NFL does Bears no favors with opening four-game stretch of 2017 schedule

NFL does Bears no favors with opening four-game stretch of 2017 schedule

John Fox’s tenure as Bears head coach began in 2015 with an opening run against the playoff elites of the NFC: Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle. Now, coming off two losing seasons with a franchise that has never retained a head coach after three straight sub-.500 years, the NFL has dealt Fox and the Bears an even more difficult start to the 2017 season.

The Bears have seven games this season against teams with winning 2016 records, and the NFL has put four of those in the first four weeks of a possible make-or-break season for Fox. New quarterback Mike Glennon is part of combined offensive and defensive lineups with as many as nine new starters over the 2016 opening day. They will be attempting to settle in against the Super Bowl runner-up Atlanta Falcons (11-5), Glennon’s former team of Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-7), the AFC North champion Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) and the NFC North-winning Green Bay Packers (10-6). Tampa Bay, which missed last postseason by virtue of losing a tiebreaker with the Detroit Lions, and Green Bay are road games.

The Bears went 0-3 against that 2015 three-game Packers-Cardinals-Seahawks array. A win in any of the first four this season will be a significant upset in what will generally be forecast as a winless September.

For Glennon, Week 2 will be a matchup against his former team. It will not be particularly a grudge match – the Bucs made a strong effort to keep Glennon, but only as a backup to Jameis Winston.

“I had an opportunity to play,” Glennon said after he signed with the Bears. “I started 18 games there. Did some good things, and things I could work on as well. Right now, I’m just excited about my opportunity here with Chicago.” 

October holds no opponents coming off winning 2016’s and the Bears did beat Minnesota (8-8) in Chicago last season in Jay Cutler’s last winning start as a Bears quarterback. And they prevailed over the Baltimore Ravens (8-8) the last time the teams met (2013), albeit in Chicago, while this time it will be in Baltimore where the Bears have lost by double digits the only two times they have played there.

After that, the Nov. 5 weekend off.

The 3-13 mark for 2016 did not take the Bears completely out of prime-time consideration. Their game at Green Bay is on Thursday night Sept. 28, followed by the Minnesota game in Soldier Field on Mon., Oct. 9.

The release of 2017 schedules included setting exact dates and times for the Bears’ preseason (all times CST): Thurs. Aug. 10 vs. Denver, 7 p.m.; Sat. Aug. 19 at Arizona, 9 p.m.; Sun. Aug. 27 at Tennessee, noon; and Thurs. Aug. 31 vs. Cleveland, 7 p.m.

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Good or better? Why offseason moves are making 2017 Bears better

Improvement typically comes in incremental steps, not leaps. And the Bears of 2017, based on what they have done at a handful of positions, the latest being Thursday’s signing of wide receiver Victor Cruz, fit that template.

The clear organizational commitment is to build through the draft, even if injuries have undermined some otherwise apparent upgrades to starting lineups on both sides of the football. But if there is a “theme” to what GM Ryan Pace is doing to muscle up a sluggish roster, it is that the Bears are willing to take flyers on veteran players – with additions like four veteran wide receivers with injury and issue histories – that arguably point to a win-now mindset while draft picks develop and contribute.

Jaye Howard and John Jenkins. Make the defensive line “better?” Than Jonathan Bullard and Will Sutton, probably. But “good?” Mmmmm…..

The game-one tight ends last year were Zach Miller-Logan Paulsen-Gregg Scruggs. Now they’re Miller-Dion Sims-Adam Shaheen (based on a second-round draft choice). “Good?” Maybe, maybe not. “Better?” Obviously, based on Sims alone.

Mike Glennon-Mark Sanchez-Mitch Trubisky. Bears “better” at quarterback? Than Jay Cutler-Brian Hoyer-Matt Barkley, probably. “Good?” Mmmmmm…..

The decisions to sign Glennon and Sanchez to the quarterback depth chart have sparked their shares of understandable cynical skepticism. But Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo were not available in trade, so the Pace decision was to gamble on upside with Glennon over the known quantity of Brian Hoyer (the preference of some coaches) and certainly Jay Cutler, for whom “potential” and “upside” no longer applied.

Add in the aggressive draft of Trubisky and the result was three possibilities of hits on a quarterback (Sanchez and Connor Shaw being combined here as a pair entry in the hit-possibility scenarios). All three were deemed an improvement over Cutler and/or Barkley.

The results may not vault the Bears all the way up to “good” at the pivotal position for any franchise. But “better” is sometimes all you can realistically manage.

Taking a wider-screen look at wide receiver in this context… .

Coach John Fox has cited the need for the Bears to establish the ability to get yardage in bigger chunks. Accordingly, all four of the veteran wideout signings this offseason – Cruz, Rueben Randle, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright –  have posted yards-per-catch seasons of 14 or longer.

All four won’t be on the opening-day roster, but all four offer the promise of major impact. Cruz, Randle and Wright have had seasons of 70 or more receptions, and Wheaton topped out at 53 in 2015 with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Jerry Rice weren’t available, so “good” was hard to achieve in an offseason in which Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal were expected departures long before their exits. But are Cruz, Randle, Wheaton and Wright, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith, a “better” starting point than Jeffery, Royal, White, Bellamy, etc. of a year ago?

Obviously. But players with even moderately established NFL “names” (like Cruz, Randle, etal.) are typically available for a reason; teams do not routinely give up on talent. And none of the four come without significant shadows on their NFL resumes, whether for injury or other questions.

Cruz missed most of 2014 and all of the 2015 season, and hasn’t played a full season since his Pro Bowl year of 2012.

Randle was described as a head case by scouts and was so bad that he was let go in the Eagles’ cutdown to 75 last year, followed by disparaging comments from those in and around the organization.

Wheaton flashed promise in his 2014-15 opportunities as a part-time starter but played just three games before a shoulder injury landed him on IR last season.

The Tennessee Titans thought enough of Wright, their 2012 first-round draft choice, to pick up his fifth-year option going into las season. But by week 14 he was benched for tardiness and was a healthy DNP in game 16, announcing after the game that he already knew he was not in the Titans’ plans for 2017.

The prospect of the Bears going from 3-13 to “good” borders on fantasy. But if being among the NFL’s busiest this offseason hasn’t propelled the Bears to that level, the results point to “better.” At this point, that’s something,.

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

How big of an impact will Victor Cruz have on the Bears?

The Bears inked Victor Cruz to a one-year deal on Thursday, adding another receiver to an already crowded corps.

But it never hurts to add a veteran one to a young group, especially with a new starting quarterback.

Cruz is 30 years old and isn't the same Pro Bowl-caliber player he was before missing the entire 2015 season with a calf injury, but he surely has a lot left in the tank and can serve as a great mentor for the Bears receivers.

Just how big of an impact will he have on his new team? See what the SportsTalk Live panel had to say in the video above.