ESPN.com Chicago Bears reporter Michael C. Wright makes his game-by-game picks for the 2014 season.
Week 1: Buffalo Bills
This Bears blasted Buffalo 40-7 the last time these teams met at Soldier Field, but this game should be much closer as the Bills have improved. Chicago's defense will look better than it has in the preseason, but it won't be dominant right off the bat. Prediction: Win
Week 2: at San Francisco 49ers
Given recent news about issues with the surface at Levi's Stadium, the Bears might feel like this is a home game. San Francisco's stadium should be rocking as the 49ers christen the place for the first time in the regular season, but the Bears will struggle offensively. Prediction: Loss
Week 3: at New York Jets
Chicago's defense will appear to be starting to come around in this game, but that will be a byproduct of ineptitude from New York's offense. Look for Jay Cutler, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery to shred the Jets on the back end. Prediction: Win
Week 4: Green Bay Packers
Chicago gets a chance to atone for being knocked out of the postseason by this team in the 2013 regular-season finale. Green Bay's Julius Peppers returns to Soldier Field and will look like the Peppers of old, but it won't be enough for the Packers to win this one. Prediction: Win
Week 5: at Carolina Panthers
Cam Newton should bring about a case of déjà vu of the club's preseason debacle at Seattle against Russell Wilson. The offense faces a reality check against a Carolina defense that ranked No. 2 in 2013. Prediction: Loss
Week 6: at Atlanta Falcons
The perception the Falcons might be a soft team seems to become more and more real every day. Chicago will face an improved Atlanta squad, but the Falcons can't run the ball well enough to keep the ball away, and they certainly haven't proved capable of stopping the run, either. Prediction: Win
Week 7: Miami Dolphins
The Dolphins keep adding running backs, yet still can't consistently run the ball effectively. And although Ryan Tannehill looked better last season, the Bears will get to him in this one. Chicago's defense will look better than it is against Miami, but expect Cutler and the offense to be the stars of this one. Prediction: Win
Week 8: at New England Patriots
This will be Chicago's fifth road outing in eight weeks, and with the Patriots playing a Thursday night game against the Jets heading into this matchup, they'll have a long week to prepare for the Bears. That could mean trouble, possibly worse than the 36-7 beatdown the Patriots administered to the Bears the last time these teams played. Prediction: Loss
Week 10: at Green Bay Packers
Last season, the Bears lucked out at Lambeau Field due to an Aaron Rodgers injury and Josh McCown putting together a strong performance. You can expect an improved Cutler in 2014, but at Lambeau Field, he's been horrible, producing passer ratings of 43.2, 43.5 and 28.2. Prediction: Loss
Week 11: Minnesota Vikings
The Bears need to use this one as a momentum builder as they start a stretch of five home games to close out the season. Look for Jared Allen to put together a strong game, facing his former team with the motivation to prove he can still get it done. Prediction: Win
Week 12: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Here's another week of reunions as McCown and former coach Lovie Smith visit Soldier Field for the first time since leaving Chicago. Expect Smith to spend all week downplaying this matchup, but he'll have the Buccaneers playing with an edge. Prediction: Loss
Week 13: at Detroit Lions
A short turnaround coming off what should be a physical contest against the Buccaneers could be difficult to navigate for the Bears in their first Thanksgiving outing since 2004. The Bears are 1-4 in their past five Thanksgiving contests with their last victory coming in 1993. Prediction: Loss
Week 14: Dallas Cowboys
Why would the league schedule this matchup again in December at Soldier Field? Last year, the Bears put a 45-28 shellacking on Dallas with the temperature at kickoff measured at 8 degrees with a wind chill of minus-9. Prediction: Win
Week 15: New Orleans Saints
The best defense wins this matchup of teams with similar offenses, and obviously Chicago will be better equipped to handle the elements at Soldier Field than the Saints. The Bears come out on top in this one by forcing a couple of Saints turnovers and playing ball-control offense. Prediction: Win
Week 16: Detroit Lions
The Bears should avenge the Thanksgiving loss at Ford Field with a lopsided win at Soldier Field for their third consecutive victory. The win gives Chicago plenty of momentum near the end of its playoff push, which will be needed for the next week's outing in Minnesota. Prediction: Win
Week 17: at Minnesota Vikings
Despite playing on the road, the Bears won't be at as much of a disadvantage as they had been in the past playing in the Metrodome because this one will be outside at TCF Bank Stadium, with snow likely on the ground and no deafening inside noise. Chicago closes strong with a four-game winning streak. Prediction: Win
Predicted Record: 10-6
With the receiver expected to miss the next month, the Bears can free up a spot on the active roster Tuesday at 3 p.m. by placing Wilson on the injured reserve with a designation to return.
If the Bears decide to place Wilson on the injured reserve with a designation to return, he won’t be able to participate in practice until Week 7 and won’t be eligible to play until Nov. 9, when the team travels to Green Bay coming off its bye week.
If Wilson remains on the active roster, he’ll continue to occupy a spot the team could use to bolster another position. But the positive side of that is Wilson could return to action as soon as he recovers instead of waiting until Week 7 just to be eligible to practice.
Every team is allowed to use the IR with designation to return only once per year. The Bears used their short-term IR designation last season on Charles Tillman after he suffered a triceps injury during a November loss to the Detroit Lions.
The team might opt to use the short-term designation on Wilson given the presence of veteran receiver Santonio Holmes, who is now expected to take on the No. 3 role. Now that the Bears are in game-planning mode, the playbook will be narrowed significantly for the Week 1 matchup against Buffalo, which would give Holmes a better opportunity to fully absorb the aspects of the system the team will utilize against the Bills.
“At this point, there’s no comfort level [in the offense],” Holmes said. “Still learning the system, working my way into one of the core guys for this team, and I still have a lot to learn. [I’m] spending a lot of time with Coach [Mike] Groh learning the offense, going over plays, formation, personnel and things like that on a daily basis to keep me caught up with the team.”
While the defense performed average to below average most of the preseason, Trestman remains unconcerned about the unit’s ability to get the job done once the season kicks off.
The Bears revamped the defensive line by adding Jared Allen, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston in free agency, in addition to drafting defensive tackles Will Sutton and Ego Ferguson. The club also signed several players to compete for two open spots at safety, and used its first-round pick to select rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller.
But throughout the preseason, the entire group hasn’t performed together. Allen played in only the club’s second preseason outing against the Jaguars after missing the opener due to family reasons and exhibition contest No. 3 due to a bruised shoulder. Safety Chris Conte didn’t make his preseason debut until Aug. 22.
The Bears held out all the starters on defense for the preseason finale at Cleveland.
“There's always concern, but I think we're going to have our guys hyped up, ready to go,” cornerback Tim Jennings said. “It's a full game. We're not going to just play a quarter here, two quarters here. We're going to play a whole 60 minutes of football. So this first one is a good test to see where we're at. It's still hard to tell [how good we can be] because we were missing Jared Allen some games. We finally are going to get everybody back together and play a whole game. We played one quarter, two quarters here, and Seattle was a tough test for us. It lets us know that we still have some work to do and we've got to get it together and work hard this week and see what we have for Buffalo.”
Trestman declined to name the starters at safety, saying, “We’ll talk more about that on Wednesday,” while Conte hasn’t yet been cleared to play after suffering a concussion on Aug. 22. Meanwhile, veteran linebacker Lance Briggs missed Monday’s workout with Trestman saying his absence was excused.
“We think the talent level is in a place right now where we’ve got a chance to go out each and every week, get better and improve,” Trestman said. “That’s what we’re going to try and do as we work through this week of practice and the start of the season.”
Trestman declined to elaborate on Briggs’ whereabouts, but the linebacker is scheduled to open up a new restaurant Monday in his hometown of Elk Grove, California.
“I’m not going to speak for him with what he’s doing today. I can tell you that I excused him and that this is something that now took place a long time ago. Where he’s gone is between him and the reasons that he had to go. But it was good by me.”
Minus Briggs, wide receiver Marquess Wilson and quarterback David Fales (shoulder), the Bears had a full roster on the practice field Monday, including safety Chris Conte who participated on a limited basis.
However, Conte has yet to be fully cleared to return from the concussion he suffered in the third preseason game on Aug. 22. That leaves the starting safety combination still somewhat of a mystery heading into Sunday’s Week 1 game versus the Buffalo Bills, although Ryan Mundy and Danny McCray spent the bulk of the summer working together on the first-team.
“I think we’re going to still wait and see [on safety],” Trestman said. “We’re rotating the guys around. And we’ll talk more about that on Wednesday. And we’ll get them started in the right direction. I’d just rather wait another day-and-a-half. But we’ve got four guys that we moved around. Chris got work today, so we have to see where he is as well going into Wednesday’s practice.”
The Bears are off on Tuesday. The first official injury report of the regular season is due on Wednesday.
Asked about the decision to go heavy on running backs, Trestman said, "I think part of the reason running-back wise is their value to special teams. We’ve got a couple of linebackers who don’t play special teams. So we picked it up with running backs, which not only can give us return ability, but gunner ability and return ability as I said. Playing on the punt team like Shaun [Draughn]. Shaun can be a three- or four-core guy. So that’s part of the reason why they made the football team, was not only their ability to play offense, but their ability to bring value, special-teams wise."
As for the count along the offensive line, Trestman provided a similar explanation. The Bears typically dress seven offensive linemen on game days.
"We just thought those were the best eight for right now, and where we've got them, and the guys who can contribute most," Trestman said. "When we get to numbers, it’s not just about that group. It’s about how we fill out the 46 on a game day and the 53 overall. So those numbers, could we have had nine or 10 [offensive linemen]? We certainly could have. But the roster filled out the way it did because of the connectivity that we have with all different phases, special teams and defense."
“I had to knock a little rust off, and once I got in, it’s like I never left,” Mills said.
Mills missed two weeks of work due to soreness in his left foot before returning to practice on Aug. 20. But he was held out of all the club’s preseason outings. Mills underwent surgery back in January to repair a fractured metatarsal in his left foot, and the team has since brought the tackle along slowly.
As a rookie last season, Mills started in all 16 games but left the season finale against the Green Bay Packers after the first series due to the foot injury. Throughout the preseason, Mills continues to express optimism about his availability for the Sept. 7 opener, and on Monday nothing had changed.
With the team taking such a cautious approach in bringing him back, Mills hinted on Monday that he wouldn’t have missed so much time had the preseason been the regular season.
Asked how ready he is to start the regular season, Mills said, "I'm very ready."
“If I had to [play], I would have,” Mills said. “But if the trainers felt [I] needed to sit out, I would’ve tried my best to get back in. But we have a great training staff, and they’re here for my best interests. So if I had to sit out, I’d sit out. But I would’ve fought every chance I got to get back on the field.”
Given all the time Mills has missed, it’s natural to question whether Chicago’s offensive line will hit the field against the Bills as a cohesive group. Offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer said last week that Mills’ absence along with others along the offensive line gave the staff extra opportunities to evaluate potential backups.
“The positive of that is it has given us an opportunity to give reps to other players, and it has opened the door for them,” Kromer said.
Cain replaces long snapper Brandon Hartson, who the team waived Sunday. Bears head coach Marc Trestman said following the preseason finale in Cleveland that the club wasn’t entirely pleased with its long-snapping situation.
The Bears brought three long snappers to Halas Hall to participate in a 14-player workout Sunday: Cain, Luke Ingram and Casey Kreiter.
Cain apparently did enough to impress the coaching staff.
Cain has appeared in 83 career games with the Bears, Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars, with 75 of those appearances coming at long snapper. Cain served as the long snapper for two games last season in Chicago. This marks Cain’s third stint with the Bears.
The Bears also announced their 10-player practice squad Monday: wide receiver Josh Bellamy, center Taylor Boggs, defensive tackle Brandon Dunn, cornerback Isaiah Frey, guard Ryan Groy, linebacker DeDe Lattimore, cornerback Al Louis-Jean, cornerback Terrance Mitchell, defensive tackle Roy Philon and wide receiver Rashad Ross.
The Bears also waived safety M.D. Jennings with an injury settlement, in addition to waiving 13 more players.
The Bears waived receivers Josh Bellamy, Chris Williams and Dale Moss, center Taylor Boggs, defensive tackles Brandon Dunn, Tracy Robertson and Lee Pegues, linebackers Jerry Franklin and DeDe Lattimore, along with guard Ryan Groy, cornerbacks C.J. Wilson and Al Louis-Jean, and safety Marcus Trice.
It’s expected that some of the players released on Saturday will be signed to the expanded 10-man practice squad, provided they aren’t claimed off waivers by other teams.
Too little, too late: Eben Britton could be considered somewhat of a surprise cut. Britton played 13 games last season and started in four games, but pulled a hamstring early in camp which limited his availability throughout the preseason. Britton played in only the preseason finale at Cleveland because of the injury, and didn’t perform particularly well when called upon. Receiver Chris Williams entered training camp as one of the favorites to win the job as Chicago’s primary return man. But like Britton, Williams missed too much time because of a hamstring injury suffered Aug. 8 while catching a 73-yard touchdown pass against the Philadelphia Eagles. Britton and Williams should catch on with other teams as both are capable of playing in the NFL. But hamstring injuries limited their opportunities to show what they could do for the Bears, and the team couldn’t give either the benefit of the doubt in making Sunday’s decisions.
Whacked again: Defensive end Austen Lane wrote this great account of what it’s like to get cut last year for The MMQB. At the time, Lane was getting ready to try again with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he’d eventually be cut again. Lane ended up appearing in two games with the Detroit Lions last season, only to be waived 22 days after the club signed him. The Bears signed Lane on Feb. 27, but the veteran failed to nab a roster spot in what seemed to be a logjam at the defensive end position despite performing solidly.
What’s next: With cuts now out of the way, the Bears will establish a 10-man practice squad by the end of the weekend before turning their attention to the season opener against the Buffalo Bills.
Team moves: WR Josh Bellamy, C Taylor Boggs, DT Brandon Dunn, LB Jerry Franklin, OG Ryan Groy, LB DeDe Lattimore, CB Al Louis-Jean, WR Dale Moss, DT Lee Pegues, DT Tracy Robertson, S Marcus Trice, WR Chris Williams, CB C.J. Wilson, OT Eben Britton, CB Kelvin Hayden, DE Austen Lane, S M.D. Jennings.
A Heisman Trophy finalist as a quarterback at Northern Illinois, Lynch converted to a running back with the Bears, which signed him as an undrafted free agent. The club's decision to waive Lynch doesn't come as a surprise, as he wasn't given repetitions at running back until the fourth quarter Thursday night of the team's loss to Cleveland in the exhibition finale.
A standout at Mount Carmel, Lynch can still be added to the Bears practice squad, which has been expanded from eight to 10 players starting this season, provided he makes it through waivers unclaimed by another team. Earlier in the week Lynch said he'd be open to joining Chicago's practice squad.
"It's a night and day difference, I didn't really know. I thought I knew what I was getting into, but I really didn't. The physical condition you have to be in to play running back and special teams is night and day. But it's fun to go out there, and the more reps I get the better I get," Lynch said. "Sky's the limit. I feel like being on a practice squad like that, there's so many things I can do. I can play quarterback. I can play running back. I can kind of split out and play receiver, and just give the Bears any chance to get a better look for that week."
NFL rosters must be reduced to 53 players by 3 p.m. CT Saturday, and after Friday's moves the roster stands at 70.
Headed into the matchup against Cleveland, offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer expected Lynch to receive an opportunity to showcase his skills.
"He’s got natural skill to run the football whether he’s at quarterback or halfback," Kromer said. "So this will give him an opportunity to do something, and show it on tape and in a game, and we look forward to it.”
In two seasons as the starting quarterback at NIU, Lynch compiled a record of 24-4 with three victories over BCS teams, and ranks as the No. 3 all-time rusher in the school's history (4,344 yards on 662 attempts and 48 touchdowns).
RUNNING BACKS (4)
Senorise Perry and Jordan Lynch made late pushes in extended action to close the preseason, but neither will overtake Draughn and Carey.
Josh Bellamy made a strong case to make the team against the Browns, but Holmes showed he's still a dynamic player. In fact, if Holmes grasps the offense quickly enough, he could wind up as the No. 3 receiver, which would mean Wilson's time will have to wait.
TIGHT ENDS (2)
Rosario remains the most well-rounded tight end among the candidates for the No. 2 spot, and should stick.
OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9)
- Roberto Garza
- Kyle Long
- Matt Slauson
- Jermon Bushrod
- Jordan Mills
- Brian De La Puente
- Eben Britton
- Michael Ola
- Taylor Boggs
Britton returned to play in the preseason finale and while other players have flashed, the veteran is probably still the most consistent.
DEFENSIVE LINE (10)
- Jared Allen
- Lamarr Houston
- Willie Young
- Jeremiah Ratliff
- Stephen Paea
- Ego Ferguson
- Will Sutton
- Trevor Scott
- Austen Lane
- David Bass
This group has struggled throughout the preseason, but the team will likely take these players into the regular season. Jerry Franklin remains on the bubble.
The combination of youth and experience makes this position group one of the team's strongest.
The Bears released Craig Steltz and M.D. Jennings didn't show much in the last preseason game.
The Bears could decide to use Holmes as the return man and make Bellamy the sixth receiver. Initially though, the Bears will probably take a chance on Williams although he missed the majority of the preseason due to a hamstring injury.
No. 10: Dolphins 38, Bears 24 | Dec. 2, 1985
The 1985 Chicago Bears were one of the most dominant teams in NFL history. Including the playoffs and a 36-point victory in Super Bowl XX, that team won 18 games by an average of 19.6 points.
But there was one blemish on the Bears' record that season, and it happened on "Monday Night Football" against a franchise whose name is synonymous with perfection.
Members of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins were in attendance when the 12-0 Bears traveled to Miami in Week 13. On the game's first possession, Miami quarterback Dan Marino hit Nat Moore for a 33-yard touchdown. The Bears hadn't allowed a point in two straight games, or a touchdown in 13 straight quarters, prior to the score.
Marino would lead the Dolphins to 31 points by halftime, a total no other team could amass over a full game against the '85 Bears. The Bears would forget the loss quickly, allowing just 43 points over their final six games, including the Super Bowl.
But on that December night, the '72 Dolphins could rest easy knowing they would remain the only unbeaten team in NFL history.
"It was a slant route and I felt the coverage of the defender; he was playing a little over the top," Holmes said. "I made a couple good plays afterwards and finished the play off."
"We saw the punt return. Obviously, he did a good job with that," head coach Marc Trestman said. "How far along is he in the offense? Is he really ready to play enough plays to help us in that regard as we start the season? Can he catch some punts? It looks like he can. So we'll have that discussion and try to put it all together over the weekend to get us going moving forward Monday and into practice on Wednesday."
Holmes excelled in the return game early in his NFL career, but generally speaking, accomplished older players tend to lose their zest to field punts and kickoffs over time. However, Holmes' versatility could be a serious asset to the Bears after the team lost numerous core special teams players since the end of last season.
"I wouldn't say I would lobby for it [a role in the return game]," Holmes said. "If the opportunity and the spot opens up and coach wants me to play as a returner; I'll do whatever I can to help the team.
"I really felt in my heart that I can continue playing. Given this opportunity to play again, I just really take advantage of the opportunity. And the opportunity came today with me making a big play for the team."
Bears players are scheduled to report to Halas Hall for a weight lifting session at 1 p.m. on Friday, where the team will begin to trim the roster from 75 to 53 in advance of Saturday afternoon's deadline.
Does Holmes anticipate sweating out the final cuts?
"I still don't think I'm going to be concerned," Holmes said. "I'll leave it up to the coaches. If they want me here, I'll be here. If not, hopefully I'll land a job somewhere else."