffery), or 59 targets (Forte). Marshall was targeted on an absurd 181 on 462 aimed passes, 39.2%. That makes your passing game so predictable and one dimensional and is a big part of reason why 7 of the team’s 16 interceptions came on throws to Marshall. This year, there’s more talent around Marshall, which could hurt his production (though not too much as the Bears will pass more and he’ll see fewer triple teams), but it’ll definitely help their offense as a whole.
Opposite Marshall, Alshon Jeffery isn’t an addition, but the 2012 2nd round pick should have a better season in his 2nd year in the league. As a rookie, he didn’t do much, catching just 24 passes for 367 yards and 3 touchdowns, but rookie receivers don’t usually do much. He also missed 6 games with injury and played a total of 445 snaps. Reports have been very positive going into his 2nd season in the league and he could, at least, be an average starter opposite Marshall and get open with Marshall drawing the coverage his way. Earl Bennett remains the slot receiver and he’s a pretty decent one, when he’s on the field. He’s missed 17 games with injury in his 5-year career and is already dealing with a concussion.
The addition in the receiving corps is Martellus Bennett, the tight end. Anyone would have been an upgrade over Kellen Davis, who was one of the worst tight ends I’ve ever seen last season. A decent blocker, Davis was horrific as a pass catcher, grading out dead last at his position in that aspect. He caught just 19 of his 44 targets for 229 yards and a touchdown, thanks to 8 drops, the worst drop rate in the NFL. He also had just 0.63 yards per route run, by far the worst among eligible tight ends. The next worst was 0.86. In spite of this, he ranked 6th among tight ends in snaps played out of necessity.
Bennett probably won’t just be any upgrade though as he could be a very good all-around tight end for them. Bennett was a 2nd round pick in 2008 by the Cowboys, but he was stuck as a pure blocker behind Jason Witten in 4 years in Dallas. However, he excelled as a blocker, grading out top-5 in run blocking grade among tight ends from 2009-2011 and then, in his first year as a starter with the Giants in 2012, he caught 55 passes for 626 yards and 5 touchdowns. He’s not a great pass catcher, but he’s one of the best all-around tight ends in the NFL, grading out 5th overall among tight ends on ProFootballFocus last season. He’ll be a tremendous upgrade over Davis. Blocking specialist Steve Maneri is the #2 tight end. Bennett and Jeffery will provide capable secondary targets behind Marshall and really help Cutler as a result.
Matt Forte is the one thing that’s the same around Cutler and that’s a good thing as he’s been Cutler’s best complementary offensive weapon since he got to Chicago. Forte has missed just 7 games in 5 seasons (though they’ve all been in the last 2 seasons) and totaled 1529 touches (1262 carries, 267 receptions) in 75 games, 20.4 per game. He’s averaged 4.2 yards per carry and, with more complementary offensive talent around him, he could see that number increase this season. As long as he doesn’t get hurt (always the caveat for running backs) or prematurely age going into his age 28 season, he should have another solid season.
Michael Bush, meanwhile, remains the backup. He’s a more experienced backup than most, with 746 career carries, along with 100 career carries, largely from backing up tissue paper running back Darren McFadden in Oakland. He’s averaged 4.1 yards per carry in his career and, as far as backups go, he’s pretty solid. He’ll once again be a pure backup, but he’s good insurance and spells Forte more than most (114 carries to Forte’s 248).
As I mentioned, the Bears have 3 key defensive players over 30. Julius Peppers is one of them. He showed some signs of age last season, grading out “just” 18th at his position on ProFootballFocus after ranking in the top-9 in every season from 2008-2011. He still graded out well above average, excelling as a pass rusher with 13 sacks, 7 hits, and 37 hurries on 507 pass rush snaps, an 11.2% rate. Going into his age 33 season, his best days may be behind him, but he should remain an above average starter.
Opposite him, the Bears lost starter Israel Idonije, one of three starters they lost this off-season. Idonije may be the toughest to replace. Idonije remained unsigned late into the off-season because of his age (he’s going into his age 33 season), but he’s a very underrated player who provided them with great play at two spots on the defensive line, lining up at defensive end in base packages and rushing the passer from the interior in sub packages. He also moved to defensive tackle for a few games late in the season. His composite grade would have been 8th among 4-3 defensive ends and 6th among defensive tackles.
Corey Wootton takes over essentially the same role and the 6-6 270 pound 2010 4th round pick seems like a natural fit. He played alright in limited action last season, grading out about average on 582 snaps in his first real action. He won’t be the player Idonije was, but he could be alright in a larger role. Shea McClellin will see a larger role as well. The 2012 1st round pick played just 368 snaps as a rookie, grading out slightly below average, but he could be better in his 2nd year in the league. He’ll come in on passing downs in sub packages and allow the Bears to put 3 defensive ends on the field at once.
Along with those 3 defensive ends on sub packages, the Bears also have a very talented interior pass rusher in Henry Melton, an every down defensive tackle who excels in rushing the passer. They rightfully franchised tagged him this off-season because they couldn’t afford to let him get away. After a breakout season in his 3rd year in the league in 2011, in which he graded out 16th among defensive tackles, he was even better in 2012, grading out 7th. He was actually slightly below average against the run, but made up for it with 8 sacks, 5 hits, and 24 hurries on 402 pass rush snaps, a 9.2% pass rush rate that’s incredibly impressive for an interior defensive lineman. He also committed just 1 penalty.
In base packages, Melton plays inside next to Stephen Paea, a 2011 2nd round pick who graded out about average in his first year as a starter in 2012. Nate Collins is the top reserve. The 2010 undrafted free agent excelled on 247 snaps last season and could be in for a bigger role. He’s not a proven commodity by any stretch of the imagination, but he could provide very solid depth.
The Bears also lost two starters at linebacker. Brian Urlacher is the bigger name, but losing him might actually be a good thing for this defense going forward. He was horrible last season, grading out 44th out of 53 eligible middle linebackers. He covered well, as he usually does, but showed a serious inability to get off blocks in the running game and was noticeably less physical than his younger days. He managed just 34 tackles of substance (within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage on first down, 6 yards on 2nd down, or the full distance on 3rd or 4th down) all season and graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst middle linebacker against the run. The Bears made him a take it or leave it offer of 2 million dollars over one seasons and he opted to test the open market.
As it turns out, that 2 million might have been a generous offer by the Bears, more of a token of gratitude for everything he once was for the franchise than anything, as Urlacher was greeted by an incredibly cold market. Rather than competing for a job playing for the veteran’s minimum in any uniform other than a Bears uniform, Urlacher opted to retire, rather than playing out his age 35 season. Father time remains undefeated and now Urlacher will sit and wait for the Hall of Fame to call (it will).
The Bears replaced Urlacher with veteran DJ Williams. Williams is a versatile linebacker capable of playing inside and outside, but he struggled mightily the last time he was a starter, grading out 33rd among 45 eligible 3-4 outside linebackers in 2011. He was relegated to a reserve role last season, playing just 131 snaps (he also missed several games with suspension) and, going into his age 31 season, his days as a capable starter are probably over. The Bears have to be hoping that 2nd round rookie Jon Bostic can beat him out at some point because he has by far the most upside of the two. Williams is dealing with an injury in Training Camp, so this could be that opportunity, but, while he’s a perfect fit for the defensive scheme, it’s hard to trust rookies as starters.
Nick Roach is the other starting linebacker they lost this off-season. He was decent for them as a two-down outside linebacker, coming off the field in sub packages for a 5th defensive back, in 2 seasons as a starter. He also stepped into the middle for a few games when Urlacher was hurt last season and played every down. He’s been replaced with James Anderson, who was a cap casualty of the Panthers’ this off-season.
Anderson got a 5 year, 22 million dollar contract from the Panthers after a breakout season 2010, in which he graded out as ProFootballFocus’ 3rd ranked outside linebacker, playing every down, but the one year wonder never lived up to that season. He graded out below average in both 2011 and 2012 and was relegated to a part-time role last season. He still struggled with the easier role, grading out as ProFootballFocus’ 5th worst rated 4-3 outside linebacker. Now he’s going into his age 30 season and, while there’s some bounce back potential and while he won’t serve a particularly important role as a part-time run stuffing linebacker, it’s very tough to get excited about him as a starter.
Perhaps 4th round rookie Khaseem Greene could push him at some point, but it’s uncertain if he’d be an upgrade. Besides, they seem more intent on making Greene the heir apparent to Lance Briggs on the weak side, rather than making him the starter on the strong side. He’ll work as Briggs’ direct backup this season and probably won’t see very many snaps. He could be a solid starter in the future though because he was a steal in the 4th round and a great fit for their scheme to boot.
Briggs, meanwhile, is going into his age 33 season, the 2nd of 3 over 30 starters on defense for the Bears. With the exception of a down 2009 season, he’s graded out as a top-10 4-3 outside linebacker on ProFootballFocus dating back to 2008, topping out at #2 in 2008. He ranked 3rd last season, but he might not be able to maintain quite that level of play as he ages. He could remain an elite player, but it’s uncertain at this point. There’s a reason they brought Greene in. Briggs is owed a non-guaranteed 5.25 million in a contract year in 2014.
Charles Tillman is the other over 30 defensive player, as he heads into his age 32 season. He won’t force 10 fumbles again, but he should once again have a strong season, though his age is a small concern. He was ProFootballFocus’ 3rd ranked cornerback in 2012 and 7th ranked cornerback in 2011. He’ll continue covering well regardless of his forced fumbles total.
Tim Jennings makes this one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL, maybe after Seattle. Jennings probably won’t even have half of the 9 interceptions he had last season, because that was so uncharacteristic for him, but he doesn’t need to pick off a bunch of passes to be a good coverage cornerback. In 2011, he was ProFootballFocus’ 15th ranked cornerback despite picking off just 2 passes, because he allowed just 63 catches on 110 attempts for 700 yards, with deflecting 5 passes and committing just 4 penalties. On top of that, no one played more coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown than him.
In 2012, even with the 9 interceptions, he didn’t grade out that much better overall, ranking 9th, as what you do on 9 snaps should not tell the story of your season. He allowed 55 catches on 104 attempts for 678 yards and 5 touchdowns, while deflecting 11 passes and committing just 3 penalties. He should be a very strong cover cornerback again this season, regardless of how many passes he picks off. He is going into his age 30 season, but it’s not time to worry about age yet with him.
As I mentioned, the Bears have lost slot cornerback Kelvin Hayden for the season due to injury. Isaiah Frey is the leading in house candidate to take over. The 2012 6th round pick didn’t play as a snap as a rookie. He’ll compete with mediocre veteran Zackary Bowman for the role, but it looks like he’s going to win the job. Either way, they’ll miss Hayden, a solid slot man.
At safety, Major Wright was off to a great start last season. He was my mid-season pick to represent the NFC in the Pro-Bowl from the strong safety position. He struggled in the 2nd half in the season, but, overall, he still graded out 23rd at his position and he could be even better in his 4th year in the league, which also happens to be his contract year. He’ll need to improve his consistency and his tackling, but he has a chance to grade out as one of the better safeties in the league.
He’ll start next to Chris Conte once again. Conte is a 2011 3rd round pick who graded out just below average in his first year as a starter in 2012. He could be pushed by 2012 3rd round pick Brandon Hardin, but he did miss his whole record season with an injury so he could be behind the 8-ball. It’s a very strong safety overall though, led by one of the best cornerback duos in the NFL.
The Bears took a big risk firing Lovie Smith. He had been their Head Coach for 9 seasons and had an 81-63 record, leading the team to the Super Bowl in 2006. Their offensive production was unsatisfactory and they had missed the playoffs in 5 of their last 6 seasons, but he always did a great job with the defense and they hadn’t lost double digit games since his first season in 2004. He was also only the 4th Head Coach to win 10+ games and then get fired since 1990.
The Bears also took a big risk hiring Marc Trestman, who comes from an unorthodox background. He hasn’t been in the NFL since 2004, but he has worked with a long list of NFL quarterbacks throughout his career, both as an offensive assistant and on his own time as a QB guru, and he spent the last 5 years orchestrating arguably the best offense in Canada with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL. He brings with him a futuristic offensive philosophy and plans on adding more hurry up and read option to the Bears’ offense. It’s unclear if this move will pan out and it could completely backfire. We’ll see how it works out. As always, it’s very tough to grade 1st year Head Coaches.
The Bears have actually improved their talent level this off-season, particularly in the offensive side of the ball, and they were the best team in the NFL not to make the playoffs last season, any way you look at it (wins, point differential, Pythagorean Expectation). However, they won’t have as much help from returns and turnovers as they did last season and the NFC remains a loaded conference. I won’t be surprised at all if they found their way into the post-season, but I have them on the outside looking in.
In the division, I still don’t think they’re as good as Green Bay, but they’re better than Minnesota and equal to Detroit, so I have them at 3-3 in the division. Outside the division, they host Cincinnati, New Orleans, the NY Giants, Baltimore, and Dallas. They should be competitive in all 5 of those games and win at least 3. On the road outside the division, they go to Pittsburgh, Washington, St. Louis, Cleveland, and Philadelphia. Pittsburgh is going to be a tough place to win, as Washington will be, but they can win in the other 3 places and I think they’re as likely to pull the upside in either Pittsburgh or Washington as they are to get upset in any of the other 3 locations. I give them 3 wins in that bunch and 9 wins overall.
Projection: 9-7 3rd in NFC North