What's in store for Marc Trestman, Jay Cutler, and the Chicago Bears here in the first quarter of the season? Two divisional opponents and two AFC North opponents.
Lets take a look at how our soon-to-be current opponents fared this over the draft and what this could mean looking at the Bears schedule going into weeks 5-8.
Week 1: Cincinnati Bengals
Key Draftees - Tyler Eifert (ND) - TE, Giovani Bernard (UNC) - RB
The Good - The Bengals are a team with a middling offense that the experienced Bears normally prey well upon. The Bears defense matches up well against the type of offense the Bengals have. Charles Tillman still will have to get out in front of A.J. Green, and the safeties should blanket him deep in order to keep the Bengals off the board. The safeties should be able to freelance a bit back there and take away the scariest part of the Bengals game.
The Bad - Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham, and Tyler Eifert are going to be responsible for a lot of tough yards over the middle. Gresham is a good tight end, not only in skill, but in Jay Gruden's system. Eifert's impact may be limited, especially with how much Dalton targets at A.J. Green outside. But Dalton's #2 after Green? His TE's. Eifert and Gresham can get looks early and often, and the Bears have had trouble, whether it's personnel or scheme, matching up against really athletic strong TE's.
The Ugly - The Bengals defense is well above average. The Bears offense will have to come out and play like it has something to prove. Obviously the $64,000 question. Will Trestman's renovations signify improvements? They rush the passer, they defend the pass well, they're stout against the run, they're a mirror of the Bears defense, but laid out differently and that should be enough to give Trestman fits.
Prediction - 23-16. Bears. The Bears will likely have offensive kinks to deal with early, but defensively will good enough to limit the deep play of Cincinnati and keep them off the board. 21% of the Bengals offensive TD's come from 30+ yards out (even though they're all 50 yards out), compare that to the Packers at 14% or the Bears and Baltimore at 15%. The Bears gave up 2 TD's from over 30 yards out, or 8% (and both were to Tennessee, amusingly), compared to the Bengals at 14% or Baltimore at 13%. Blame the strong secondary play of the Bears for those kind of numbers.
Week 2: Minnesota Vikings
Key Draftees - Xavier Rhodes (FSU) - CB, Sharrif Floyd (UF) - DT, Cordarrelle Patterson (TEN) - WR
The Good - They still can't throw the ball. Christian Ponder doesn't have his favourite pitch and catch receiver Percy Harvin. Ponder's accuracy is non-existent, and that kind of relationship will take time to build with Patterson. The Vikings overachieved a bit in 2012 and should be in for a rougher go this time around.
The Bad - They actually have a defense. Quietly the Vikings have garnered the second best defense in the NFC North with generally excellent defensive line play and a strong secondary after adding Floyd and Rhodes. They've been nothing short of consistently improving on defense in the Leslie Fraizer era. They've patched a hole in the middle, left by Pat Williams, with Sharrif Floyd, which seems to be one of the nice steals from the draft.
The Ugly - Adrian Peterson still inhabits the nightmares of every Bears defensive player. How else can you put it? If he plays 90% as well as he did at the end of 2012, he's still the best RB in the league, bar none. If he plays 80% as well as he did at the end of 2012, he's still the best RB in the league, bar none. If I was Mel Tucker, my only thoughts as a defensive coordinator would be: How do I stop the Packers from passing all over us? How do I stop the Vikings from running all over us? If anyone has an answer, please make sure to e-mail Mel to save the Bears season.
Prediction - 24-20. Vikings. The Bears still likely won't be able to control the clock offensively, and against a team with an actual scoring mechanism that doesn't match up well against the Bears, the Bears have to put points on the board in droves. I'm not confident that the Bears even have that sort of firepower against a good, but not great defense in Minnesota. I see a repeat of Week 14 in 2012 happening in Week 2 of 2013. Adrian Peterson does his best Adrian Peterson impersonation and poor tackling and not enough offense by Chicago will lose this one.
Week 3 @Pittsburgh Steelers
Key Draftees - Jarvis Jones (UGA) - OLB, Le'von Bell (UMich) - RB
The Good - Their offensive line isn't great, they can't run the ball with their stable of mediocre RB's (3.7 ypc), and adding another RB like the ones they have currently in Bell probably won't change the fact that they're just not great on the ground anymore. Losing Mike Wallace and possibly without Heath Miller to start the season... they'd have to rely on Emmanuel Sanders & Antonio Brown to put the ball in the air with Todd Haley's offense. If I'm Ben Roethlisberger (which, thankfully I'm not), I'd be mildly worried about my health and ability to throw the ball without fear of dying, laceration of internal organs, or being slowly drawn and quartered by my own offensive line's inability to stop decent pass rushers.
The Bad - That defense is old as sin. They're good at limiting yards, but not taking away opportunities. Their pass rush is weakened with the loss of James Harrison, and losing Casey Hampton might sting a bit. They're still a savvy veteran group who doesn't allow teams to rack up yards or score. #6 in fewest points against, #1 in fewest yards against. Jarvis Jones is a great addition, but first round impact pass rushers still won't come in and replace someone as versatile and effective as Harrison.
The Ugly - You could easily put those kind of defensive results on Dick LeBeau who year in, and year out manages to limit yards with one of the most aggressive defensive schemes in the league. It's amazing how it works. Every year, strong defensive players step up in LeBeau's defense (unlike say, Dom Caper's defenses), and make a name for themselves. They draft strong, they play tight, and even without a star studded lineup, they still can have formidable defenses.
Prediction - 22-16. Bears. The Steelers, even at home, don't have the offensive continuity, and defensively they don't have playmakers or defenders who can take the ball away and punish the Bears if they decide to get greedy. They were 25th in the league last year in turnovers, and without a real offensive line, good receivers, effective runningbacks, there's only so much that Roethlisberger is going to be able to do. The Bears can play smart, and walk away with a well deserved win.
Week 4 @Lions
Key Draftees - Ezekiel Ansah (BYU) - DE, Darius Slay (Miss. St.) - CB
The Good - They're still bad. Their play last year didn't surprise me. You can make the case that their defense is only good when they're winning football games, but losing 2 of their starting DE's in one year won't make it better. Ansah has to fit in fast in order to have any semblance of a defense. Their strength quickly turned into a weakness, and there's a lot of uncertainty as if they can even stop people from scoring if Matthew Stafford or Calvin Johnson aren't having a massive day.
The Bad - Playing them in Detroit hasn't been that good. The Bears have squeaked out some victories, but squeaked is the right word. Winning by less than 7, to some mediocre Lions teams is painful to think about, but we also haven't seen a Lions team like this one, in such dramatic transition in almost 4 years.
The Ugly - Suh's ability to find Jay Cutler and tear him a new one is still on the table. That could get ugly in a hurry. But that's probably the only ugly thing about this game. Other than the score.
Prediction - 30-13. Da Bears.
Overall I feel pretty confident that the Bears could see 3-1 in this first quarter of the season without stretching it much at all. Clearly the toughest win for the Bears I think would be that Cincinnati game, because any time you're opening against a playoff team who just got better is never a great way to start.
Where do you see the Bears sitting after four games?
Be sure to check out our breakdown of games 5-8 by clicking right here.