The Chicago Bears might have been the worst-coached team in the NFL two years ago under Marc Trestman. Simply by upgrading in the coaching staff following that season, you had to figure the Bears would be better last year.
And they were, albeit only by a game at 6-10. But that record is somewhat misleading. New head coach John Fox and new GM Ryan Pace basically were starting from scratch on defense. While that side of the ball still wasn't great, it was better. On the offensive side, new coordinator Adam Gase got perhaps the best year out of Jay Cutler since the quarterback arrived in the Windy City.
So why still such a bad record? A lot of tough losses. Chicago rebounded from a 0-3 start with back-to-back wins -- including over eventual playoff team Kansas City. With a chance to get to .500 in Week 6 in Detroit, the Bears simply gave the game away and lost in overtime. They probably should have won the next game at home vs. Minnesota but also lost that on the final play. There was a two-point home loss to eventual Super Bowl champion Denver. A six-point home overtime loss to San Francisco. A three-point loss at Soldier Field to Washington. And a four-point home loss to Detroit.
So while the record might not show much improvement, it was there. However, it will be interesting to see what Cutler does this year because Gase was hired as Miami's head coach. I know a lot of Bears fans who would have preferred keeping him and dumping Fox, but that wasn't going to happen after one year. I don't think the Bears are a playoff contender this year, but Fox/Pace have them back on the right track. As usual, much depends on Cutler.
Chicago was an excellent 5-3 on the road last season, 6-2 against the spread and 4-4 "over/under." The Bears face three away teams that made the playoffs last year, but I think that's misleading with the playoff-caliber Cowboys and Colts also on the road slate. There's no question the road schedule is tougher than at home. I project a 3-5 away mark even though the team is better on paper than it was in 2015. Chicago has a wins total of 7.5 at BetOnline, with both at -115. Odds listed below for the home teams.
Sept. 11 at Texans (-5.5, 44): This will be the Houston debut of new quarterback Brock Osweiler. Fox knows him well from the coach's Denver days. And it's possible the Texans could face the guy who was their starting QB most of last year and in the playoff loss to Kansas City: Brian Hoyer. If Cutler gets hurt in the preseason (or in this game), Hoyer is the Bears' new backup. Chicago is 0-3 all-time vs. Houston. Key trend: Bears 4-2 ATS at AFC South teams.
Sept. 25 at Cowboys (-6): Sunday night game, with Chicago on a short week after hosting Philadelphia on Monday night in Week 2. Dallas is in Washington the previous Sunday. The Bears have won their past two trips to Dallas but lost the most recent matchup 41-28 at home in December 2014. Cutler threw for 341 yards and two scores that night, but the Bears' defense was terrible. Key trend: Bears 4-3 ATS in Dallas (covered past two).
Oct. 9 at Colts (-3.5): Chicago is off a Week 4 home game vs. Detroit. Bears might catch a big break here as Colts play in London in Week 4 but opted to not then take the bye week here. It's a tough three-game QB stretch for the Bears' defense in facing Tony Romo, Matthew Stafford and then Andrew Luck here. Luck's NFL debut was a Week 1 41-21 loss in Chicago in 2012. Key trend: Bears 6-4 ATS in past 10 as an October road dog of 3.5 points or fewer.
Oct. 20 at Packers (-9): Thursday night matchup. Chicago comes in off a Week 6 home game vs. Jacksonville. Green Bay concludes a four-game homestand here and hosts Dallas the previous Sunday. Packers could well be 6-0 entering this one. Cutler finally beat Aaron Rodgers in Lambeau, doing so on Thanksgiving night last year 17-13. Cutler threw for 200 yards and a score, while the defense played one of its best games of the year. In his four previous games at Lambeau, all losses, Cutler had thrown 12 interceptions. Key trend: Bears 7-3 ATS in past 10 as a road dog of at least 7.5 points in series.
Nov. 13 at Buccaneers (-2): Chicago off its bye week. Tampa is on extra rest itself as it hosts Atlanta on Thursday in Week 9. The Bears won 26-21 in Week 16 at Tampa last year. Cutler was a solid 20-for-27 with a TD and no picks. Third-string running back Ka'Deem Carey had a rushing and receiving touchdown. The Chicago defense forced three turnovers. Key trend: Bears 4-4-2 ATS in past 10 after a bye (any location).
Nov. 20 at Giants (-4): New York is on a short week, hosting Cincinnati on Monday in Week 10. This one could be ugly for Chicago because the Bears' secondary is still a really weak spot and thus Giants star receiver Odell Beckham Jr. might be looking at a 200-yard game here. And I might be low on that total. Bears won the last meeting 27-21 at home in October 2013, so they haven't seen Beckham yet. Key trend: Bears 6-4 ATS in past 10 at NFC East teams.
Dec. 11 at Lions (-2.5): Chicago off what should be a Week 13 home win over San Francisco. Detroit is in New Orleans the previous Sunday. The Bears haven't won at Ford Field since 2012 but at least don't have to be terrorized by Calvin Johnson any longer. Chicago lost 37-34 in OT in Detroit last year. A really questionable late penalty on the Bears' defense in regulation helped the Lions win that one. Cutler threw for 353 yards and a TD, with Alshon Jeffery catching eight for 147 and that score. Key trend: Bears 5-5 ATS in past 10 as a road dog in series.
Jan. 1 at Vikings (TBA): As usual, no Week 17 lines with too many potential intangibles on the final Sunday. Chicago off its home finale vs. Washington. Minnesota is in Green Bay the previous Saturday. This game will be indoors, but the Bears were dominated outdoors at the University of Minnesota in Week 15 last year, 38-17. Chicago's defense made Teddy Bridgewater look like Dan Marino. Cutler had a pick and a lost fumble. Key trend: Bears 4-6 ATS in past 10 at Minnesota.
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