The Chicago Bears endured their worst season in the NFL since 1969 as John Fox’s men recorded a 3-13 campaign.
The NFC North outfit struggled throughout the season for form on the pitch as well as keeping their key men fit. They ended the term with one of highest amounts of players on injured reserve, including quarterback Jay Cutler.
Cutler’s time in Chicago appears to be at an end, with the club keen to move in a new direction. Fox may have only one season to save his job after notching just nine wins out of a possible 32.
As a result, it should be a fascinating off-season in the windy city, with general manager Ryan Pace facing a huge task to reverse the fortunes of the franchise.
We’ll now take a look back at the last season to see what went wrong for the Bears and what they will need to do to compete for a place in the playoffs.
The Bears started their first match of the season well, taking a four-point lead on the road against the Houston Texans. Jeremy Langford scored their first touchdown of the term, and although the home side rallied Eddie Royal sent Fox’s men into half-time with the advantage.
However, Chicago collapsed in the second half, failing to score another point, while allowing Brock Osweiler to move his side downfield to secure the win. Disaster would strike for the club when they suffered numerous injuries to key players in their hammering at the hands of the Philadelphia Eagles, including Cutler and defenders Eddie Goldman and Lamarr Houston.
The Dallas Cowboys proved to have too much on offense for the Bears to deal with as backup Brian Hoyer struggled to match Jason Garrett’s side score-for-score. However, one of the high points of Chicago’s season was their battling win over the Detroit Lions, fending off a late comeback from their rivals to hold out for a three-point win at Ford Field.
Chicago’s bad side returned in back-to-back weeks against two AFC South outfits. The defense were unable to hold Andrew Luck in check for the majority of the contest, while Hoyer’s attempt at a comeback was thwarted by a series of poor throws.
Matters were even worse against the Jacksonville Jaguars as the club succumbed to a one-point defeat on home soil due to another inept offensive display.
The Green Bay Packers outclassed Fox’s men from start to finish at Lambeau Field, but there was hope before the bye as the Bears put in a strong performance to knock off the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field as Cutler returned from injury, producing a solid outing.
Instead of improving after their bye week, the Bears managed to put in a horrific outing in their 36-10 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road with Cutler throwing two interceptions.
The NFL managed to rub salt into Chicago’s wounds as star wideout Alshon Jeffery was suspended for four games for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs.
Cutler struggled once again in their clash with the New York Giants, throwing another costly interception in a six-point defeat.
The 33-year-old suffered his second injury of the campaign, forcing third-string quarterback Matt Barkley into action after Hoyer’s season had been ended in Green Bay.
Barkley put in a decent performance and almost led his side back against the Tennessee Titans, but the Bears were held out of the endzone once again in a comeback attempt.
Their three-game losing run was ended by a visit from the San Francisco 49ers, who struggled even more than Fox’s men in the 2016 season. Rookie running back Jordan Howard put on a clinic, rushing for over 100 yards and three touchdowns to drive his side to third and final win of the season.
Barkley put impressive performances against the Lions and the Packers, but Chicago would lose both matches late in the game, with Aaron Rodgers throwing a late dart to guide his side to victory at Soldier Field. The final two matches of the campaign were blowout losses, ending the term on the sourest of notes with a heavy defeat to the Vikings.
Cutler should be on the way out as his salary is finally at a reasonable level that will allow the club to release the quarterback. All eyes will be on the battle for New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo as the Bears will have to beat off competition from the Cleveland Browns and the 49ers to secure his signature.
Garoppolo did grow up in Chicago and played his college football at Eastern Illinois – so there could be enough pull for him to join the franchise – if a deal can be struck with the Patriots. Given the options elsewhere it might be prudent for the club to send the third-overall pick to acquire the 25-year-old.
Elsewhere the Bears have to retain Jeffery despite his suspension last term. Their options behind the wideout on the depth chart are mediocre at best, and Chicago will need at least one quality player for their new quarterback to throw to no matter who the individual is.
There is hope at running back as Howard proved himself to be a quality player during his rookie season, off-setting the departure of Matt Forte. Should he improve he and Garoppolo could form a deadly tandem.
Defensively there’s talent on the line and at linebacker, with Akiem Hicks starring in his first year at the club. Leonard Floyd, Pernell McPhee and Houston offer a strong pass-rush, while Jerrell Freeman was extremely impressive at inside linebacker last term.
Their issues lie in the secondary with little talent outside of Tracy Porter and Kyle Fuller. Two players that could come in and start immediately would be Patriots duo Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon. The Bear trained with New England last year – so the front office will have seen a lot of the two players.
The race for Garoppolo’s signature will be keenly contested and although the Browns and 49ers have more ammunition than the Bears, their hometown lure could be enough to secure a deal.
As a result, backing the 25-year-old to appear in Chicago’s roster for the first game of the 2017 regular season at +200 with BetOnline sportsbook would be a smart option.
Hoyer could remain in the mix in Chicago as a backup and it would not be out of the realm of possibility for him to start the first match of 2017. Therefore taking the +400 price is a good punt to take as any potential starter would have to come through pre-season unscathed.
Should the Bears hang fire on a trade for Garoppolo and keep their first-round pick. They could select one of the top quarterbacks to emerge from the college game. Mitch Trubisky and DeShaun Watson would both fit in the NFC North, and are backed at +500 and +550 respectively to start for the club on the opening day of the 2017 season.
There’s talent on the Bears’ roster and the coaching staff, but it would be surprising to see a complete turnaround and for the club to reach the Super Bowl. Backing them at +5000 could be a good earner if Chicago were able to shock the world next term.
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