Chicago Bears 2022 NFL Season Preview

Quarterback

Four years ago, the Bears had a first year head coach in Matt Nagy and a promising second year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who they had drafted 2nd overall the year before. Believing Trubisky was the quarterback who could lead them to a Super Bowl and wanting to strike while he was still on a cheap rookie deal, the Bears were aggressive adding talent on big contracts during the 2018 off-season, after having already been aggressive adding big contracts over the previous two off-seasons. 

Because of all their off-season spending, the Bears entered the 2018 season 3rd in terms of average annual salary of their roster, despite having a quarterback on a cheap rookie deal, and most players lived up to their big salaries, leading the Bears to a 12-4 season, on the strength of a league best defense. However, the Bears lost in the first round of the post-season and that proved to be the peak of the Mitch Trubisky era. 

Despite their success in 2018, Trubisky himself did not progress much from his rookie season and, with their defense becoming increasingly tough to keep together long-term, Trubisky did not elevate his play to compensate for their defensive regression, resulting in back-to-back 8-8 seasons in 2019 and 2020 and Trubisky’s eventual departure from the Bears last off-season, after the Bears declined to pick up his 5th year option.

Now in 2022, the Bears are in a similar situation as they were back in 2018.  Matt Eberflus is their new head coach, replacing Nagy, and Justin Fields, who the Bears selected in the 2021 NFL Draft to replace Trubisky, is now heading into his second season in the league, having shown some promise as a rookie. However, the Bears took a completely different approach this off-season, not only avoiding adding significant contracts, but also completing the teardown of their 2018 defense, which now has just two players remaining on this roster four years later.

The result is the Bears have the lowest average annual salary in the league by far, by over 25 million less than the 31st ranked Falcons, with an eye on having the most cap space in the league next off-season, which they currently do by a wide margin. Also lacking their first round pick, having given it up to move up for Fields a year ago, there wasn’t much the Bears could do to drastically improve this roster this off-season without spending money, so the result of their off-season strategy is a roster that looks significantly worse than it did a year ago, for a team that is clearly taking more of a long-term view, rather than trying to strike while the iron is hot.

The Bears were better than their 6-11 record suggested last season, they ranked 18th in overall efficiency, but had tied for the 2nd worst turnover margin in the league at -13. Efficiency tends to be much more predictive than turnover margins, but the Bears offense ranked just 22nd in efficiency last season, with their 13th ranked defense being a significantly better unit. Having lost significant talent on that side of the ball this off-season, their defense could easily decline significantly, leading to the Bears having below average play on both sides of the ball.

The Bears’ approach could easily prove to be the wrong one, as Fields won’t have much support around him in a crucial development and evaluatory year. He didn’t have a ton of support as a rookie either, leading to him completing just 58.9% of his passes for an average of 6.93 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 10 interceptions, with 420 yards and 2 touchdowns on 72 carries (5.83 YPC), despite Fields actually playing decently for his part, finishing 28th out of 38 eligible quarterbacks on PFF in 10 rookie year starts. Year two is typically when we’d expect a statistical jump from a talented young quarterback, but Fields may find that hard to do given his supporting cast, even if he does progress as a player.

Veterans Andy Dalton and Nick Foles also made starts last season, with Dalton beginning the year as the starter while Fields was still learning the ropes and then taking over for Fields for a short stretch when he was injured, before Dalton suffered an injury of his own, forcing Foles into a start. Both are gone now, with mediocre veteran backup Trevor Siemian (81.2 QB rating in 29 career starts) replacing them as a free agent, which means that, for better or worse, this is Fields’ team in 2022.

Grade: C+

Receiving Corps

Wide receiver Allen Robinson was one of the big additions the Bears made before the 2018 season, giving Trubisky a #1 wide receiver on a 3-year, 42 million dollar deal, and he was also one of the veterans the Bears let go of this off-season, with Robinson signing with the Rams on a 3-year, 46.5 million dollar deal, after spending 2021 on the franchise tag in Chicago. Robinson looked like a shell of himself last season, with a 38/410/1 slash line in 12 games and a mediocre 1.13 yards per route run average, so it’s understandable why the Bears didn’t bring him back, but wide receiver was already a big position of weakness for this team last season and letting Robinson walk without a good replacement makes this group even worse.

Darnell Mooney had already supplanted Robinson as the #1 receiver, with the 2020 5th round pick showing great chemistry with Justin Fields and totaling a 81/1055/4 slash line with 1.72 yards per route run in his second season in the league in 2021, after showing promise in a more limited role as a rookie. Mooney needed 140 targets (11th in the NFL) to get those numbers, but he should have a big target share again in 2022, given their lack of other options, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him take another step forward in year three. The rest of this group behind Mooney is much more questionable though. 

Most of the Bears other wide receivers last season are no longer with the team, which isn’t really a bad thing, especially the departure of Damiere Byrd, who had just a 26/329/1 slash line with a 0.84 yards per route run average and finished 106th among 110 eligible wide receivers on PFF last season as the Bears’ de facto #3 wide receiver behind Mooney and Robinson last season. However, the Bears didn’t really find any upgrades for the mediocre veterans who departed this off-season, so this is still an underwhelming group.

Their biggest signing in free agency was Byron Pringle, who signed on a 1-year, 4.125 million dollar deal after posting a 42/568/5 slash line with 1.42 yards per route run as a member of the Chiefs last season. Those aren’t bad numbers, unless you take into account that he had the benefit of playing with Patrick Mahomes, something the 2018 undrafted free agent has had his entire career. Despite that benefit, Pringle has just a 1.43 yards per route run average for his career, with just 25 career catches prior to last season’s decent campaign. Already in his age 29 season, Pringle is unlikely to have any untapped upside, so he should be a middling starting option at best for them.

The Bears also used a 3rd round pick on wide receiver Velus Jones and, without a better option, he’s likely to start in 3-wide receiver sets as a rookie. He could easily prove overmatched in that role, especially since he was not overly productive as a receiver in college and is already in his age 25 season as a rookie. Jones should provide value for the Bears as a return man, but there’s a good chance he doesn’t pan out as a long-term starting wide receiver. The Bears’ only other options are mediocre veteran free agent acquisitions Tajae Sharpe (1.01 career yards per route run), Dante Pettis (1.34), and Equanimous St. Brown (1.09), as well as 2021 6th round pick Daz Newsome, who caught just 2 passes as a rookie. This is a very underwhelming group.

With all of their problems at wide receiver last season, tight end Cole Kmet finished 2nd on the team with 93 targets, but he didn’t do much with them, finishing with a 60/612/0 slash line and averaging just 1.23 yards per route run. This comes after a rookie season in which he averaged just 0.94 yards per route run in limited action. Kmet was a 2nd round pick and is still only in his age 23 season, so he still has upside and could easily take a step forward again in year three, when he’ll again have plenty of opportunity for targets, but he also could just remain a marginal starting tight end like he was last season.

Veterans Ryan Griffin and James O’Shaughnessy were signed in free agency to compete for the #2 tight end role, which is primarily a blocking role. Neither have shown much as a receiver (1.07 yards per route run and 1.10 yards per route run for their careers) and both are on the wrong side of 30, in their age 32 and age 30 seasons respectively, so they would both be a big liability if forced into a significant role in place of an injured Kmet, but they’re not terrible depth, especially given the limited roles they are expected to play. Shaughnessy is the better of the two as a blocker, but Griffin signed for more money (2.25 million vs. 1.125 million) and isn’t a terrible blocker either. Outside of #1 receiver Darnell Mooney, the Bears lack reliable pass catchers.

Grade: C+

Offensive Line

The Bears also lost their best two offensive lineman from a year ago, left tackle Jason Peters and right guard James Daniels, without adequately replacing either of them this off-season. Peters is likely going to hang them up, rather than return to the NFL for his age 40 season, even though he was still PFF’s 21st ranked offensive tackle last season, while Daniels signed with the Steelers on a 3-year, 25 million dollar deal after ranking as PFF’s 20th best guard last season.

Peters wasn’t replaced at all, with the Bears instead turning the left tackle job over to 2021 2nd round pick Teven Jenkins. The Bears’ intention originally was to turn the left tackle job over to Jenkins immediately as a rookie, cutting long-time veteran left tackle Charles Leno right after drafting Jenkins, but Jenkins suffered a back injury in the off-season that cost him most of the season and necessitated the addition of the veteran Jason Peters, who played well enough to keep the job all season.

Peters was signed when Jenkins got hurt because the Bears didn’t want to have to turn to 2021 5th round pick Larry Borom at left tackle as a rookie, but expected right tackle Germain Ifedi missed most of the season as well, so Borom ended up in the starting lineup anyway. Borom wasn’t great, finishing slightly below average on PFF, but he played well enough that he also kept the job all season, with Jenkins being limited to just 160 snaps as Peters’ backup after returning from his back injury. 

Part of that is because Jenkins struggled behind the scenes and he continued that into his limited action, struggling mightily when on the field. Jenkins could easily be a lot better in year two, especially since he should be healthier, but it’s a big concern for a Bears team that doesn’t really have another starting tackle option other than making Jenkins and Borom. Borom was a 5th round pick a year ago and didn’t show a ton as a rookie, so both tackles could easily be a liability this season.

The Bears’ top reserve tackles are Julie’n Davenport and Shon Coleman, who have struggled in limited action in their careers, starting 32 games in five seasons in the league and 16 games in six seasons in the league respectively. The Bears also used a 5th round pick in this year’s draft on Braxton Jones from Southern Utah University, who is raw and likely would not make a positive impact as a rookie, but who has the tools to potentially develop into a useful player for them long-term.

At guard, Daniels will be replaced by free agent acquisition Lucas Patrick, who comes over from the Packers on a 2-year, 8 million dollar deal. Patrick was a capable starter in 2020, starting 15 games and finishing slightly above average on PFF, but he moved to center in 2021 and was not the same, finishing 33rd out of 41 eligible centers on PFF. He could bounce back now that he’s back at guard, but he’s still an unproven player, entering the league undrafted in 2016, making just six starts in his first four seasons in the league prior to his solid 2020 season, and only having one season as a solid starting guard on his resume. 

Even in a best case scenario, Patrick figures to be a noticeable dropoff from Daniels, who was a consistently above average starter for the Bears in four seasons since they drafted him in the 2nd round in 2018. That’s a problem for a team that already had a big weakness on the interior of their offensive line, with center Sam Mustipher needing to be upgraded. Instead, the Bears downgraded Daniels and locked Mustipher into the starting job again, without another good alternative. Mustipher was PFF’s 36th ranked center out of 41 eligible in his first full season as a starter in 2021, predictably struggling after going undrafted in 2019 and struggling in limited action in his first two seasons in the league. He figures to be a liability again in 2022.

Cody Whitehair remains the starter at left guard. A 2nd round pick by the Bears in 2016, Whitehair has never lived up to the 3rd ranked finish among centers that he had as a rookie, but he’s still been a consistently above average starter for the Bears over the past six seasons, starting 95 of a possible 97 games, while seeing action at both guard spots as well as center. He’s going into his age 30 season now, but has a good chance to remain at least a solid starter for at least another couple seasons. 

Whitehair and Patrick both have the versatility to kick inside to center to replace Mustipher, but the Bears don’t have another option at guard in that scenario, as their depth is suspect across the line and their top reserve interior lineman is Dakota Dozier, a 8-year veteran who has mostly been a reserve in his career and who has mostly struggled when forced into action, especially struggling in the only extended starting action of his career in 2020, finishing 87th out of 92 eligible guards on PFF as a 16-game starter for the Vikings. Now in his age 31 season, Dozier would almost definitely struggle if forced into significant action again. Even if injuries don’t strike, this is a very shaky offensive line and injuries would make this an even more ineffective unit.

Grade: C

Running Backs

David Montgomery returns as the Bears’ starting running back for the 4th straight season, a role he has had since joining the Bears as a 3rd round pick in 2019. Montgomery has just a 3.93 YPC average for his career (714 carries) and has been under 4 YPC in two of three seasons, but a lot of the problem has been his supporting cast, with 65.2% of his yardage coming after contact in those two seasons. Even in Montgomery’s one season above 1,000 yards rushing in 2020, it was Montgomery doing most of the work, with 72.8% of his 4.33 YPC coming after contact and 54 forced missed tackles, giving him the 6th highest elusive rating in the league, leading to him finishing 9th among running backs on PFF in overall grade. 

Montgomery had a 4.48 YPC average on 69 carries in four games last season before suffering an injury that cost him four weeks and probably limited him the rest of the season, so Montgomery has a good chance to bounce back at least close to his 2020 form if healthy and, having only missed one game with injury in his first two seasons in the league, there’s a good chance he stays relatively healthy for most of the season. He’ll still be held back by his supporting cast, but he should be more efficient than a year ago.

Khalil Herbert flashed potential in Montgomery’s absence last season, finishing his rookie season with a significantly better YPC average than Montgomery, averaging 4.20 YPC on 103 carries (67.2% after contact), despite being just a 6th round rookie. 78 of those carries came in the four games Montgomery missed, so he really didn’t have much of a role as a ball carrier when Montgomery was healthy, which will probably remain the case this season, but he could push to eat into Montgomery’s carries a little bit more and, with Montgomery going into the final year of his rookie deal, Herbert could be the Bears’ starting running back of the future in 2023 and beyond.

Herbert didn’t show much at all in the passing game, with 0.68 yards per route run averaged, so Montgomery figures to continue seeing the majority of the passing game work as well, even though his career 1.01 yards per route run average is also underwhelming. Montgomery finished 4th on the team with 51 targets last season and, with their receiving corps still very thin, he could once again have a big passing game role, even if he’s not a particularly efficient target. He’s not an elite running back, but he is one of the better runners in the league when he’s healthy and he has a good backup in Khalil Herbert, even if neither are a threat in the passing game.

Grade: B+

Interior Defenders

As I mentioned earlier, the Bears have just two players remaining from their dominant 2018 defense. They had been losing key players from that unit for years, but even last season they had seven key players from that defense left, with five of them being let go this off-season. Three of those players were interior defenders, with Eddie Goldman getting released and Akiem Hicks and Bilal Nichols signing with the Buccaneers and Raiders respectively as free agents. Goldman and Hicks were limited to 336 snaps and 304 snaps respectively last season and Goldman struggled mightily, so he isn’t a big loss, but Hicks still played at a pretty high level when healthy last season (9 games) and Nichols was a solid player across 679 snaps, earning a slightly above average grade from PFF.

Making matters worse, the Bears didn’t do much to replace them, aside from signing ex-Charger Justin Jones to a 2-year, 12 million dollar deal. A third round pick by the Chargers in 2018, Jones has played at a high level against the run on occasion, including a 11th ranked finish among interior defenders in run defense grade in 2020, but he hasn’t been played at that level consistently and hasn’t been much help at all as a pass rusher, with just 4.5 sacks, 8 hits, and a 5.6% pressure rate in 51 games. Last season, Jones played 44.2 snaps per game and earned just a middling overall grade from PFF, even though he had a career high 3 sacks with a 6.3% pressure rate. The Bears shouldn’t expect much more out of him this season, even if he does have some bounce back potential, still only in his age 26 season.

Jones will likely start next to Angelo Blackson, who is probably locked into a starting role, even though he was originally brought to Chicago as a reserve and struggled mightily when forced into a career high 584 snaps last season as an injury replacement, finishing 98th out of 146 eligible interior defenders on PFF. Blackson still likely will play around that snap count in 2022, for lack of a better option, and he figures to struggle again, going into his age 30 season, having finished below average on PFF in 6 of 7 seasons in the league.

The Bears selected Khyiris Tonga in the 7th round in 2021 and he has a good chance to see a higher snap total in year two, after playing 217 snaps as a rookie, but the 6-4 321 pounder is just an early down run stopper and didn’t show much even in that aspect as a rookie. He might have some upside, but he could easily be overstretched in a larger role and is unlikely to ever give them anything as a pass rusher. Veteran Mario Edwards will also play a role as a reserve and the 6-3 280 pounder has a solid 8.1% pressure rate for his career, but he’s played an average of just 248 snaps per season and 17.7 snaps per game over the past 4 seasons and might struggle in a larger role, especially against the run. This is a very underwhelming position group.

Grade: C

Edge Defenders

The most notable loss on this Bears defense this off-season is Khalil Mack, whose acquisition prior to the 2018 season for a pair of first round picks was what jump started this defense and this team to the season they had that year. Now, with Mack being sent to the Chargers for a second round pick, it officially signals the end of that era and the start of a full rebuild. The Bears didn’t even get a first round pick for Mack because he’s going into his age 31 season and is coming off of an injury plagued season in which he played just 315 snaps, but, even coming off of that season, the Bears will still miss him. His direct replacement will be Al-Quadin Muhammad, who is obviously not the same caliber player. 

Muhammad signed on a 2-year, 8 million dollar contract as a free agent this off-season, coming over from the Colts, where his defensive coordinator for four seasons was new Bears head coach Matt Eberflus. A 6th round pick by the Saints in 2017, Muhammad has been a consistently solid run stopper throughout his career, but has never been much of a pass rusher, with just 11 sacks, 21 hits, and a 7.4% pressure rate in 64 games over the past four seasons. He’s coming off of the best pass rushing season of his career in 2021, but still had just 6 sacks, 8 hits, and a 8.1% pressure rate. He played an average of 569 snaps per season over the past four seasons and should be around there in 2022 with his new team.

One veteran player the Bears didn’t get rid of this off-season is Robert Quinn, surprising, considering he is going into his age 32 season and his value will almost definitely never be higher than it is right now, coming off of a 18.5-sack campaign a year ago, ranking 2nd in the league only behind Defensive Player of the Year TJ Watt, with contract that pays him a reasonable 39.9 million over the past three seasons, all of which is unguaranteed. Quinn wasn’t a member of the Bears’ 2018 defense, but, like most of the players from that defense that the Bears moved on from this off-season, he’s an aging veteran that doesn’t seem to fit the Bears’ timeline.

Quinn is going to have a hard time coming close to matching last year’s sack total and not just because he’s getting older. His peripheral pass rush stats last year (3 hits, 11.7% pressure rate) were not nearly as good as his sack total would suggest and he’s just a season removed from only having 2 sacks, 6 hits, and a 9.2% pressure rate in his first season with the Bears in 2020. He’s been a good pass rusher throughout most of his 11-year career, since being selected 14th overall by the Rams in 2011, totaling 101 sacks, 98 hits, and a 11.1% pressure rate in 156 games, but he’s mostly struggled against the run and his age is becoming a concern. He could easily see his sack total cut more than in half in 2022.

Trevis Gipson probably won’t start, but the 2020 6th round pick impressed in place of Mack last season and should at least have a heavy rotational role in 2022, especially in sub packages, given Muhammad’s issues as a pass rusher. Gipson finished as PFF’s 34th ranked edge defender last season across 489 snaps, totaling 7 sacks, 4 hits, and a 11.8% pressure rate as a pass rusher. He’s still unproven, only playing 72 snaps as a rookie prior to last season, but he could easily be a future starter and should be at least somewhat effective for them in a rotational role this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him surpass last season’s snap total, now in his 3rd year in the league.

Veteran Jeremiah Attaochu also figures to have a reserve role at the edge defender position, assuming he can stay healthy, which has been a big challenge for him in his career, missing 50 games in 8 seasons in the league, never once playing in all 16 games, and coming off of a 2021 season in which he played just 129 snaps in 5 games before a torn pectoral ended his season. Attaochu is somehow still only in his age 29 season and he’s been decently productive when on the field, with a career 10.3% pressure rate, but he’s only a reserve option even if healthy. With Mack gone and Quinn likely to regress, this group figures to be significantly worse than a year ago.

Grade: B-

Linebackers

Along with Akiem Hicks, Bilal Nichols, Eddie Goldman, and Khalil Mack, the other player from their 2018 defense that the Bears moved on from this off-season was Danny Trevathan. He only played 77 snaps in 5 games last season though, so the Bears had already been moving on from him and he won’t be missed. Roquan Smith, their other starting off ball linebacker in 2018 and one of the two players remaining from that defense, has since taken over as the top linebacker. The 8th overall pick in 2018, Smith struggles in run defense, but he has developed into one of the better coverage linebackers in the league, finishing 4th and 17th among off ball linebackers in coverage grade on PFF over the past two seasons respectively. 

Alec Ogletree struggled mightily as the other starter last season, finishing 93rd out of 94 eligible off ball linebackers on PFF across 697 snaps, but he’s no longer with the team and will likely be replaced free agent acquisition Nicholas Morrow, who the Bears signed from the Raiders on a 1-year, 3 million dollar deal. Morrow missed all of 2021 with injury, but he was PFF’s 29th ranked off ball linebacker on 723 snaps in 2020 and is still only in his age 27 season. He’s a one-year wonder, finishing below average on PFF in each of the first three seasons of his career prior to his solid 2020 season, and the injury doesn’t help matters, but it wouldn’t be hard for him to be an upgrade on Ogletree.

The Bears also have career reserve linebacker Joe Thomas, who has mostly struggled in his career and is now going into his age 31 season, coming off of a season in which he played just 86 snaps, and ex-Colt Matthew Adams, who played just 322 underwhelming snaps for Matt Eberflus as a reserve after being selected in the 7th round in 2018. Outside of Roquan Smith, this is an underwhelming group, but Smith is probably their best defensive player.

Grade: B-

Secondary

Along with Roquan Smith, the other remaining player from the Bears’ 2018 defense is safety Eddie Jackson, but even he’s fallen off significantly, ranking 49th, 67th, and 73rd among safeties on PFF in 2019, 2020, and 2021 respectively, after a dominant season in 2018 in which he was PFF’s #1 overall ranked safety. Jackson is still only in his age 28 season, but the 5-year veteran has proven to be a complete one-year wonder. He should remain at least a solid starter in 2022, but it’s unlikely he ever bounces back close to his 2018 form and he has seemingly gotten worse in each of the past three seasons.

In 2018, Jackson formed a dominant duo with Adrian Amos, who ranked 10th among safeties on PFF that season, but Amos signed with the Packers the following off-season. Amos was first replaced by HaHa Clinton-Dix and then by Tashaun Gipson, but the Bears are hoping they found a more permanent solution this off-season when they used a second round pick on Jaquan Brisker. Brisker could struggle as a rookie, but he has the potential to develop into an above average starter long-term. He’ll have to start in year one because their only other option is veteran career backup DeAndre Houston-Carson, who has started just three games in six seasons in the league. Houston-Carson has been good in limited action in his career, but would likely be overstretched if he had to start for an extended period of time.

The Bears also used a second round pick on cornerback Kyler Gordon, who has a good chance to start as a rookie and, even as a rookie, he could be an upgrade on Kindle Vildor (822 snaps) and Duke Shelley (409 snaps), who finished 124th and 113rd respectively out of 134 eligible cornerbacks on PFF last season. Vildor and Shelley were selected in the 5th round and 6th round respectively in 2020 and 2019 respectively and last season was the first extended action of either of their careers, so it’s likely both would continue to struggle if they had to start again in 2022, but the Bears also signed Tavon Young from the Ravens and are hoping he can start in three cornerback sets with Gordon and Jaylon Johnson.

Young has been a solid starter in his career, playing both inside and outside, but he also hasn’t been the most dependable player, missing all of 2017 and 2019 with injury and all but 2 games in 2020. He did play in all 17 games last season and he’s only going into his age 28 season, but there’s a good chance he misses more time with injury again in 2022, in which case Vildor or Shelley would likely be forced back into significant action, for lack of a better option.

Jaylon Johnson is the Bears’ de facto #1 cornerback, but he hasn’t played like one, at least not yet. The 2020 2nd round pick struggled as a rookie, finishing 91st out of 136 eligible cornerbacks on PFF, before having a more middling season in 2021. He has the upside to be an above average starter long-term and could easily take a step forward in his third season in the league, but he isn’t a true #1 cornerback and he’s not the kind of player who significantly elevates an underwhelming group.

Grade: B-

Special Teams

Special teams was a strength of the Bears’ in 2021, ranking 7th in special teams DVOA. They retain kicker Cairo Santos, and 7th round rookie punter Trenton Gill could be an upgrade on the underwhelming Pat O’Donnell. They don’t have Jakeem Grant anymore and he was their best returner last season, but rookies Velus Jones and Trestan Ebner had two touchdowns and four touchdowns respectively on special teams in their collegiate careers and both should have a role as returners, as could Khalil Herbert, who averaged 24.1 yards per kickoff return as a rookie last season and 26.9 yards per kickoff return in his final collegiate season in 2020.

The biggest concern is that the Bears lost a trio of special teamers this off-season who were arguably their best last season, Christian Jones, Marqui Christian, and Deon Bush, who all finished in the top-50 among special teamers on PFF last season, only adding one top-50 player (Matthew Adams) to replace them, instead relying on rookies to establish themselves as contributors in year one. The Bears probably won’t have a bad special teams unit this season, but it definitely wouldn’t be a surprise if they weren’t as good as a year ago, without three key players and with young players being relied on in a significant way.

Grade: B

Conclusion

The Bears are going into a key year in the development and the evaluation process of Justin Fields, who they invested a pair of first round picks in, by virtue of their trade up to draft him 11th overall, but the Bears are giving Fields no help, opting to tear down and rebuild the roster around him long-term. It’s strange timing, as teams usually take advantage of having a quarterback on a cheap rookie deal and try to win right away, but maybe the Bears’ plan is to do that in 2023, having saved up a lot of cap space for next off-season. 

It’s also possible the Bears’ new regime doesn’t believe in Fields and has their eye on one of the quarterbacks atop a talented quarterback class in the 2023 NFL Draft. Either way, the short-term result is very likely to be a tough season in 2022, with the Bears looking like among the worst teams in the league, even if Justin Fields does take a step forward in year two. The Bears have the least invested in their active roster in terms of average annual salary by a wide margin and it shows when you look at this team. They might be lucky to win more than a few games. I will have a final prediction at the end of the off-season when all previews are completed.

Prediction: TBD, TBD in NFC North

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (6-10) at Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

The Vikings’ suffered their first loss of the season by more than eight points last week and it came on the road in Green Bay in a game in which backup quarterback Sean Mannion started. However, the Vikings have also only won once by more than eight points, while two of their close defeats required the Vikings to get a pick six to make the final score closer than it would have been (Arizona and Baltimore) and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by a wide margin in both of those games, which is more predictive than the final score.

Kirk Cousins returns this week, but he doesn’t solve the problems with the Vikings’ defense, which ranks 26th in schedule adjusted efficiency on the season, dragging the Vikings down to 25th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency on the season. Having Kirk Cousins back does help, but he only missed one game and he’ll be remain without one of his top wide receivers Adam Thielen, while this defense figures to have major problems without a trio of key defensive linemen, Michael Pierce, Everson Griffen, and Danielle Hunter, whose consistent absences in recent weeks have contributed significantly to the Vikings’ defensive struggles.

The Vikings face a Bears team that is just 6-10, but the Bears’ biggest problem has been the turnover margin, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL at -11, which is not predictive week-to-week. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Bears rank 25th, 11th, 7th, and 20th on offense, defense, special teams, and in overall mixed efficiency respectively. When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Vikings won by eight, but the Bears won the yards per play and first down rate battle by 12.88% and 2.12 yards per play respectively, losing because they lost the turnover battle by two and went just 2/12 on third down and 2/5 on fourth down, which also isn’t predictive week-to-week. 

I wish Akiem Hicks was playing for the Bears this week, as his presence the last time these two teams met contributed significantly to the Vikings’ offensive struggles, but he has missed most of the season, so his absence is nothing new for the Bears, while the Bears’ offense is as healthy as it’s been at running back, on the offensive line, and in the receiving corps, most notably getting back top offensive lineman Jason Peters and starting wide receiver Allen Robinson, who both missed the last matchup, in a game in which the Vikings had Michael Pierce active. Andy Dalton will start at quarterback with Justin Fields out this week and he is an uninspiring option long-term, he’s still probably the Bears best quarterback in the short-term, given how much Justin Fields has struggled as a passer in his rookie season. 

I would probably need this line to move up to Minnesota -6 for the Bears to be worth betting (my calculated line is Minnesota -3), but that could happen tomorrow when the Vikings are expected to get left tackle Christian Darrisaw, right guard Ezra Cleveland, linebacker Eric Kendricks, and safety Camryn Bynum back from COVID protocols and, if any of those players unexpectedly can’t play in this game, that would make the Bears a possibly attractive bet even at +5.5. This is a low confidence pick for now, but could be updated before gametime.

Update: The Vikings got Darrisaw and Cleveland back as expected, but not Kendricks and Bynum. Kendricks’ absence in particular will be a big loss for a Vikings defense already missing a trio of talented defensive linemen, in a meaningless game a week after being eliminated from the playoff chase. The Bears, meanwhile, will be motivated to get revenge against a team they could have beaten in the first matchup if not for a couple turnovers and failed fourth down conversions, despite the fact that Minnesota was much healthier in that game and the Bears were missing key personnel who will be available in this matchup. This line has dropped to 4.5 or 4 in some places, but my calculated line is Minnesota -1, will these two teams about equal in my roster rankings and the Bears possessing a motivational edge. The Bears are worth a bet.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Chicago Bears 23

Pick against the spread: Chicago +4.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-11) at Chicago Bears (5-10)

The Bears are just 5-10, but their biggest problem has been the turnover margin, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL at -13. Turnover margin is not predictive week-to-week though and in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Bears rank 25th, 14th, 10th, and 19th on offense, defense, special teams, and in overall mixed efficiency respectively. 

The Bears are also getting healthier, most notably left tackle Jason Peters and interior defender Akiem Hicks, who are among their most important players. The Bears were leading the Packers in Green Bay a few weeks ago when Peters got hurt, while their defense held the Vikings to a 20.00% first down rate and 3.16 yards per play in Hicks’ last game a couple weeks ago, so with both expected back this week, the Bears are suddenly a somewhat decent team.

The same can’t be true for the Giants, who are 4-11 and probably even worse than their record suggests, given all of the absences they have. Their defense is expecting to get top cornerback Adoree Jackson back, but he returns at the same time that talented interior defender Dexter Lawrence is expected out, joining safety Jabrill Peppers and linebacker Blake Martinez, who have been out for weeks, while their offense continues to miss three of their top-4 wide receivers, a pair of starting offensive linemen, and starting quarterback Daniel Jones, whose backup quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm have struggled mightily in his absence. 

The Bears aren’t a team that scores a lot of points and they have just two wins by multiple scores, so this line favoring them by six might seem high, but this is also one of their easiest games and there is a big enough talent gap between these two teams that I think the Bears should be favored by at least a touchdown. There isn’t enough here for the Bears to be bettable, but they should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes as long as this line stays below a touchdown.

Chicago Bears 17 New York Giants 9

Pick against the spread: Chicago -6

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-9)

The Bears lost to the Vikings last week, but they won the first down rate battle by 2.12 and the yards per play battle by 12.88%, losing because they lost the turnover battle by two and went just 2/12 on third down and 2/5 on fourth down, which aren’t as predictive of metrics week-to-week as first down rate and yards per play. The Bears’ offense still had a poor game though, as it was their defense that dominated, holding the Vikings to just 3.16 yards per play and a 20.00% first down rate.

The Bears’ defense has been solid most of the season, but last week was easily their best performance of the year and it’s not a surprise that it coincided with the return of stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who had previously missed four straight games and six total games on the season. However, Hicks is expected to be out again this week, having been placed on the COVID list, meaning the Bears will once again be without both Hicks and Khalil Mack, a massive blow for this defense, which is highly unlikely to be as good this week as they were last week.

The Bears’ offense, meanwhile, figures to continue struggling. They continue to be without left tackle Jason Peters, arguably their most important offensive player, who has been out for the past game and a half, which has been a big blow to an already mediocre offense. On top of that, the Bears will be forced to turn to third string quarterback Nick Foles, with their top-two quarterbacks Justin Fields and Andy Dalton out. Foles is more qualified than most third string quarterbacks, but he figures to be a downgrade even from Fields and Dalton, who have not played all that well this season.

Given all of the players the Bears are missing, I don’t expect them to be able to keep this game close with the Seahawks. The Seahawks are just 5-9, but their even point differential suggests they have been better than their record and that is despite the fact that starting quarterback Russell Wilson missed three and a half games with injury and then was not himself for about three games upon his return. The Seahawks’ defense (22nd in schedule adjusted efficiency) and special teams (3rd) are complementary units, so if this offense can play well, the Seahawks are a lot more dangerous of an opponent than their record would suggest.

The Seahawks did not have a strong offensive performance last week, but that was on the road in Los Angeles against a good Rams defense and the Seahawks were without talented starting wide receiver Tyler Lockett, starting running back Alex Collins, and starting right tackle Brandon Shell. This week, the Seahawks return home to face a lesser defense and will get at least Lockett and Collins back, with Shell remaining a possibility to play as well. Given the talent gap between these two teams right now, my calculated line favors the Seahawks by 9, so we’re getting good line value with them as 6.5-point favorites. I want to wait until gameday to place this bet because of COVID uncertainty, but I will very likely be bumping this up from a low confidence pick before gametime. 

Update: Hicks is still out, so I want to lock this in before the line increases.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Chicago Bears (4-9)

The Vikings have drawn a lot of attention for keeping all of their losses close, not losing by more than 8 points all season, but two of their losses required pick sixes to make the margin of defeat smaller than it otherwise would have and most of their wins have been close as well, with just one win by multiple scores. They could easily have a couple more wins, which tends to be well-known with this team, but they also easily could have a couple more losses, which tends to get left out of the analysis. Overall, they are a slightly below average team, despite the fact that they haven’t been blown out, ranking 15th, 28th, 6th, and 21st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency.

The Vikings’ tendency to play close games is especially relevant considering the Vikings are 6-point road favorites in this game, with just three of their margins of victory being enough to cover this number, including just one on the road, a 7-point win in Los Angeles against the Chargers. That being said, it’s hard to be confident in the Bears too, as they are a well below average team that is dealing with a significant amount of absent players. On the season, the Bears rank 27th, 20th, 3rd, and 25th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which is only about a couple points behind the Vikings, but the Bears are in much worse shape than that right now. 

Already without their top defensive player for the year, with stud edge defender Khalil Mack injured, the Bears will also be without one of their most important offensive players, talented left tackle Jason Peters, while starting wide receiver Allen Robinson headlines a group of 11 players added to the COVID list this week, a list that could keep growing. My calculated line right now has the Vikings as 4.5-point favorites, so we’re getting some line value with the Bears at +6, but I can’t take them with any confidence right now. If they can avoid more COVID cases, I may increase the confidence on this pick, but that’s a big if at this point.

Minnesota Vikings 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (9-3)

I was hoping the Packers would be a lot healthier this week, coming out of their bye week, particularly the trio of left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, who are all among the best players in the league at their respective positions. The Packers are 9-3, but they have not played as well as last year’s 13-3 team and are not beating teams in convincing fashion, while ranking just 14th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, in large part due to the absence of those aforementioned three players. 

Had the Packers gotten a couple of those players back this week, they would have been a very intriguing bet in this game against the Bears in Green Bay, where the Packers have been a great bet in games in front of games where Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes the games, going 49-22 ATS. Unfortunately, only Alexander has a shot to suit up for this game and even that isn’t a given. On top of that, the Packers will be down a reliable receiver, with Randall Cobb now out indefinitely. 

Despite that, the Packers are still favored by 12.5 points in this game. The Packers would have covered this number in three of their five home games so far this season, but a closer look at those games shows the Packers to not have been as impressive as the final score, as they were down to the Lions at halftime, got outgained on a per play basis by Washington, and shut out a Seahawks team that was starting a much less than 100% Russell Wilson. Those three games are the Packers’ biggest margins of victory of the season, which shows how unimpressive many of their wins have been.

My calculated line actually has the Packers favored by just 9.5 points in this game and, while that doesn’t factor in the Packers’ extra homefield advantage with Aaron Rodgers, it’s hard to get up to this 12.5 point number. The Packers could also be in a bit of a bad spot, as they have a much tougher game against the Ravens on deck and favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.6% rate before facing a team with a winning percentage over 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage. 

This is still a big divisional rivalry game, so it’s very possible the Packers still bring a big effort despite a tougher game on deck, but it’s another reason not to be confident in the Packers this week. I’m taking the Bears for pick ‘em purposes for now, but I would probably switch to the Packers if it was determined that Jaire Alexander will be active and playing something close to his normal snap count. In either scenario, I don’t see myself taking either side confidently.

Green Bay Packers 28 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against the spread: Chicago +12.5

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at Chicago Bears (4-7)

Yet again, a point spread has been posted for a Cardinals game even though we don’t have anything definitive on the status of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. In each of the past three games, the oddsmakers have posted a spread that has expected both to play and in all three games, both players missed the game, causing the oddsmakers to drastically change the line, in some cases the morning of the game. 

In two of the games, it didn’t really matter, as the Cardinals won once as underdogs and lost once as favorites, but in their last game the Cardinals spent most of the week as favorites and then became underdogs before gametime, meaning if you had bet against them as money line favorites early in the week, you could have then bet on them as money line underdogs later in the week and guaranteeing you would win money regardless. The oddsmakers aren’t taking as big of a chance this week, but it’s odd to see them so confidently posting lines despite major injuries.

Murray and Hopkins seem likelier to play this week than they have in the past, coming off of a bye week and practicing more this week than they had in recent weeks before the bye week, but the Cardinals could continue being cautious with one or both against a losing team, with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck. I also think we are getting good line value with the Bears even if Murray and Hopkins do play, as both could be limited and their return does not solve all of the Cardinals problems.

The Cardinals went 2-1 without Murray and Hopkins, but they had just an even point differential across an underwhelming schedule, despite winning the turnover battle by three, which is not a predictive metric. Their offense actually held up pretty well without Murray and Hopkins and obviously getting both back, even at less than 100%, will be a boost for this unit, but they are unlikely to be as good as they were at the beginning of the season, not only because Murray and Hopkins could be limited, but also because they are still missing running back Chase Edmonds and starting left guard Justin Pugh. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense has not been as good in the past few weeks since losing key interior defender JJ Watt and they could be even more short-handed this week, after top cornerback Byron Murphy got hurt in Friday’s practice. The Bears aren’t a tough opponent, but the Cardinals just aren’t as good as they played earlier in the season or as good as their record, even if Murray and Hopkins play, and we’re getting line value with the Bears at +7.5, as my calculated line has the Cardinals favored by 5, with Murray and Hopkins playing, but not at 100%. 

If one or both of Hopkins and Murray end up not playing, we will obviously be getting even more value with the Bears, so I like locking this one in right now. Big road favorites typically do well after a bye week, covering at a 64.2% rate all-time as favorites of 3.5 or more, but that could be somewhat cancelled out by the Cardinals having a much tougher game next week. This isn’t a big play, but there is enough value here with the Bears to lock in a bet before the line potentially moves down.

Update: Both Murray and Hopkins are active and this line has stayed put at 7.5, but Hopkins at least sounds like he will be limited, while Murray could be rusty in his first game back and he won’t have one of his top blockers with Justin Pugh out. Byron Murphy will be active on defense, but this defense still has not been the same since losing JJ Watt. The Cardinals should still win this game, but it’s a lot to ask them to go on the road and cover a spread of more than a touchdown against anyone other than the worst teams in the league. The Bears are not one of the worst teams in the league and, in fact, are getting healthy on the offensive line and have probably their best quarterback under center, with Andy Dalton playing over raw rookie Justin Fields.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1)

Both of these teams are dealing with injuries to their expected starting quarterback. The Bears’ situation is less concerning, with experienced veteran Andy Dalton being the backup. Dalton obviously lacks the upside or athleticism of rookie starting quarterback Justin Fields, but he is probably an upgrade as a passer and might not be a downgrade overall. The Lions’ situation is more concerning because, as bad as Jared Goff has been as a starter this season, backup Tim Boyle is still a big downgrade, struggling mightily in his debut last week after previously throwing just four passes in four seasons in the league after going undrafted in 2018. 

The good news for the Lions, however, is that, unlike Fields, who has been ruled out, Goff is questionable and seems like he is on the right side of questionable and likely to start after a one-game absence. This team still has a lot of problems even if Goff plays, but they are not as bad as their record suggests, as many of their losses have been close. Their -113 point differential is certainly not good, but it’s better than the point differential of the Texans (-121) and Jets (-142), who have probably had worse seasons than the Lions, despite managing to win a couple games each.

That point differential shows they are being outscored by an average of 11.3 points per game, but even that suggests they are getting blown out more often than they are, with just three of their ten games resulting in losses by more than 10 points, including a game against the Packers in which they led at halftime in Green Bay. By contrast, four of their ten games have been decided by three points or fewer, relevant given that they are 3-point underdogs in this game. That’s all despite the fact that the Lions have faced an above average schedule and, in fact, this home game against the Bears is arguably the easiest game of their season. 

The Bears are 3-7 and have been as bad as their record suggests, with the 6th worst point differential in the league at -77 and rankings of 29th, 12th, and 22nd in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively. This once dominant defense is not what it was, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, arguably their two best defensive players, whose absence makes their defense even worse than their efficiency rank. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, regardless of who they have started at quarterback. 

The Lions rank 27th, 27th, and 4th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which is very underwhelming, but still doesn’t make them the worst team in the league and it makes them a decent value as 3-point home underdogs, assuming Goff can play. Winless teams also tend to be a good bet this late in the season, covering the spread at a 63.3% rate in week 9 or later. I still wouldn’t bet them in that scenario, but if Goff plays and this line stays put, they are the better side for pick ‘em purposes. If Goff is out, I will likely be on the Bears for no confidence as a pure fade of Tim Boyle. I am leaving this as a no confidence pick on the Lions, but I will likely have an update based on Goff’s status and any potential line movement.

Update: It sounds like Goff is playing, so I’m bumping this up to low confidence before the line drops below a field goal, which it could on Thursday morning.

Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at Chicago Bears (3-6)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. The Ravens are 6-3, but have just a +14 point differential and are not blowing teams out, winning just twice by more than six points, which is very relevant, considering they are 6.5 point favorites here in Chicago. On the other hand, the Bears might be bad enough to justify this line being that high, even with the Ravens not blowing teams out. The Bears are just 3-6 and rank just 26th in point differential at -74, while ranking 28th, 18th, 13th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency.

Things are only getting even worse on defense too, with both Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks now out for an extended period of time. This once dominant defense is a shell of its former self, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Mack and Hicks. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, led by rookie quarterback Justin Fields and a subpar offensive line and skill position group. My calculated line has the Bears as 5-point favorites, so we are getting a little bit of line value with Chicago, but I don’t have much confidence in them.

Update: There have been several injury updates that will effect this game significantly. Previously listed as questionable, #1 wide receiver Marquise Brown was ruled out on Saturday, despite getting a limited practice in on Sunday. The Ravens will be without a pair of cornerbacks in Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith, who were both also questionable. More importantly, quarterback Lamar Jackson has been ruled out with an illness, despite returning to practice on Friday as well. Without two those on the Ravens’ offense, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so it’s surprising to see the Ravens still favored by 1.5 points on the road. Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley is not a bad option, but he’s an obvious downgrade from Jackson and will be without his top receiver. I wouldn’t bet on the spread, but the money line is worth a bet higher than +100. You may need to lock this in quickly as news spreads of Jackson being inactive and spread bets bet push this line.

Chicago Bears 19 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

The Steelers have moved up above .500, but they’re still an underwhelming team overall. Their total margin of victory across their four wins is still less than their total margin of defeat across their three losses, giving them a point differential of -10. In efficiency ratings, they rank 23rd, 11th, and 18th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively. They were a 12-4 team a year ago, but their offense struggled and their wins were primarily because of their defense carrying them to mostly close victories against a relatively weak schedule. This year, their offense has been about the same, while their defense has fallen noticeably from last year’s dominant performance, even if they are still an above average unit.

That being said, I don’t have any desire to bet on the Bears, who are an even more underwhelming team. Their offense has remained stagnant like the Steelers’ offense and like the Bears’ offense has been for years, while their once dominant defense has declined significantly in recent years due to off-season losses and is significantly worse than Pittsburgh’s, especially with edge defender Khalil Mack and safety Eddie Jackson both likely out for this game. We are still getting some line value with the Bears at +6.5 because my calculated line is at Pittsburgh -5, but this is a pick for pick ’em purposes only, as even against an overrated Steelers team, it’s hard to be confident in the Bears covering the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6.5

Confidence: Low