Aug. 08, 2014
Postseason Returning To Windy City?
After missing the playoffs four of the past five years, the Bears look to bring postseason football back to Chicago
Jay Cutler enters 2014 with lofty expectations after a massive contract signed in the offseason (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Written by Jake Elman
Chicago, the third largest city in all of America. It's the Windy City, where Kanye West has made his mark, Chief Keef has inspired hundreds of thousands to 'love Sosa', and the Bears remain the face of the city in a time where the Cubs and White Sox rebuild, the Bulls disappoint year after year, and no one pays too much attention to the Blackhawks until February.
The Bears enter 2014 looking to make the postseason for the first time in four years after missing out by the tiniest of threads the past three seasons. Can they do it, or will they miss out again, much to the dismay of fans and players alike?
Let's take a look at Chicago's schedule in 2014, courtesy of ESPN.
Leading the Bears out onto the field for their week one matchup with the Buffalo Bills will be the former Vanderbilt signal caller Jay Cutler. Entering his sixth season as the Bears' quarterback, Cutler came to Chicago in a February 2009 deal with the Denver Broncos for fellow quarterback Kyle Orton and looks to do something no Bears quarterback since the legendary Rex Grossman was able to do way back in 2006 - get Chicago to the Super Bowl.
Calling Cutler's Bears career 'eventful' would be a pretty serious understatement, truthfully. When the Bears traded for a then 25 year old quarterbacking coming off his first Pro Bowl and first 4000 yard season with the Denver Broncos. Expectations were high, and the thought back then was the same now - Cutler would lead the Bears to the Super Bowl!
Oh, how things go the way we plan them to...
Cutler's made the playoffs once in Chicago. Once. He's played sixteen games once in that span, that being his first year; Cutler also has shown an inability to adapt and come up in the clutch. For whatever reason, the Bears decided to give him a major extension this past offseason.
"On one hand, Jay Cutler is the best quarterback the Bears have had in a long time. He led them to the NFC Championship a few years ago, and he played very well in Marc Trestman's offense this season. This is a front-loaded deal, so Chicago will be able to get out of this contract in three years," Walter Football said back in January, the day the signing was announced. "On the other hand, Cutler has shown that he is injury-prone, as he's missed 12 games the past three seasons. He's also just 1-8 against the Packers. He wasn't responsible for some of those losses, but he appeared to choke in a couple of those contests."
Now, Walter Football ended up giving the signing a C+ grade. This deal is nowhere close to a C+; the Bears gave 54 million dollars guaranteed to a streaky, inconsistent, and injury prone quarterback. You want to know why Aaron Rodgers got roughly 54 million dollars guaranteed (note: I have heard differing reports on how much Rodgers received when he earned that contract extension last year. SportTrac he's earning 52 guaranteed over the contract, so for the sake of this piece, we'll go with that!) from the Packers? Because Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL; Cutler is right up there with Matt Ryan in 'most overrated quarterbacks' category.
Now, I understand why the Bears made this deal - they feel comfortable with Cutler as their quarterback of the future. But why would you give that much money to a quarterback who has not played all sixteen games since 2009, has not hit 20+ touchdowns since 2010, and has not made the playoffs since 2010? If you want to make the argument that "oh, his 2012 season was good and they almost made the playoffs), I'm sorry to tell you but his 2012 season was average at best and not worthy of this contract.
There is a reason why the same teams will always draft in the lower parts of the first round, and the same teams will be drafting towards the top. The Bears put too much faith into an overrated quarterback who can't stay on the field. What has Cutler done to warrant this contract? You give those types of contracts to elite quarterbacks, or the ones who are close to elite; you don't pay that much money to a quarterback who barely qualifies as a 'good' starter!
"I want to see what happens when they have a healthy Jay Cutler," Hall of Famer Michael Irvin said after going to Chicago's training camp. "I asked Brandon [Marshall] that very question; what do you think a healthy Jay Cutler for 16 games [can accomplish]? He said 'MVP in the league.' I said that's high praise right there; you're just going to take Peyton Manning off that shelf and just going to put Jay Cutler right up there like that? That's the way he sees it."
MVP? Cutler can't even be the MVP of his own team, let alone the league. I know I'm being critical of Jay Cutler here, but tell me with a straight face that Cutler is the future of this team. I truly think Stan and Kyle were onto something Cutler "I mean, you kinda suck, but my dad says you might be good some day."
I know I'm critical of Cutler, but come on. I like to give guys credit where credit is due, but it's hard to defend a guy on what he did four years ago. Did he almost make the Super Bowl? Yes, and while it's not worth it to play the 'what-if' game and ask what would've happened had he played for the Lombardi Trophy in Dallas, I respect how close he came. But that's what it is - close, but no cigar.
I can't see Cutler coming anywhere close to the expectations put in place for this year. He lacks the intangibles that make the difference between a quarterback being good, and a quarterback being elite. The clutch factor is not there. Durability is not there. At the end of the day, he's a good quarterback, but I don't trust him.
I would not draft Cutler to be your starter in fantasy. Not only do I think he'll end up missing games this year, but a projected statline of 2800/17/13 isn't too good for someone you want to be the starter on your team - fantasy or real life.
It's a shame that Cutler's not a good quarterback, because his offense is one of the league's best - including possibly the best 1-2 combo in the NFL right now, wideouts Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey.
If you don't think they're two top notch receivers, I recommend checking the stats. Marshall, who turned 30 this spring, had a statline of 100/1295/12, earning his third straight Pro Bowl appearance. Jeffrey, in just his second year, went 89/1421/7 as the team's number two receiver.
"It's great for both of us. We want to be the best. We want to be, every year we want to be the greatest receiving corps in the league," says Jeffery.
"I think this is the best receiver corps I've ever been involved in from top to bottom," Brandon Marshall added. "Every single guy can play."
Many years ago, the Bears defense was feared. Now? They're one of the league's worst. (Getty Images)
These two, they make this offense awesome. You want to double team Marshall so he can't make an insane jumping catch against you? That's too bad, because Jeffrey will be somehow open in the flats to take it 25 yards downfield. You think putting pressure on both of them will help your defense - and your chances to win? Welp, they still have Martellus Bennett at tight end who will find a way to beat you.
Jeffrey is going to become a true number one wideout in 2014, mark my words. There are some teams on here with subpar defenses or who may turn all their focus to Marshall, leaving Jeffrey wide open.
"His catch radius is very evident out here," said coach Marc Trestman. "You can see it. He's got big hands. He's got long arms and he's focused on making plays."
"If Jeffery draws the top cornerback matchup in the majority of games this season and still puts up huge numbers, he could be an All-Pro," believes Paul Imig of Fox Sports Wisconsin. "For a player with his size (6-foot-3, 216 pounds) and skill set, especially considering that he's only 24 years old, Jeffery has the potential to be one of the NFL's best. It's crazy to think that just two years ago, six wide receivers were drafted ahead of Jeffery, including Justin Blackmon, Brian Quick and A.J. Jenkins."
Draft Jeffrey in fantasy...remember when I said don't take Jay Cutler? The only reason I'd even suggest drafting Cutler is if you get Jeffrey, because that way, you can get 'double points' (if Cutler throws a twenty five yard TD to Jeffrey, you get points from both) and beat your opponent.
Matt Forte's really come into his own the past few seasons, and after a season in which only LeSean McCoy had more rushing yards, Forte looks to have a big year. You know how you have a big year? You set goals, which the veteran back is doing.
"I want to break the stereotype of old running backs going downhill," Forte told the Chicago Tribune recently. "This offseason I feel better than I have the past five or six offseasons. I got my rest and I know how to take care of my body now."
"It's hard to take Matt off the field, but for the best interests of the team we should take him off a little bit and get him rested," offensive coordinator added. "You say, 'Next drive we are going to take him out.' And you look at him on the sideline and he doesn't look tired, so it is hard to take him out."
Forte, even with how much he's rushed the past couple years in terms of carries, should still be good enough for 1200 yards . Blocking for him will be a stout offensive line (Kyle Long is going to knock guys on the ground this year) and tight end Martellus Bennett, whose had solid seasons the past couple years with New York and the Bears last year. Although, I think he may need to direct his attention to beating the other team instead of his teammates:
It feels like the last few days, I've had to review crappy defenses; this, in an age where the focus of team is seemingly becoming defense. The Bears were once revered for their defenses, but now, they're a mockery.
They ranked 30th last year, but they did make improvements in the offseason to the defensive line, notably cutting Julius Peppers and adding Jeremiah 'Jay' Ratliff via resigning him and bringing in former Viking Jared Allen.
"While he still managed 13 sacks and five batted passes he needed a league-leading 649 pass rush attempts to get them," Pro Football Focus noted of the veteran pass rusher. "He's never shied away from work, but that now looks to be taking its toll and he's turning into a "volume rusher" – he'll still get his stats, but only with a lot of attempts."
I still like the move, because I think it adds a good veteran presence to the locker room. If (when) this defense struggles big time, Allen and linebacker Lance Briggs should be able to help out in the clubhouse. That's something Marc Trestman believes, as he stated recently:
"If [Lance] is playing at full-strength the way he started last season, we're going to be a much better football team all around," Trestman said. "What he can do ripples through the entire team."
As much as the line was improved, they didn't do enough for the secondary...well, aside from their first round pick. Kyle Fuller, formerly of Virginia Tech, went to the Bears with the fourteenth overall pick.
"The Bears had to improve their secondary over the offseason and landed an instinctive defender in Fuller via the 2014 NFL Draft. The rookie is versatile enough to play safety or cornerback, so he should find a way to help Chicago immediately," Walter Football said after giving the pick a B+ grade."
This was a great pick, and I expect Fuller to make a big impact in 2014. It also surely helps he'll be learning from Charles 'Peanut' Tillman and Tim Jennings, two good cornerbacks who have been there, done that. They may have lost a step, but you're never too old to teach!
However, I must stress one thing - DO NOT DRAFT THIS DEFENSE. Stay far away from even considering this defense before the season starts. If you draft this Bears' defense, you're putting yourself at risk of not winning the championship. Hell, JaMarcus Russell could have a field day against this defense.
Special teams for the Bears features Robbie 'Good As' Gould at kicker and rookie Pat O'Donnell as punter. O'Donnell was drafted in the sixth round of this year, while Gould's been a mainstay with the Bears since 2005 and made a career high 89.7 percent of his kicks. Need a kicker in fantasy? Take Gould, because he'll get the job done and more.
Coaching the Bears in 2014 will be former CFL Coach of the Year Marc Trestman, who enters his second year as head of the Midway Monsters. Trestman earned some flak this past year for being unable to get his team to the postseason even with injuries to Aaron Rodgers, a Lions collapse, and a down year from Adrian Peterson; those people are also the Jay Cutler supporters, but I digress. I like Trestman - he seems like a smart man - and I'm convinced he's the guy for the job.
Schedule: 2014 will see the NFC North face off against both the AFC East and the NFC South. In other words, they're playing roughly six or so teams each capable of playoff runs. It's not going to be too fun putting a crappy pass defense up against a New Orleans or a San Francisco, and they play Green Bay twice! Oh dear...
X-Factor: This is a question? The X-Factor here is Jay Cutler, and I said basically everything that needs to be said above. If he's injured, the Bears have no chance. Do you really feel that Jimmy Clausen or Jordan Palmer can take this team to the playoffs?
Final Prediction: It's quite possible that the Chicago Bears have the best 1-2 receiving corps in the NFL right now with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey, and Matt Forte's a pretty good running back. However, that's all that I see going well for this team. Jay Cutler is not a reliable NFL quarterback, the defense is too old, and their tight end is suspended for fighting a rookie. I don't think Chicago is a playoff team this year, and they may not even be a .500 team. Chicago will go 7-9 this year, resulting in more questions about if Cutler is the future.
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