Projection: Bears go 7-10, third in the NFC North between a 9-8 Vikings team and a 6-11 Lions squad
Analysis: This has the makings of an easy schedule. If one were to examine it based purely on opponent’s winning percentage last year, then this is one of the ten easiest schedules in the league. The problem is that a lot of these bad teams last year seem to be ascending (Jets, Texans, even Lions). The Bears roster as a whole is notably not, despite some ascending individual players. It is of course impossible to predict outcomes at this point with any hope of accuracy; injuries, breakouts, regressions, and random luck always lead to seasons breaking different than projected. The Bengals weren’t even “supposed” to be above .500 last year. MY picks attempts to circumvent these problems by placing an emphasis on depth, coaching, and my own personal opinion. This is not a perfect process; but my projecting a 7-10 finish against this schedule seems to be right in the Bears wheelhouse. This projection thus relies on several presumptions by me:
Justin Fields will take a leap forward
the running game will excel against lighter Front 7s
the secondary will handle themselves against fast receiver cores
the Front 7 will contain and keep pace against zone rushing attacks
Justin Fields will struggle against disguised coverages and zone heavy schemes
the line will struggle against quicker pass rushers, particularly on the edge
the receivers will struggle against physical corners and zone coverage
the D line will be washed away by power run attacks
the secondary will struggle at and after the catch against larger, more physical receiver rooms
These are all projections- but they are worth keeping in mind as I go through my picks.
Week 1: Loss to the 49ers
This one is a lot less certain than it may seem. Trey Lance did not look ready in limited appearances last year, and his first start of the year (if Kyle even offers him that) may be rocky. Unfortunately, I think this game will also be rocky on our side, with the 49ers D-line overwhelming our O-line as they try to develop in game chemistry. Justin could make this close and deliver some highlight plays (like he did last year against the 49ers), but I don’t think this one will break in our favor as the 9ers run game wears the defense down over four quarters.
Week 2: Loss to the Green Bay Packers
While the Packers offense seems poised to take a step back, their defense is likely only going to step forward. The return of Jaire Alexander and additions of Quay Walker (who I didn’t like as a first rounder) and Devonte Wyatt should stiffen them up against both the run and the pass. With the offense stalling, I expect a primetime stinker against the Packers versatile two headed monster at running back. Making Aaron throw is the key to this game- I just don’t think we have the personnel up front to force the question, and I don’t think we’ll have a shot
Week 3: Win over the Houston Texans
The Texans are also rebuilding, and though they made some high potential draft picks, I don’t expect them to be in gear in Week 3. This is the first defense David Montgomery and Justin Fields should be able to bury on the ground, with Justin making some high impact throws to boot. Davis Mills was an effective distributor, but he hasn’t shown the mettle to pull out a win without any semblance of a run game in a dogfight against a hungry insurgent QB. Then again, the Texans have done some impressive depth building- I expect them to be better this year as well.
Week 4: Win over the New York Giants
The Giants are, like the Bears, a team in transition. Unfortunately for them, that transition includes Daniel Jones and an emptying of the cupboard on defense. New Giants DC Wink Martindale is very man heavy, but he hasn’t had a secondary this bad in years. This could really be a breakout game for the offense, though the Giants D-line may be too much to handle. As a bonus, both Giants tackles have struggled against speed and counters on the edge and they’re protecting a QB who panics and makes mistakes under pressure. Defense could have a good day too.
Week 5: Loss to the Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have a clearly more talented roster, but it’s also old and in transition. I expect the Bears to split their two games with them, dropping the early one as the Vikings fight to establish themselves and winning the later one as they implode due to injuries and regression. Their pass rush, if healthy, is scary, but behind that there are a lot of weaknesses to exploit. It’s more likely to be healthy early in the year, and thus they get the nod at home in week 5. Week 18, with everybody playing for their jobs next year? Not so much.
Week 6: Loss to the Washington Commanders
I went back and forth on this one, but at the end of the day I don’t think our o-line will be able to keep up with their d-line, be it on runs or passes. Their defensive scheme is susceptible behind that and Wentz could always turn in a classic stinker, particularly when our secondary matches up so well with theirs, but I can’t get passed how rough this will look for the Bears on offense.
Week 7: Loss to the New England Patriots
This is a team designed to outflank the Bears on all front. Downhill physical power run against an undersized, under-skilled D line. Multiple front defense that can stop powerful backs in their tracks. Chess piece secondary players that erase different receiver rooms (Belichick’s unexplainable corner picks should pay off for him in this game, at least). An experienced coach and protected young quarterback. This is a test of the Bears mettle. Hopefully they can impress. I doubt they will win.
Week 8: Win over the Dallas Cowboys
This is more like it. Offense that will regress without one of its major targets. Washed Zeke and a new look line should not threaten the Bears front- that line is particularly vulnerable in pass pro. Their defense, on the other hand, does not frighten me. Parsons is not a great run defender when he’s rushing and not a great cover player when he’s dropping. The rest of their Front 7 does not frighten me. Their secondary is exploitable if you can set up Diggs in the right ways. This team is vulnerable, and people don’t talk about it enough.
Week 9: Win over the Miami Dolphins
Dolphins is more about projection. Our secondary is as well suited as one can be to keeping up with the Dolphins weapons, and I do not believe in Tua. Their run game doesn’t have the Jimmy’s and Joe’s to threaten. This is another vulnerable team that I think a scrappy Bears can outclass.
Week 10: Win over Detroit Lions
I still don’t project the Lions to be very good this year. It’s hard to, given their ongoing quarterback situation. I also hesitate to commend the Lions on their offseason additions. This team still does not scare me. Hutchinson should fill Trey Flowers role at about his level of play (with obvious upside as he develops). Jameson Williams may not even be back at this time, and it’s likely he’ll have been limited or be out of sync in the early contest. Week 10 on the lake I think should be a simple pickup. But in Week 17 with Dan Campbell fighting to stay off the hot seat? That’s a different story. Think they could surprise.
Week 11: Win over the Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are one of the teams I project to be in a worse mess than the Bears. They are re-tooling at every single position (except maybe offensive line, where one could argue they should be retooling). It should be incredibly easy to run on them. The only unit on this team that concerns me is there all-Power Forward approach to the wide receiver room. That would cause problems for the undersized Bears secondary… if they had a suitable quarterback throwing to them and if those receivers were very good. As of now, neither of those scenarios is the case. Rolling out Lamar Jackson and moving Kyler Gordon inside as I advised last week should work to limit the impact of this mismatch.
Week 12: Loss to the New York Jets
I’m hoping to see this one in person. I think Justin Fields is a far better quarterback than Zach Wilson, and that very well may save the Bears in this contest. But the Jets are an ascendant team that have quality players in every single unit at every single level (except maybe linebacker). I think they surprise this year in general, using Breece Hall in the outside zone game to protect Wilson and then crushing opposing offensive lines with their top 10 pass rush. The Bears are simply one of those weaker teams that they could take advantage of. All of this still hinges on just how bad (or good) Zach Wilson is- but otherwise, they’ve got us out-classed.
Week 13: Loss to the Green Bay Packers
See Week 2. It’s not SNF but barring injury, this should be another rough one.
Week 14: Bye
This late bye is rough and could lead to some tough losses down the stretch (read: Jets, Week 12).
Week 15: Loss to the Philadelphia Eagles
This one goes back to the Bears O-line. The Eagles are extremely powerful inside and quick outside vis the underrated third down specialist Josh Sweat. This is the opposite of how the Bears are built, and should cause serious problems on pass downs. With their recent addition of James Bradberry and trade for AJ Brown, who dominated the Bears last year, this Eagles team has us outgunned. Obviously this again hinges on the strength of the quarterback, and I think Justin Fields is both a vastly superior passer and comparable runner to Hurts, but that may not matter.
Week 16: Loss to the Buffalo Bills
Do I even need to write a blurb? This team is my pick for the Super Bowl. Maybe they’ll be in a late season decline, but I see no path to victory as things stand.
Week 17: Loss to the Detroit Lions
Read Week 10. After dropping four straight, I expect this team to be a little demoralized. On the other side, I expect the Lions to be fired up and in gear; too late to really matter, but well enough od eliver a surprise upset.
Week 18: Win over the Minnesota Vikings
See Week 5. At home after a brutal loss, against a Vikings team struggling to reach the 7 seed, I expect the life to return to the Bears, even if it’s just to go out on a good note. Out of playoff contention and due for some serious turnover in the draft and free agency, this is a game where everyone may be fighting for their jobs.
7-10 with some upset wins is an improvement over last year. It would be enough to trust that the Bears could fully right the ship next offseason with gobs of free agent cash and a top ten pick (I’ve got them picking 9), returning to legitimate contention. I also think it is enough to show that Justin Fields is the future, and that with better weapons and a better line he could be special. That pick could deliver some answers, with names like Jaxson Smith-Njigba, Kayshon Boutte, Jordan Addison, Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson, or Broderick Jones potentially available from this extremely talented rising class.