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.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What will the Bears do in the NFL Draft?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: What will the Bears do in the NFL Draft?

Adam Hoge (WGN Radio), Danny Parkins (670 The Score) and Dan Durkin (The Athletic) join Kap on the panel.  The NFL Draft is tomorrow.  What will the Bears do with the 3rd pick?  Our guys discuss plus Will Perdue drops by to preview the pivotal Game 5 between the Bulls and Celtics.

View from the Moon: Should Bears draft offense or defense at No. 3?

View from the Moon: Should Bears draft offense or defense at No. 3?

GM Ryan Pace put forth a number of operating principles on Wednesday, one day before he and the Bears presumably decide on a player to become an integral part of the franchise for the years well beyond the 2017 draft. Some of those principles were clear – “you get yourself into trouble if you’re not sticking with our philosophy of best player available” – and some were less so, such as exactly how much weight is assigned to the intangibles of quarterback prospects.

Pace did elaborate on the structured approach to the Bears’ draft board – one that has identified three elite players with the prospect of the Bears remaining at No. 3 in the first round; a second “cloud” of players that would allow a drop down into the middle of the first round; and a third “cloud” of target players in the event that Bears trade up or down into a position just before the close of round one Thursday night.

Pace’s demeanor, notably upbeat and at times borderline jovial, spoke of having reached a critical meeting of minds. “By the time we get to this point, there's a handful of guys that we have a consensus on throughout our building,” Pace said, “and when I feel that backing from not just our coaches but from everybody, it makes those decisions easier when we're all on the same page.”

But Pace didn’t divulge which of the elite top three are offensive players or defensive players. Because a case can be made for targeting a talent on either side of the football, as long as he is best-available/best-possible:

The case for offense

The best: Pat Mahomes, Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson

The Bears have done exhaustive study of the quarterback position, the spot with the greatest ripple effect on not only on an offense, but on an offense. Whether one or more of Mahomes, Trubisky or Watson are in the elite-three, mid-round cloud, or late-round cloud remains closeted on the draft board upstairs at Halas Hall.

Pace has ID’d the need for a quarterback to bring a charge to the organization, something absent during the time of Jay Cutler, who checked all the “traits” boxes coming out of Vanderbilt, even for ball-security (1.9 percent INT percentage his final two seasons), but was a suspect leader. But Pace did not detail the Bears’ grading methodology, particularly whether intangibles top the list or are considerations only once all the requisite measurable are satisfied.

“With a quarterback, yeah, there's core beliefs that I have that have been probably put in me from Day 1 as a scout and what I believe a quarterback needs to have to be successful,” said Pace, whose template for a franchise quarterback begins with Drew Brees, who lasted into the 2001 second round in part because he was undersized at 6 feet. “Maybe guys that I've been around. Those are all traits that I look for.”

The Bears have had the most extensive in-person contact with Mahomes and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer, the least with Watson; Trubisky has given two different accounts of interactions with the Bears, so the truth lies with the Bears and him. They sent the biggest staff contingents to Pro Days of Mahomes and Watson. A surprise will be if neither Mahomes nor Watson is not a Bear come sundown Thursday but Pace remains steadfast in not looking outside the known information about even a quarterback with character.

“When you start trying to manufacture things or create things, that’s when teams get into dangerous water,” Pace said. “I think if we just stay with guys we have a consensus on and best player available we’ll be in good shape.”

Do they have a “consensus” on a quarterback?

The case for defense

Most likely: DE Myles Garrett, DE/LB Solomon Thomas, S Jamal Adams

Considerably more NFL opinion is that the Bears will look for a franchise-grade pass rusher (or defensive back) with their first-round pick. Pace has been consistently reserved in offering overall assessments of drafts, which perhaps makes this year’s simply because Pace doesn’t do this sort of praising normally: “It would be accurate to say that this is a strong defensive draft this year,” he said. “That would be true.”

Selecting an elite defensive linchpin comes with arguably less risk than a quarterback. And the effects of a defensive hit can be franchise-altering: The Bears reached the playoffs four times, including the Super Bowl once, in the 2000-10 years of the Brian Urlacher tenure, with four different quarterbacks, not one of which was voted to a Pro Bowl as a Bear.

On the other hand: The Houston Texans have been to the postseason three times in the six years since drafting three-time NFL defensive player of the year J.J. Watt. Yet in spite of myriad additional defensive stars, including Jadeveon Clowney, they have never advanced beyond the divisional round in large part because of quarterback failures.

The Bears used the No. 9 pick of the 2000 draft on Urlacher (and No. 9 on Leonard Floyd last draft), plus 14th-overalls on Tommie Harris, Michael Haynes and Kyle Fuller (meaning: the hit-rate in picks in the upper half of the first round isn’t exactly a guarantee).

But an elite defense can endure, and produce long-term and repeated success. And makes another defensive centerpiece to pair with Floyd a franchise-grade pick.