New York Giants at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

New York Giants (0-1) at Chicago Bears (1-0)

The Bears pulled out the win in Detroit last week, but it’s hard to ignore that they couldn’t generate any offense until the Lions lost cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman, leaving the Lions down their top-3 cornerbacks, with Jeff Okudah ruled out before the game. Once that happened, the Bears strung together three straight touchdown drives to win the game, but that’s a lot less impressive against bottom of the roster cornerbacks. 

The Bears are more or less at full health with free acquisition edge defender Robert Quinn making his debut after missing the opener with injury, but I still expect them to be a mediocre team this season, with their offensive issues still remaining and their defense not being what it was due to player departures. I expect the Giants to be mediocre as well but I have them less than a point behind the Bears in my roster rankings. 

The Bears won’t have full homefield advantage, so it’s hard to understand them being favored by more than a field goal. There isn’t enough here for the Giants to be worth betting at +5, but that may change if Golden Tate is able to go (listed questionable after missing the opener and being limited in practice all week) and/or if the line creeps up to 6. About 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly and the most likely outcome of this game is the Bears winning by that exact amount, but I’d probably want protection from a 6-point Bears win if I was going to bet this one.

Update: Tate is playing, but with this line still at 5, I’m going to keep this one as a low confidence pick.

Chicago Bears 20 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2020 Week 1 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)

The Bears won 12 games in 2018 on the strength of a defense that led the NFL in first down rate allowed, but in 2019 they fell to just 8-8 and were noticeably worse on both sides of the ball. Part of it was their schedule got significantly tougher after facing one of the easiest in 2018, but their defense lost a pair of starters to free agency, lost their defensive coordinator to a head coaching job, and then lost Akiem Hicks for an extended period of time due to injury, after having the best injury luck in the league on defense in 2018, while their offense continued to have issues at the quarterback position and couldn’t hide them nearly as easily as they did in 2018 with their run game and offensive line struggling as well.

In 2020, I expect things to get worse. After some off-season departures and opt outs, the Bears have just 6 players remaining from their top-11 in snaps played from their dominant 2018 defense and all six players are coming off of down years relative to 2018 when Vic Fangio was defensive coordinator. They’ve also done little to replace the players they’ve lost and their one key off-season addition Robert Quinn is set to miss what would have been his debut with the team due to injury. The Bears still ranked 8th in first down rate allowed last season, but this year I don’t expect them to be nearly that good, especially without Quinn. On offense, the quarterback situation has yet to be resolved and their offensive line and running game figure to continue to be mediocre at best.

The Bears look like a bottom-5 team on paper, but this line suggests they’re essentially on par with the Lions, favoring the Lions by just 2 points. The Lions won’t have much homefield advantage due to pandemic restrictions, but very few games are decided by fewer than 2 points, so the Lions really just need to win to cover. The Lions probably won’t be a playoff team, but they should at least be competitive, similar to the start of last season when the Lions had a healthy Matt Stafford. The Lions aren’t fully healthy with top wide receiver Kenny Golladay out with injury, among other minor absences, but they were one of the most injury plagued teams in the league last season and even in their current injury state, they still have a substantial edge on the Bears in my roster rankings. I have this line calculated at Detroit -6, so we’re getting a great value with them at -2. This is my Pick of the Week.

Detroit Lions 24 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit -2

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Chicago Bears 2020 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

The Bears used the 2nd overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on quarterback Mitch Trubisky and, like many teams that feel they have a franchise quarterback on a cheap rookie deal, they were aggressive about adding talent to this team, in order to maximize their chances of winning while their quarterback is still cheap. An off-season spending spree after Trubisky’s first season in 2017 pushed the Bears up to 3rd in the NFL in total average salary under contract for the 2018 season and 7th for the 2019 season, even though they were hardly spending any money on the quarterback position.

No move was a better example of the Bears being aggressive than their decision to trade for Khalil Mack on the eve of the 2018 season. Mack is undoubtedly one of the top few defensive players in the entire NFL, but the Bears had to give up a pair of future first round picks, which  became the 24th pick in 2019 and 19th pick in 2020, to acquire Mack and they had to give him a 6-year, 141 million dollar extension that still makes him the highest paid non-quarterback in the league two years after it was signed.

The moves seemed to work at first. Trubisky took a step forward in his 2nd season in the league after a nondescript rookie year and the rest of this roster played at a high level as well, including a defense that ranked 1st in first down rate allowed, led by Defensive Player of the Year contender Khalil Mack. As a result, the Bears jumped all the way up to 12 wins and, though they lost in heartbreaking fashion in their first post-season game, the future seemed bright for this team.

However, as things tend to do in this league, things have changed quickly in Chicago. Instead of taking another step forward in his 3rd season in the league, Trubisky regressed significantly, while the rest of this team wasn’t as good, due to a few off-season departures and overall less injury luck, having the 13th fewest adjusted games lost to injury in the league after having the 3rd fewest adjusted games lost to injury in 2018. The defense was still solid, finishing 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.33%, but their offense plummeted to 28th in first down rate at 31.89%, so they were lucky to even finish 8-8.

Now the Bears are at a crossroads. Teams built around defense usually aren’t built to last because it becomes difficult to keep all of their defensive talent under the cap long-term and that has become a problem for the Bears, who still have the 7th highest average salary, but have had to let several key defensive players leave over the past two off-seasons. This team is only going to become more expensive to keep going forward, especially since their quarterback costs will increase going forward.

Not only is Trubisky is now in the final year of his cheap rookie deal, but his struggles in 2019 caused the Bears to go out and add more expensive competition, sending a 4th round pick to the Jaguars for Nick Foles, who will make 8 million this year with the potential to earn more, after agreeing to a restructured 3-year, 24 million dollar contract. Unless the Bears can end up with a high pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, they’re almost definitely going to be paying more for quarterback play going forward, given the cost of even a capable veteran starting quarterback in today’s NFL, which will make it even tougher for them to keep talent on the rest of this roster.

For 2020, the Bears will have a competition between Foles and Trubisky in what is one of the worst quarterback situations in the league. Trubisky has shown flashes since the Bears drafted him, but he’s struggled to develop into a consistently competent quarterback, completing 63.4% of his passes for an average of 6.68 YPA, 48 touchdowns, and 29 interceptions, while finishing in the bottom third among qualifying quarterbacks on Pro Football Focus in all three seasons. Perhaps more importantly, he seems to be heading in the wrong direction in terms of his development, completing 63.2% of his passes for an average of just 6.08 YPA, 17 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions. Trubisky’s high draft status will get him another chance, but if he hasn’t improved from last year and this is a fair competition, Foles should be able to beat him out pretty easily.

This isn’t to say Foles is a good option though. He certainly has his moments, posting the 3rd highest QB rating of all time in a single season in 2013 (119.2) and taking the Eagles on back-to-back playoff runs as a backup quarterback in 2017-2018, including a Super Bowl victory in 2017, but he’s been wildly inconsistent. In five of his eight seasons in the league, he’s finished with a QB rating of 85 or lower, including the 2017 regular season, which was a microcosm of his career, as he struggled in 3 regular season starts before going on one of the more improbable Super Bowl runs of all-time. 

Even at his best, Foles has never finished higher than 15th among quarterbacks on PFF, nor has he ever made it through a full 16-game season as a starter, due both to injury and poor performance. Now in his age 31 season, it’s unlikely Foles turns into a consistent 16-game starter in his 9th year in the league, but he’s likely to give this offense a much higher upside week-to-week than Trubisky, who would almost definitely be among the worst few quarterbacks in the league if he had to see action again.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

Along with Trubisky’s regression at quarterback, the biggest reason this offense struggled in 2019 compared to 2018, when they ranked 14th in first down rate, is that their offensive line fell off significantly, going from Pro Football Focus’ 4th ranked offensive line in pass blocking grade and 12th ranked in run blocking grade in 2018 to 20th in both pass and run blocking grade in 2019. That’s despite the fact that little changed in terms of personnel. In fact, the only change to their expected starting five upfront between the two seasons was that they flipped center Cody Whitehair and left guard James Daniels and even that move was reversed by mid-season. 

Whitehair was only an average guard last season, after finishing in the top-13 among centers on PFF in each of his first 3 seasons in the league prior to moving to guard, which is likely why he was moved back, but Whitehair wasn’t necessarily better last season after being moved back. Daniels, meanwhile, was just an average starting guard as a 2nd round rookie in 2018 (10 starts) and wasn’t much better at center to start last season, but the final 8 games of last season at left guard was by far the best stretch of his career, as he was PFF’s 12th ranked guard over that period of time. For that reason, Daniels is likely to stay at left guard and, while he might not be quite as good over a full 16 game season, there’s a good chance he’s an above average starter, while Whitehair has obvious bounce back potential at center, still only in his age 28 season.

Right guard Kyle Long missed most of last season with injury, limited to 250 snaps in 4 games, but that wasn’t really a big change from 2018 either, as he also was limited to 511 snaps in 8 games with injuries in 2018. His extensive injury history caused him to retire ahead of what would have been his age 32 season this off-season, leaving the Bears to either start Rashaad Coward, a 2017 undrafted free agent who finished 71st out of 89 qualifying guards on 660 snaps in his first career action in 2019, or Germain Ifedi, an underwhelming free agent acquisition.

Coward profiles as a backup at best long-term, but if Ifedi would be an upgrade it would only be by default, as the former 2016 31st overall pick struggled mightily in 4 seasons with the Seahawks, earning a below average grade from PFF in all 4 seasons across 60 starts (46 at right tackle, 14 at right guard), including a 72nd ranked finish out of 89 qualifying offensive tackles on PFF in 2019. Still in his age 26 season, he has theoretical upside, but would likely struggle as a starter this season. Regardless of who wins the job, right guard figures to be a position of weakness.

The biggest difference from 2018 to 2019 was at tackle, where left tackle Charles Leno and right tackle Bobby Massie finished 18th and 33rd respectively among offensive tackles on PFF in 2018, but didn’t come close to matching that level of play in 2019. Massie was a middling starter in 10 games and wasn’t really missed when he was out for the final 6 games of the season, as swing tackle Cornelius Lucas was solid in his absence, while Leno fell to 68th out of 89 qualifying offensive tackles on PFF, a big change for a player who earned an above average grade from PFF in 4 straight seasons as a starter prior to last season (61 starts). Given that he’s still only in his age 29 season, he has obvious bounce back potential in 2020 and could easily be a solid starter again, even if his best days happen to be behind him at this point.

Massie’s bounce back chances aren’t as good, however, as he’s going into his age 31 season and has never finished higher than his 33rd ranked finish in 2018 in any of his other 8 seasons in the league (102 career starts total). He should be capable and the Bears don’t have another option, but I wouldn’t expect much more than capable play. Leno and Whitehair have enough bounce back potential that this group should be better in 2020, but they have an obvious hole at right guard and are highly unlikely to be as good as they were in 2018.

Grade: B-

Running Backs

The Bears were also worse on the ground in 2019. Their 4.14 YPC average in 2018 wasn’t great (27th in the NFL), but lead back Jordan Howard consistently kept this offense on schedule (17th among running backs in carry success rate at 50%) and their YPC average dropped to 3.69 in 2019. Their rushing attempts also fell from 468 (7th in the NFL) to 395 (20th in the NFL), as the Bears weren’t consistently leading as much and dialed up more pass attempts as a result. Quarterback and offensive line play were part of the reason for their rushing production decreasing, as there wasn’t much room to run, but running backs were part of the problem too. 

The Bears got rid of 2018 lead back Jordan Howard for basically nothing ahead of the final year of his rookie deal and decided to move forward with 3rd round rookie David Montgomery instead, which proved to be a mistake as Montgomery rushed for just 889 yards and 6 touchdowns on 242 carries (3.67 YPC), while ranking 29th among running backs in carry success rate at 46% and adding just 5.29 yards per target on 35 targets. Without any real competition added for Montgomery this off-season, they will hope he can be better in his second season in the league, but that’s not a guarantee.

Passing down back Tarik Cohen also struggled last season, averaging just 3.33 YPC on 64 carries and a ridiculously inefficient 4.38 yards per target on 104 targets. A 4th round pick in 2017, Cohen was better in his first two seasons in the league, averaging 4.38 YPC on 186 carries and 5.93 yards per target on 162 targets, but, even if he does bounce back in 2020, the miniscule 5-6 191 pounder would never be a threat to Montgomery’s lead back role.

The Bears lack traditional running back depth behind Montgomery and Cohen on the depth chart, with their other three backs all being former undrafted free agents with 2 career carries between them who aren’t roster locks, but wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson sees carries from time to time (17 carries for 103 yards last season), either as a running back, as a wide receiver, or as a wildcat, and the 6-2 238 pounder has shown he can play some traditional running back in a pinch as well in the past. This position group could be better than last season, but that’s not a guarantee and it still looks like an underwhelming group overall.

Grade: C+

Receiving Corps

Top wide receiver Allen Robinson was by far the Bears’ best offensive player last season and was arguably the only Bears offensive player to be better in 2019 than 2018. Even though the offense around him wasn’t as good, Robinson still saw his slash line improve from 55/754/4 to 98/1147/7, as he was a big beneficiary of this team having to pass more, with his target total shooting up from 94 to 154. Robinson also jumped to 14th among wide receivers on Pro Football Focus, from 34th in 2018.

Robinson missed almost all of 2017 with injury, so it’s not surprising he was able to be better in 2019 than 2018, another year removed from the injury, especially since Robinson also missed 3 games with a different injury in 2018. Robinson has been a bit inconsistent in his career, but he’s averaged a 79/1084/8 slash line per 16 games over the past 5 seasons and his 80/1400/14 slash line and 15th ranked finish among wide receivers on PFF in 2015 show his high end ability. Even after some injuries, Robinson still has a high ceiling, only in his age 27 season, and, perhaps most importantly, he’s shown he can be productive even with bad quarterback play in his career, playing primarily with Blake Bortles in Jacksonville before arriving in Chicago two off-seasons ago.

Taylor Gabriel opened last season as the #2 receiver, but he was limited to 445 snaps in 9 games by injury, allowing Anthony Miller, who opened the season as the #3 receiver, to finish second on the team among wide receivers with 686 snaps played. Gabriel, who averaged 1.21 yards per route run last season, is no longer with the team, allowing Miller to be the every down #2 wide receiver going forward. The 2018 2nd round pick has shown some promise thus far with 1.30 yards per route run on 828 routes run in two seasons in the league and could easily take a step forward in his third season in the league.

With Gabriel gone, the #3 wide receiver job is up for grabs. Cordarrelle Patterson is an experienced veteran, but he hasn’t topped 52 catches in 7 seasons in the league and has averaged just 349 snaps played over the past four seasons, so he’s not likely to have more than a situational role. 2019 4th round pick Riley Ridley would make sense as the 3rd receiver, but he played just 108 snaps as a rookie, behind 2018 7th round pick Javon Wims. Wims finished 101st out of 102 qualifying wide receivers on 487 snaps in the first significant action of his career last season, but Ridley isn’t a guarantee to beat him out for the job.

Without a first round pick and with limited cap space, the Bears didn’t have many resources to spend this off-season, but one position where they spent significant resources is tight end, as they signed veteran Jimmy Graham to a 2-year, 16 million dollar deal and used the #43 overall pick on Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet. It was definitely a position where they needed help, as they completed just 46 passes to tight ends in 2019, but Graham was a massive overpay and, while Kmet was a solid value where he was picked, he may be too raw to contribute in a big way as a rookie.

Graham was once one of the top tight ends in the league in his prime, but he hasn’t been the same player in recent years, with his last above average year on PFF coming in 2016. Since then, Graham has averaged just 1.13 yards per route run on 1,409 routes, despite playing with Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers, giving him an average 50/534/5 slash line over the past 3 seasons. He’s also finished below average overall on PFF in back-to-back seasons, including a 36th ranked finish out of 44 qualifying tight ends last season. 

Now going into his age 34 season, Graham is likely to continue declining and probably shouldn’t even be starting anymore, let alone making significant money, but his salary suggests they view him having a big role in the passing game, for better or for worse. Graham was never a good blocker in his prime and his athleticism and passing catching ability have significantly fallen off, so he’ll almost definitely continue struggling this season. The Bears guaranteeing him 9 million was one of the strangest moves any team made this off-season. With Kmet as an up and coming option, however raw he may be, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he overtook Graham as the starter by season’s end.

The Bears also still have 2017 2nd round pick Adam Shaheen in the mix, though he’s only played 573 career snaps thus far, in part due to injuries that have limited him to 27 games total in 3 seasons, and any chance of him having a bigger role in his 4th season went down significantly when Graham and Kmet were added ahead of him on the depth chart. It’s possible Shaheen could earn a situational role with a good off-season, but it’s clear they don’t view him as a big part of their future anymore. The Bears’ tight ends should be better by default this season, but this is still a questionable receiving corps overall, without a consistent option behind #1 wide receiver Allen Robinson.

Grade: C+

Defensive Line

The Bears’ defense was still good in 2019, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed at 33.33%, but that was a steep dropoff from their league best 2018 unit, which allowed just a 30.38% first down rate on the season. Part of the reason why the Bears weren’t quite as good was simply that their schedule was tougher, but they also weren’t as talented. Not only did they lose a pair of every down players in the secondary last off-season, but they also weren’t nearly as healthy in 2019 as 2018, going from the 4th fewest adjusted games lost on defense to the 12th fewest.

The biggest absence was interior defender Akiem Hicks, who finished 4th among interior defenders on Pro Football Focus in 2018 and then was limited to just 191 snaps in 5 games in 2019. The Bears can’t count on being as healthy as they were in 2018 again, as injuries are just part of the game, but having Hicks back will be a boost. He’s going into his age 31 season and coming off of an injury plagued season so his best years are likely behind him, but he was a top-36 interior defender on PFF in 3 straight seasons prior to last season and even last season he fared well in limited action, so even if he declines he should still be an above average starter unless his abilities totally fall off a cliff. 

Eddie Goldman also had a dominant year alongside Hicks in 2018, finishing 14th among interior defenders on PFF. He wasn’t injured in 2019, but he didn’t play at the same level, falling to 41st among interior defenders. He especially fell off as a pass rusher, going from a 8.0% pressure rate to a 5.4% pressure rate. Goldman has some bounce back potential, still only in his age 26 season, but in his 5-year career, his 2018 campaign is an obvious outlier, as he has just a 7.1% pressure rate for his career and has never finished higher than 22nd among interior defenders on PFF in any of his other 4 seasons in the league. He should still be an above average starter, but I wouldn’t expect him to be as good as he was in 2018.

With Hicks out last season, Roy Robertson-Harris (544 snaps), Nick Williams (532 snaps), and Bilal Nichols (445 snaps) all saw significant action. Williams is gone, but Robertson-Harris and Nichols remain with the team and should continue having situational roles. Nichols figures to start with Goldman and Hicks in base packages on the Bears’ 3-man defensive line, as he’s a pure base package player who has struggled as a pass rusher in his career (5.1% pressure rate). The 2018 5th round pick also struggled as a run stuffer last season, but was significantly better as a rookie (445 snaps total), when he earned an above average run stopping grade from PFF. He has a good chance to bounce back in a situational run stuffing role in 2020.

Robertson-Harris, meanwhile, is a situational pass rusher who figures to rotate in heavily in sub packages. The 2016 undrafted free agent has seen his snap count increase every year in the league from 0 to 212 to 354 to 544 and has always been a productive pass rusher in a situational role, with 7.5 sacks, 20 hits, and a 9.0% pressure rate in his career. He should continue giving the Bears more of the same. The Bears also added veteran run stuffer John Jenkins in free agency and, even though he’s going into his age 31 season, he’s coming off of arguably the best season of his career, finishing 41st among interior defenders on PFF on 480 snaps. They won’t be as good at this position as they were in 2018, but with Hicks and Goldman as their top-2 guys and solid situational depth, this is a strong group.

Grade: B+

Edge Defenders

The one big addition the Bears were able to make this off-season despite their lack of cap space was edge defender Robert Quinn, who comes over from the Cowboys on a 5-year, 70 million dollar deal to replace Leonard Floyd, who was released ahead of a 13.222 million dollar non-guaranteed salary. That should prove to be a smart swap, as Floyd has developed into a solid run stuffer, but little else in 4 seasons since the Bears drafted him 9th overall in 2016. In many ways Quinn is the opposite, as the 9-year veteran has consistently struggled as a run defender throughout his career, but has been a consistently good, if not dominant pass rusher, with 80.5 sacks, 88 hits, and a 11.3% pressure rate in 125 career games.

Quinn’s age is a minor concern in his age 30 season, but he’s coming off of one of his better years, with 11.5 sacks, 12 hits, and a 14,1% pressure rate, while earning Pro Football Focus’ 18th ranked pass rush grade among edge defenders. The other minor concern is that Leonard Floyd played 899 snaps last season and the Bears, who lack depth on the edge, may need Quinn to play a similar role, even though he struggles against the run and hasn’t played more than 647 snaps in a season since 2014 and has never played more than 836. He should remain an above average starter overall though, as a result of his strong pass rush ability.

On the other side, Khalil Mack shouldn’t have any problem with a huge snap count, as he has averaged 59.2 snaps per game in 94 career games in 6 seasons in the league and has thrived, finishing in the top-14 among edge defenders on PFF in all 6 seasons, including 4 seasons in the top-4. All in all, he has 61.5 sacks, 58 hits, and a 14.3% pressure rate in his career, while dominating against the run. Still in the prime of his career in his age 29 season, with no real injury history, Mack should continue being one of the top defensive players in the league in 2020.

Free agent acquisition Barkevious Mingo is likely to be their primary reserve on the edge, though largely by default, as Aaron Lynch, who was their top reserve with 344 snaps last season, is no longer with the team. Mingo has only finished above average on PFF in 2 of 7 seasons in the league, on an average of just 394 snaps per season and, now he’s going into his age 30 season and coming off of a season in which he played 75 defensive snaps total, so he’s a really underwhelming reserve option. His primary competition for reserve snaps will be Isaiah Irving, who played the most snaps of any returning reserve from last season with 128, but has overall been underwhelming on just 286 career snaps since going undrafted in 2017. Mack and Quinn will have to play significant snaps at a position with little depth.

Grade: B+

Linebackers

The Bears also had injury problems at the off ball linebacker spot, as expected starters Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith were limited to 559 snaps in 9 games and 719 snaps in 12 games respectively. The Bears didn’t really miss them much, as reserves Nick Kwiatkowski (512 snaps) and Kevin Pierre-Louis (213 snaps) both played well in their absence, but this off-season Trevathan, Kwiatkowski, and Pierre-Louis were all set to hit free agency, so the Bears had to make some decisions. They opted to bring back Trevathan on a 3-year, 21.75 million dollar deal, while letting Kwiatkowski sign with the Raiders on a 3-year, 21 million dollar deal and Kevin Pierre-Louis sign with the Redskins on a 1-year, 3 million dollar deal. 

Trevathan was one of the better off ball linebackers in the league in his prime, but the Bears may have made a mistake picking him. While Kwiatkowski is going into his age 27 season and has fared well in his last two extended starting stints, finishing 10th among off ball linebackers on PFF on 382 snaps in 2017 and 16th on 512 snaps last season, Trevathan has had a lot of injuries (32 of 96 possible games missed over the past 6 seasons) and appears to be declining ahead of his age 30 season, dropping from 11th among off ball linebackers on Pro Football Focus in 2017 to 23rd in 2018 to 45th in 2019. 

Even if Trevathan is the more proven player, the Bears probably would have been better off over the next few seasons going with Kwiatkowski instead. Trevathan still played at a high level against the run last season, but struggled mightily in coverage, while Kwiatkowski showed himself to be more of a three down player. Trevathan could bounce back a little bit in 2020 because he’s not totally over the hill, but his best days are almost definitely behind him and there’s a good chance he misses time at some point.

Roquan Smith remains locked in as the other starter, now going into his 3rd season in the league since the Bears took him 8th overall in 2018. He’s been a middling starter in 26 career starts, actually taking a small step back in his 2nd season from his rookie season, falling from 45th among off ball linebackers on PFF to 76th out of 100 qualifiers. Now going into his third season in the league, he could easily have the best season of his career in 2020.

With both Kwiatkowski and Pierre-Louis gone, depth becomes a big problem for the Bears at the off ball linebacker position. 2018 4th round pick Joel Iyiegbuniwe would seem to be the favorite for the job, but he’s played just 27 snaps in his career, with just 3 of those snaps coming last season, so he would be a big question mark if he ever had to see significant action as an injury replacement. This isn’t a bad group, but they likely would have been better off keeping Kwiatkowski instead of Trevathan.

Grade: B-

Secondary

The Bears’ secondary is the group that declined the most from 2018 to 2019. That’s unsurprising, considering the Bears lost Bryce Callahan, Pro Football Focus’ 11th ranked cornerback in 2018, and Adrian Amos, PFF’s 10th ranked safety in 2018, in free agency last off-season. Callahan was replaced by free agent acquisition Buster Skrine, who finished below average on PFF on 727 snaps, but that wasn’t the only issue at cornerback, as starting outside cornerbacks Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara fell from 8th and 13th among cornerbacks on PFF in 2018 to 72nd and 48th in 2019. At safety, HaHa Clinton-Dix wasn’t a huge downgrade from Amos, but his 22nd ranked finish among safeties on PFF was still a dropoff from Amos, while fellow starting safety Eddie Jackson fell from 1st among safeties in 2018 to 50th among safeties in 2019.

This season, things look likely to be even worse. Clinton-Dix is gone and was replaced with a much more middling veteran in Tashaun Gipson, while Prince Amukamara was let go ahead of a 9 million dollar guaranteed salary and replaced with 2nd round rookie Jaylon Johnson and veteran flyer Artie Burns. Only Fuller and Jackson remain from the Bears’ 2018 secondary and both are coming off of significantly down years. If they can bounce back, it will be an obvious boost to this secondary, but that remains to be seen.

For Jackson, his 2018 season stands as an obvious outlier, as the 2017 4th round pick was also a middling starter as a rookie. Only in his age 27 season, Jackson has some bounce back potential, but it’s very possible he’ll never be quite as good as he was in 2018 again. Fuller, meanwhile, has had other good seasons in 6 years in the league, but he’s never been as good as 2018 in any of his other seasons (29th ranked finish in 2017 is his 2nd best season) and he’s been pretty inconsistent overall in his career.

Fuller will start outside opposite either Jaylon Johnson and Artie Burns. Johnson would likely have a lot of growing pains as a rookie, but he still might be a more reliable option than Burns. A first round pick in 2016 by the Steelers, Burns’ career got off to a promising start, as he was a solid starter in 25 starts in his first two seasons in the league, but he then fell out of favor with the coaching staff due to concerns about his work ethic and discipline and he only played 375 middling snaps over the past two seasons, as a result. Still only going into his age 25 season, Burns is a worthwhile flyer and maybe just needs a change of scenery, but it’s unlikely he ever develops into a consistently solid starter. Regardless of who starts, they will almost definitely be a downgrade from Amukamara, even though Amukamara had a down 2019 season compared to his 2018 season.

It’s possible both Johnson and Burns could see action, with one of them playing the slot, but the Bears kept incumbent slot cornerback Buster Skrine even though they could have saved 3 million by releasing him, so he’s likely to remain in that role even after finishing 87th among 135 qualifying cornerbacks on PFF on 727 snaps in 2019. Skrine’s struggles weren’t just limited to last season either, as he’s somehow played 9 years in the league (89 starts) despite never being more than a middling cornerback. Now going into his age 31 season, he’s unlikely to suddenly get better. He’s not the worst slot option in the world because of his experience, but he’s a very underwhelming player.

Tashaun Gipson is also coming off of a down year, ranking 77th out of 100 qualifying safeties on PFF on 868 snaps (14 starts) with the Texans. Gipson has been better in the past, but he’s been inconsistent throughout his 8-year career (104 starts) and now is going into his age 30 season, so he’s a clear downgrade from Clinton-Dix. Outside of Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson, who have been inconsistent in their careers, the Bears have a very underwhelming secondary. Even if Fuller and Jackson both manage to bounce back, this is still a far cry from their 2018 secondary.

Grade: B-

Conclusion

The Bears were a 12 win team in 2018, led by a dominant defense and a passable offense, but they’ve gotten significantly worse on both sides of the ball since then. Their 2018 defense benefitted from several players having career years and from barely having any notable injuries, but that was always unlikely to continue, especially with the Bears losing talented defensive coordinator Vic Fangio last off-season. The Bears have also lost some key players from that 2018 defense as well, particularly in the secondary.

Their 2018 offense, meanwhile, benefitted from a serviceable year from quarterback Mitch Trubisky and good play by the offensive line and running game, three things they didn’t get in 2019 and that they are unlikely to get in 2020. Their offense could be a little better by default this season, after finishing 28th in first down rate, but I wouldn’t expect their defense to even be as good as their 8th ranked finish in first down rate allowed last season and, as a result, this team figures to have a tough time making it back to the post-season. I will have an official prediction closer to the start of the season.

Final Update: Things have gotten worse for the Bears, who lose key defensive lineman Eddie Goldman to an opt out. Mitch Trubisky also beat out Nick Foles in the quarterback competition, even though he’s likely the lower upside option. Add in a tough schedule and the Bears are likely to be one of the worst teams in the league this season.

Projection: 4-12 (4th in NFC North)

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-5)

I’m going to do the rest of my picks this weekend as normal, but I want to get a couple quick ones out of the way. There are four games this week where a team is expected to rest starters with their seeding locked in or all but locked in. Two of those games (Baltimore/Pittsburgh and Houston/Tennessee) have one team playing for their playoff lives, so at least one side will be highly motivated in those matchups. In the other two games, the other side is eliminated from the post-season and might not care much about a game against an opponent who is playing a lot of backups. 

This game falls into the latter category (Buffalo/NY Jets is the other). With the Vikings getting eliminated from division contention after their Monday night loss to the Packers, they are now locked into the 6th seed in the NFC and will rest key players for all or most of the game to keep them fresh for the wild card round. The Bears may play hard for pride, but I’m skeptical that they’ll take the Vikings’ backups seriously, with the off-season right around the corner. 

If neither of these teams are going to put much effort into this game, I’m not going to put much effort into this write-up. I would have this line calculated at Minnesota -9 under normal circumstances, so this line at Minnesota -1 is a pretty big difference. The Vikings won’t be able to rest everyone and the Bears might not care about this game at all, so I’m taking the Vikings for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no desire to wager anything of significance on this game. I am going to lock in one line I do like early (CIN +3) before the line shifts. I will consider that for Pick of the Week and will have a full write-up this weekend as usual. 

Update: For some reason, even though it was assumed all week that the Vikings would rest starters in this game, this line swung all the way to Chicago -3 when the Vikings announced they would be resting starters. Again, the Vikings can’t rest everyone and the Bears likely won’t put in much effort for a meaningless game against the Vikings’ backups, so I still like the Vikings for pick ’em purposes, but I have no desire to bet on this meaningless game.

Chicago Bears 17 Minnesota Vikings 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3

Confidence: None

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) at Chicago Bears (7-7)

The now 7-7 Bears were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Packers in Green Bay last week, a big disappointment for a team that went 12-4 a year ago. The Bears’ disappointing season isn’t a huge surprise though. They had the easiest schedule in the NFL last season and lost a pair of key defenders in free agency (safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Bryce Callahan) and their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos, a big blow to a defense that led the NFL in first down rate allowed by more than 2% last season. Their defense has still been strong, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.64%, but they’ve been more than 2% worse than last year’s dominant unit, while their offense has fallen to 27th in first down rate at 31.86%, struggling mightily against a tougher slate of defenses than last season.

That being said, I think we are getting some line value with the Bears as 6-point home underdogs against the Chiefs. This line suggests the Bears would be 11-point underdogs in Kansas City, but the Bears were just 4-point underdogs in Green Bay last week and held their own, with a chance to tie the game on the final drive. Their offense is a major problem, but their defense is still one of the best in the NFL, especially with stud defensive end Akiem Hicks back healthy. I have this line calculated at Chicago +3, so we’re getting good line value with them at +6. I wouldn’t recommend betting on the Bears because they could be flat after being eliminated from the post-season last week, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: Hicks was ruled out on Saturday despite getting a full practice in on Friday. This line has moved to a full touchdown to compensate, but I’m dropping this down to a no confidence pick. Hicks didn’t suffer a setback in his return against the Packers last week and would almost definitely be playing if the Bears hadn’t been eliminated, but the Bears are understandably being cautious with him. That could effect the psyche of this whole team in a meaningless game and cause some players to give less than 100%, even in a nationally televised game. That more than the actual football impact of Hicks not being on the field is why I’m dropping this to a no confidence pick.

Kansas City Chiefs 26 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-6) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)

The Packers are 10-3, but there are reasons to be concerned, especially after an underwhelming home performance against the last place Redskins last week. That 20-15 victory was the Packers’ sixth win by a touchdown or less this season and, with two of their losses coming by more than 15 points, the Packers have a point differential of just +39, 11th in the NFL. That’s despite benefitting from a +11 turnover margin and turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they’re not necessarily going to continue winning the turnover battle going forward. In terms of of first down rate differential, they rank just 16th in the NFL at +0.43% and they’ve been even worse since a hot start, ranking 20th at -0.77% since week 7.

The Packers are also in a terrible spot, facing a divisional opponent they’ve already beaten with a much bigger divisional game on deck in Minnesota next week. Since 2002, divisional home favorites are just 53-79 ATS against a team they previously beat as road underdogs. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and the Packers are currently 4.5 point road underdogs in Minnesota on the early line. They could overlook the Bears a little bit with a bigger game on deck.

Given all of that, I was expecting to be betting on the Bears in this one this week, but unfortunately this line has shifted all the way from a touchdown last week on the early line down to 4 points this week, likely as a result of heavy sharp action on the Packers, with the sharps recognizing the Packers are overrated and in a bad spot. With this line now at 4, I actually think I’m going to take the Packers, at least for pick ‘em purposes.

Even though the Packers aren’t quite as good as their record, I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Bears have been a middling team at best this season. Facing a much tougher schedule than last season with a less dominant defense, the Bears rank just 19th in first down rate differential at -0.59%. Their defense will get a boost this week with defensive end Akiem Hicks set to return from injury (9 games missed), but I still have the Packers slightly higher in my roster rankings and the Packers have been very tough to beat in Lambeau with Aaron Rodgers, going 42-22 ATS since 2011 in games Rodgers starts and finishes. This is a no confidence pick, but with this line moving to where it has the Packers make sense this week.

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 19

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: None

Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Chicago Bears (6-6)

Much has been made of the Cowboys’ 0-5 record against teams that currently have a winning record, but I don’t think that is that big of a deal. The Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 5 losses, including last week’s loss to the Bills in which they picked up 32 first downs and got into Buffalo territory on 8 of 10 drives, only to score just 15 points due to two missed field goals, two failed fourth down conversions, and a pair of giveaways. Overall, the Cowboys won the first down rate battle by 7.54% in that game. On the season, they rank 4th in first down rate differential at +5.57%, 7th in DVOA, and 6th in point differential at +74.

The common narrative is that the Cowboys have played an easy schedule, but their opponent’s winning percentage of 48% isn’t bad and is actually tougher than the Bears’ schedule thus far, as the Bears’ opponents have combined for just a 45% winning percentage. Despite that, the Bears rank significantly behind the Cowboys across the board. They’re just 19th in DVOA, 19th in first down rate differential at -1.33%, have just a +4 point differential, and are 19 spots behind the Cowboys in my roster rankings, in part due to new key absences like right tackle Bobby Massie and cornerback Prince Amukamara. 

Despite that, the Cowboys are just 3-point road favorites in this matchup, likely as a result of the fact that these two teams have the same record. My calculated line is Dallas -7, so I like the Cowboys a good amount this week. I haven’t done well picking Thursday games this year, but both of these teams played last Thanksgiving, so both teams are on normal rest, which should lead to a more predictable result. Given that, I’m not worried about betting heavily on a Cowboys team that should at least be able to manage a push in this matchup against a significantly inferior opponent. 

Dallas Cowboys 27 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-6) at Detroit Lions (3-7-1)

Last week, the Lions were inexplicably favored by 3.5 points in Washington (the line got up to 5 in some places before game time), despite starting one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league in Jeff Driskel and missing several starters at other positions. The Lions predictably lost that game straight up and never really came close to covering. This week, the line has swung the other way, with the Lions going from being favored by a point at home over the Bears on the early line last week to being 6 point underdogs this week.

That’s in part due to the Lions having to turn to third string quarterback David Blough, with Driskel unable to go on a short week after injuring his hamstring. This line opened with the Lions as 3.5 point home underdogs, but that went up to 6 points when Blough was announced as the starter. I haven’t seen much of Blough, an undrafted rookie who didn’t show much in the pre-season with the Browns, but it’s likely he won’t be much of a downgrade from Driskel, who is barely an NFL caliber quarterback, so Driskel’s absence is not that significant. 

On the other hand, the Lions getting back defensive end Trey Flowers, center Frank Ragnow, and possibly defensive end Da’Shawn Hand and safety Tracy Walker are significant, as is the absence of right tackle Bobby Massie for the Bears. Even if this line was still at 3.5, we’d be getting some line value with the Lions, who I have calculated as 1-point underdogs in this game. The Bears are also in a tough spot, with a much tougher game on deck next week against the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Road favorites are just 25-55 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs, which the Bears almost definitely will be next week. They could easily overlook the Lions this week. I wouldn’t go crazy betting on a David Blough quarterbacked team, but there’s enough value at +6 for the Lions to be worth a small bet.

Chicago Bears 16 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit +6

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-8) at Chicago Bears (4-6)

The Giants are just 2-8 coming out of their bye, but they could be better than people expect in the second half of the season. Turnover margin has been a big part of their problem, as they have the second worst turnover margin in the league at -12, but turnover margin is unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In first down rate differential, they rank 20th at -2.18%, which obviously isn’t great, but it’s better than their record suggests. They’re also relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league and compared earlier this season, when they had six offensive starters all miss time with injury or suspension. Only tight end Evan Engram remains sidelined and he’s their only notable injury on either side of the ball right now, which is pretty good for this late in the season.

The Bears, meanwhile, have had an incredibly disappointing year, starting 4-6 after going 12-4 a season ago, but it’s not all that surprising. The Bears record last year was primarily the result of a defense that was the best in the NFL by a wide margin and a schedule that was the easiest in the NFL. This off-season, they lost a pair of starters on defense (Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos) and, most importantly, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who got career years out of players like Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller who have regressed mightily in 2019. They’re also without defensive end Akiem Hicks and middle linebacker Danny Trevathan due to injury. As a result, the Bears rank “just” 7th in first down rate allowed at 33.64%. Combine that with an offense that has regressed in Matt Nagy’s second season, ranking just 29th in first down rate at 30.74%, and the Bears rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.90%, actually slightly behind the Giants.

I have these two teams ranked about even, so we’re getting significant line value with the visiting Giants, who are 6-point underdogs. This is also a bad spot for the Bears, who have to play on a short week next week (44% cover spot all-time for favorites) and who are also coming off of a tough and potentially season ending loss in Los Angeles last week. They might not bring their best effort for a 2-8 Giants team and the Giants could easily catch them off guard. This is only a medium confidence pick because the Giants are in a tough spot as well, with a tough home game against the Packers on deck (teams are 40-71 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more), but the Giants are still worth betting as 6-point underdogs.

Chicago Bears 20 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-5) at Los Angeles Rams (5-4)

A year ago, this was a marquee matchup in the NFC, with both teams going on to win 12+ games. This season, however, both teams are having disappointing seasons. The Bears actually led the NFL in first down rate differential in 2018 at +6.64%, but they faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and this season, against a much tougher schedule, they’re without several key contributors on defense, including free agent losses Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos, departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and in season injuries Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, the latter of whom just went down last week. As a result of that and some regression on offense in the second year of the Matt Nagy/Mitch Trubisky era, the Bears have fallen all the way down to 21st in first down rate differential at -2.42% and already have more losses at 4-5 than they did all last season when they went 12-4.

The Rams have also exceeded their loss total from last season, starting 5-4 after going 13-3 a year ago. By far the biggest reason why is their offensive line. After starting the same five offensive linemen in every game in 2018, the Rams lost a pair of starters this off-season (left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan) and have since lost their replacements (Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen) to injury, as well as right tackle Rob Havenstein. Allen and Havenstein just went down last week, but both were struggling even before going down. Their only two remaining offensive linemen from 2018 are left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Blythe, both of whom are having down years compared to a year ago. Their offensive line issues have hurt their offense as a whole, dropping them from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th at 35.63% in 2019. In terms of first down rate differential, they’ve fallen from 3rd at +5.00% to 9th to +2.30%, despite an improved defense.

The Rams are the better team and I have this line calculated at Rams -7, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 6-point favorites, but that’s barely any line value and the Bears are also in a much better spot. While the Rams have a tough matchup against the Ravens on deck, the Bears get one of the easiest games of their season, hosting the Giants in Chicago. Underdogs of 6+ are 49-37 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ and the Bears are currently favored by 7 points on the early line next week. There’s not enough to take either side confidently, but the Bears should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None