Top 10 NFL games on 2017 schedule

Top 10 NFL games on 2017 schedule

With the 2017 NFL schedule officially released, a look at a handful of games that are must-watch events or that could determine playoff scenarios in January of 2018:

Thursday, Sept. 7: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

The defending champs open their title defense with a Chiefs team that went 12-4 and won the AFC West last year. Kansas City had the AFC’s second-highest point differential at +78, but that was less than half of New England’s (+191) in 2016. The last time these two teams played was in the divisional round of the 2015 playoffs, with New England winning that, 27-20. 

Sunday, Sept. 17: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

A week after opening the season in Chicago against the Bears, Atlanta will play its first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday Night Football against a Green Bay side it crushed, 44-21, in the NFC Championship Game in January. This could be an early battle for NFC supremacy or, at the least, an entertaining, high-scoring game. 

Sunday, Sept. 17: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos

Can Dak Prescott do it again? The Cowboys sophomore quarterback will face a tough schedule this year, headlined by this trip to Denver to face a team that had the NFL’s fourth-best scoring defense (18.6 PPG) and best passing defense (5.8 yards/attempt) last year. 

Monday, Oct. 2: Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City’s 18 interceptions tied for the most in the NFL last year, while Kirk Cousins threw for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns. With Cousins likely to be on the open market after this season, he could set the tone for a rich contract with a strong performance against a top-level secondary in primetime here. 

[RELATED: NFL does Bears no favors with opening four-game stretch]

Sunday, Oct. 22: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots

This is only the seventh regular season rematch between the previous season’s Super Bowl participants in NFL history, though they’ve been oddly common in recent years: Denver beat Carolina last year, and in 2014, Seattle won in overtime against Denver. 

Monday, Nov. 20: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks

The December Monday Night Football schedule is full of potential division-deciding matchups  (Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, New England at Miami, Atlanta at Tampa Bay) and overall, this year’s Monday night slate is strong. But this Falcons-Seahawks matchup in late November carries plenty of intrigue. These two teams met in the 2016 regular season, with Seattle making a fourth quarter comeback to win, 26-24. 

Monday, Dec. 11: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins last year made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and if they have any lofty designs on unseating the Patriots in the AFC East, this could be the game that does it. Miami lost their home game against New England last year by 21 points.

Sunday, Dec. 17: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders

Prescott against Derek Carr on Sunday Night Football, in what could be one of the last “big” games at Oakland Coliseum, should be one of the better cross-conference games of 2017. 

Sunday, Dec. 31: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s offseason haul was headlined by adding Alshon Jeffery to pair with Carson Wentz, which could be a dangerous combination in the NFC East. if Dallas were to fall back to earth, circle this season-ending game as one that perhaps could decide the division. 

Sunday, Dec. 31: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

Green Bay ended last season at Ford Field, too, with their 31-24 win securing an NFC North title. If the division goes down to this game again, there’s some added intrigue given the Lions pulled T.J. Lang away from Green Bay in March with $19 million guaranteed — an awfully high price for a guard. 

Will former Bears QB Jay Cutler find a team to play for in 2017?

Will former Bears QB Jay Cutler find a team to play for in 2017?

PHOENIX – As Jay Cutler left his berth with the Bears, the links of him to myriad other NFL teams immediately began. And have gone nowhere, this despite a league-wide shortage of actual quarterbacks.
 
Not that this carries any import for the Bears, unless he winds up in the NFC North somewhere, but the question would then be: Why?
 
One notion that refuses to disappear around the NFL owners meetings, including thoughts of coaches, is that no one is really sure Cutler even wants to keep playing. If Cutler clearly wanted to continue life as an NFL quarterback, the answers to "does he want to play?" would presumably be variations of a strong "Yes" but those weren't to be had.
 
"I can't answer that. It's a question for him," said Adam Gase, who as Bears offensive coordinator got the best out of Cutler in 2015 before himself leaving to become the head coach the Miami Dolphins. Gase was in touch with Cutler after the quarterback's release by the Bears, texting Cutler and offering him any advice on possible new team situations.

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But Gase didn't offer a job even with incumbent Ryan Tannehill coming off a season-ending ACL injury. "I never brought up anything about coming with us, because I like our situation," Gase said. "I love Jay but I like our situation."
 
The New York Jets considered Cutler, then opted instead to bring in his former backup Josh McCown. The San Francisco 49ers looked at Cutler before signing two of his other backups: Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley.
 
Maybe it's money. Cutler was set to make $12.5 million this year in Chicago and teams could be reluctant to offer a fraction of that and risk an attitude problem.
 
But Cutler himself contributed to the vagueness narrative when he was once asked, not that long ago, why he didn't have or seek commercial endorsements. "Starting quarterback for the Chicago Bears" is by definition a high "Q" factor regardless of his personal magnetism or lack of same, but Cutler answered the question that everyone knew pretty much what he made, and that he didn't need the money at the expense of time with his young family.
 
That may be the message teams outside of Chicago are still hearing.

Bears free-agency analysis: Offseason OL pattern holds with Tom Compton

Bears free-agency analysis: Offseason OL pattern holds with Tom Compton

This is the second in a series analyzing the Bears' decision-making during the 2017 free-agency period.

From 3/13: Bears free agency analysis: Alshon Jeffery non-deal left an understandable void

In what now looks to be a pattern under GM Ryan Pace, the Bears for the third straight offseason have gone after upgrades on their offensive line. Not always first-tier additions, but always a search for an improvement and more competition, and if something doesn't work, Pace does not stay wedded to a decision that hasn't worked.
 
The 2015 offseason started with signing guard Vladimir Ducasse and then center Will Montgomery. Ducasse started a handful of games, didn't pan out and wasn't brought back. Montgomery suffered a broken leg, went on IR and was done, with the Bears turning to Hroniss Grasu.
 
Last offseason saw Bobbie Massie signed for right tackle, Ted Larsen for a guard spot and Manny Ramirez for center. Ramirez retired before the season. Larsen, who played only because of injuries to Kyle Long and Josh Sitton, wasn't coming back and signed a three-year deal with the Miami Dolphins. Massie's situation is to be determined, with rumors last week that he would be cut.
 
That didn't happen, all part of what effectively became a domino strategy on an offensive line the Bears view as a roster strength.

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Among Pace's first probes into the market this year was after tackle Rick Wagner, who opted instead for the Detroit Lions and their surprising offer of $14.5 million guaranteed on a total package of $47.5 million over five years. Wagner's price made him the highest-paid pure right tackle in the NFL and was not within the parameters the Bears had established for the former Baltimore Raven.
 
When the money for tackles spiked explosively — Wagner, Riley Reiff ($58.8 million, Minnesota Vikings), Matt Kalil ($55 million, Carolina Panthers), Russell Okung ($53 million, Los Angeles Chargers) — Pace and the Bears instead kept Massie in place. Massie's $4.2 million base for 2017 is not guaranteed and contingent on his making the Week 1 roster.
 
At the same time, Pace moved on Tom Compton, a backup with Washington and the Atlanta Falcons, with 10 career starts and who'd also attracted interest from the Falcons, Lions and San Francisco 49ers.
 
"I don't know any specifics," Compton said of the Bears' plans for him. "I know they'll plug me in to see where I fit in but I'm not too sure what their plan is yet."

Compton has worked as a swing tackle with Atlanta, which runs a zone-blocking scheme similar to what the Bears have operated the past several years.

"I'm not too familiar with what's going on here," Compton said, "but it's pretty similar to what I'm used to, a lot of zone and play action so it should be a pretty good fit."