The 2018 Bears regular season is nearly upon us, and I’m sure you all are just as excited as I am. The Bears finally got rid of John Fox this offseason, after he finished with a putrid 14-34 record as our head coach. I never felt this coaching staff was right for our young quarterback either, as we finished 30th in YPG and 29th in points per game. However, I am all in on our new head coach, Matt Nagy. He was the offensive coordinator for Kansas City, and led Alex Smith to arguably his best season overall, and definitely his best statistically. I am always a guy to blame the coaching more than the players, and I just have this feeling with Nagy that I didn’t have with Fox or Trestman.
The offense has been completely revamped this offseason, starting with the signing of former Jaguar receiver Allen Robinson. He will hopefully provide a big, physical presence on the outside that the Bears haven’t seen consistently since Brandon Marshall’s prime. We certainly have heard he is having an excellent camp. I am really excited for the rookie wide receiver from Memphis, Anthony Miller. I liked him coming into the draft, and from what I’ve seen, he is killing it against better corners like Kyle Fuller and Prince Amukamara. He also did well against the Broncos yesterday, from what I’ve seen. We also added TE Tre Burton, a former Super Bowl Champion with the Eagles. He will play somewhat of a Travis Kelce role in the Bears offense, but Adam Shaheen will certainly get some targets, too, bearing his injury isn’t too serious, but his MRI is scheduled for today. Nagy loves to use two TE sets, so I’m excited to see what he does with these guys. Assuming Shaheen misses extended time, Dion Lewis would be the TE2 on this team. I also like Taylor Gabriel. He will provide elite speed the Bears haven’t seen at the position for a while, and will be able to take the top off of a defense like he did in Atlanta. I am a huge Mitch Trubisky believer, but the success of this team rests on his shoulders. He has now been given the proper personnel and coach for an elite passing game, and if he can put it together, I can see the Bears being wild card contenders in a tough NFC. I’m not going to go out there and say he is the best guy around because he just isn’t. But I certainly believe that if this team can live up to its potential, they can compete now.
On defense, the Bears posted a top 10 unit in 2017. They retained a key piece in DC Vic Fangio, and he kept the core of his good unit from 2017 in Akiem Hicks, Kyle Fuller, Adrian Amos, and Leonard Floyd. They also added new talents like Roquan Smith and Aaron Lynch. The defense has kept nearly everyone from last year and added new talent, so bearing injuries, I think they can only go up really. But if they can land a guy like Khalil Mack, go for it. It will cost assets, but the guy is arguably the best defensive player in the league when he plays, but I digress.
On the flip side, there is room for improvement on the roster. Although we added a lot of good, young talent on offense, it is, for the most part, unproven. Robinson had an elite year in 2015, racking up over 1,400 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. He then had a down year in 2016, getting less than 1,000 yards, and then missed all of last season with a torn ACL. Robinson showed what he is at the top of his game, but him getting back to that form should be a concern for the offense. Tre Burton was overpaid if you ask me, after being a 3rd option for his NFL career thus far. Assuming Nagy utilizes him, he can be very good, but right now, that signing is also somewhat of a question mark. And as much as I love Trubisky, he is not a sure thing going into this season. After showing signs of good play during his rookie season, there is certainly room for optimism. But I just want to see more of him. I think the coaching will certainly help him a ton this season, but if I’m betting in Vegas, long term, I wouldn’t commit to a team with a second-year quarterback who is unproven.
Now let’s look at the schedule. Starting with inter-division play, I think we will do better than what we did with Fox, but the NFC North is a very hard division. We also play the NFC West, which some regard as one of the best divisions in football. The Rams game, although at home, is a long shot. The 49ers game is away, which will certainly be a tough game to win. They are in Arizona, which is a winnable game, but tough because it is on the road. The Seahawks have Russell Wilson, which will make that a tough game no doubt. We also play the AFC East, all in a matter of four weeks, which makes that division tougher than it should be. The Pats are in Chicago, which gives us better odds, but certainly a long shot. We could make it close though. Going to Buffalo in November won’t be easy, but we certainly should win that game based on talent. We are also in Miami, which is harder because it is a road game, but that should be a win. At home against the Jets should be a win, too. Looking at the last two games, at the Giants, and vs. the Buccaneers, these are both winnable. The Giants are a much-improved team, and that win won’t come easy, unlike the Bucs game, which should be one of the easier games throughout the season.
I think the Bears will finish 7-9 this season, but if a few of the close games swing our way, we could certainly contend for a playoff spot. I love that there is young talent on this team, which really bodes well for the future, but the lack of experience all around will ultimately hold us back. Trubiusky’s development should be the most important part of this season as if he proves to really be our franchise passer, we will be set up to be Super Bowl contenders rather soon. If the team competes in every game and puts up better numbers than last season, it will be considered a good season in my book. Perhaps we are just another good draft away from the NFC’s top ranking, but inexperience and holes at pass rusher will ultimately keep us out of the playoffs. But I haven’t been this excited about a Bears team in a long, long time.
Photo: Dustin Bradford / Getty Images – Chicago Tribune