With the release of the Bears’ 2014 schedule, it’s time to predict what the team’s record will be this season. In previewing a set of four games over the span of four articles, we will end up with a final prediction of how the Bears will finish in 2014. In the case of my article last week comparing Chicago to Green Bay, the best way to decide the outcomes will be the supporting cast on both sides of the ball.
Using the quarterbacks as the starting point offensively, and breaking it down through skill positions, I will analyze how the Bears can capitalize on offensive opportunities against their opponents. When looking at the defensive side of the ball, it’s easiest to compare how the defense ranks against their opponent’s offensive weapons.
With that in mind, the Bears defense ranked 32nd in rush defense, 15th against the passing attack, 30th in points allowed, and allowed 394.6 yards per game, which was good for 30th in the NFL. In comparison, the offense was second in points scored, fifth in passing, and eighth in total yards. Using these numbers from last season, we will get a good idea on how the Bears will fare against opponents in 2014 (stats from NFL.com).
The Bears will face the obvious divisional rivals in the Packers, Vikings, and Lions, along with the Bills, 49ers, Jets, Panthers, Falcons, Dolphins, Patriots, Buccaneers, Cowboys (what a surprise), and Saints for the second year in a row. There are certainly some tough teams to look forward to, no doubt, and no game is ever an easy win (with maybe the exception to the Bills and Dolphins).
Focusing on the first four games of the year, the Bears will face Buffalo, San Francisco, the Jets, and then conclude the first quarter of the season with a divisional matchup against the Packers at home.
September 7: Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
The Bills will come to Chicago for the Bears’ home opener on September 7. I think the Bears come out swinging, and ultimately win this game.
Defensively the Bears have a tough start against two solid play-making running backs in C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. Buffalo ranked second in rushing yards per game last year with 144.2 yards. If that carries over from last season and the Bears defensive line doesn’t improve enough this offseason, this could be a nightmare to start the season.
Injuries contributed to the Bears’ defensive decline, but this should not be an excuse as Chicago will need to improve drastically in year two of the Marc Trestman era. Jackson and Spiller will show no mercy on the ground, and playing against the 2013 league-worst rush defense (161.8 YPG allowed) they should be excited to open the season in Chicago.
Luckily for the Bears, the Bills ranked 28th in passing and allowed 48 sacks to opposing defensive lines in 2013. With Jared Allen and Lamar Houston in the mix, the passing game should be held in check. The Bears offense may not have much luck in the passing department either in this game as the Bills ranked fourth against the pass. (An interesting variable to pay attention to is the fact that Jairus Byrd left for the Saints in free agency.)
The Bills also have their own issues with their run defense, which ranked 28th in the NFL against the run. Matt Forte should have a solid day on the ground and will need to come up with a score if the Bears want to start the year off with a win.
Prediction: Bears 21, Bills 14
September 14: Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers
Following the Bills’ visit to Chicago, the Bears will travel to San Francisco to play the 49ers for their first real test of the young season. Facing another run-heavy offense, the Bears have to face good old Frank Gore in a ground-and-pound battle.
An interesting player to watch is going to be Marcus Lattimore, who was a steal in last year’s Draft after an injury derailed his last season in college and ruined his draft stock. The 49ers picked him up in the fourth round. Frank Gore is getting up there in age; his successor will need to step up in the near future, making it interesting to see what happens at the running position on the 49ers’ depth chart. After facing the second-ranked rushing offense the previous week, the revamped line will see another test early in the season facing the Niners third-ranked rushing attack.
The passing game was average last season, only netting 186.2 yards a game, which was good for 30th in the NFL. The Bears may be able to outdo the San Francisco offense, but the 49ers’ defense is stout. They ranked fourth against the rush, third in points against, and were seventh against the pass. It won’t be an easy task, and it’s likely Colin Kaepernick improves from last year’s uninspiring regular season.
Cutler has had problems against San Francisco in the past and the Bears have had problems in general when playing the Niners. Last time these two teams faced off, Jason Campbell got manhandled by the defense — but this was the offensive line from 2012. Interestingly enough, the 49er defense only mustered up seven more sacks than the Bears in 2013. This game could go either way, but it will be all about the offensive opportunities.
Prediction: 49ers 28, Bears 27
September 22: Chicago Bears at New York Jets
After facing two tough defensive teams in the first two weeks, the Bears travel to MetLife Stadium in New York to take on Michael Vick and the Jets. The Bears can take advantage of a weak passing defense, which ranked 22nd against opposing passers last season despite generating good pressure (41 total sacks in 2013).
Going against a defense ranked third against the run, the Bears will need to exploit the Jets through the air. This means that Jay Cutler and his arsenal of receivers need to have a big day to take pressure off of the defense.
The Bears won’t have to worry too much about the Jets offense, which ranked 31st in total passing yards last season with Geno Smith as their quarterback. This means the focus needs to turn to the Jets sixth-ranked rushing attack. As the Jets only averaged a total of 18.1 points per game last year (29th in the NFL), I think this will be one of the Bears’ locks for a win in the early goings of the season.
Prediction: Bears 38, Jets 14
September 28: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
Finally the Bears come back home to play Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers. After a projected win over the Jets the Bears will return home with a 2-1 record, needing to build off of the momentum from the week before.
After looking at the Bears and Packers supporting casts side by side, I firmly believe the Bears are on the cusp of greatness going into this game. If the Bears can finish week four with a win it will mean a lot for the season going forward.
Cutler finally showed some progress against the Packers last year, but he needs to build upon these big games, especially against division rivals. After leaving a bad taste in their mouths from the loss to the Packers last season, the Bears will be determined to start their campaign for NFC North supremacy with a win against their biggest rivals..
Prediction: Bears 28, Packers 21