By Jay Marks
Ah, yes. The Chicago Bears. The storied franchise. Only perhaps the Green Bay Packers playing on the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field (said in my best NFL Films voice) have more prized history. There’s the legend that is George Halas. And, even pop culture gets into the act with the timeless Saturday Night Live “Da Bearsssssss” skits.
But, my friends, today’s Bears look significantly different than historically defensively minded Bears teams.
These are not your father’s 1985 Chicago Bears. You know … the Super Bowl Shuffle, Mike Ditka (the coach, not the player), Mike Singletary (the player, not the coach), The Fridge, that 46 defense led by Buddy Ryan and more. Sure they had one of the greatest backs evah in Sweetness himself, Walter Payton. But without a doubt they were known for their defense. Best defense of all time? Legitimate argument there. Heck, they gave up a total of 10 points in their three playoff games that year, en route to a shellacking of the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Today’s Bears aren’t even your older second cousin’s Bears from several years back. You know those Bears, that team featuring the ball-hawking Brian Urlacher and coordinated by the defensive mind of Lovie Smith. Their offense was ‘led’ by Sexy Rexy Grossman, who for the record never took the fantasy world by storm. But again, it was absolutely the defense that led them to play in Super Bowl XLII.
All this to say … the 2014 version of Chicago’s football team is loaded with offensive fantasy talent, with has no less than three legitimate, top-shelf fantasy options. Let’s take a quick look at some of said talent.
Last season, due to Jay Cutler’s injury-filled season, he and backup Josh McCown (who filled in QUITE admirably) split duties. Their fantasy points combined would have been good for the third best quarterback fantasy finish on the year, trailing only Peyton and Brees! So, it’s obvious the potential is there for big fantasy numbers. Coach Trestman, the quarterback whisperer, has his touch in full effect.
The consensus preseason rankings have Cutler right around the top 12 spot, behind the likes of Matty Ice, Cam and RGIII. My opinion? I say Cutler—presuming he can stay healthy—finishes above Cam and RGIII. I’m even going out on a limb to say he could be a top 7 QB this year. And if no deductions for INT’s? Well, even better. Air it out, Mr. Cutler.
This one isn’t rocket science. Why? Matt Forte is not really the flashy sort, but consistency is his forte. [Get it? Play on his name here?] Forte finished last year as the number 3 back in fantasy. He’s one of only a half-dozen (at most?) legitimate three-down backs in the league—he has no experienced or ‘name’ backup on the depth chart. He handles the passing downs and goal-line carries. Last season, he even had the fourth most receiving yards by a back. Therefore, Forte is a consensus top 5 RB pick for this upcoming year. And I concur. I rank him behind only the big three of Shady, Charles and AP. His fantasy numbers don’t really have much room to increase (he may have hit his fantasy ceiling last year) and he’s pushing the dreaded 30 years of age. Yet, again, the only bodies below on the Bears RB charts are Shaun Draughn and Ka'Deem Carey. Not exactly household fantasy names that scare opposing defenses. So until Forte shows signs, I’m on board his consistency train.
So this is actually a bit of a tough one here. No, no, I’m serious. Hear me out.
Yes, Brandon Marshall finished 2013 as the No. 5 fantasy WR, was one of only five receivers to have 100 catches, and tied for third with TD receptions. That’s a pretty good season. He’s consistently mentioned with names like Calvin, AJ, Demaryius and Dez as the elite WR’s. For years he’s been a target monster—he’s averaged 99 catches per year over the past seven years.
Then there’s Alshon Jeffrey, who burst onto the scene big time in his second season, stealing targets from the monster. Alshon had 89 catches, finished with 100 more receiving yards than BMarsh and eighth in WR fantasy points. And the general belief is that receivers often break out in their third year. Bonanza forthcoming, right?
Naturally, there was even debate toward the end of last season that they were essentially 1. and 1.A. on the Bears depth chart. Only the historic, record-setting Denver offense had two receivers in the top 20 fantasy receivers last year. But let’s go out on a limb here. Let’s say defenses can’t realistically check both Marshall and Jeffrey. If they do key in on one, a theory would be that production could falter a bit from one. And there’s something to be said that defenses may try to key a bit more on Jeffrey, since he’s the newer of the two. So let’s go against the grain and suggest that Jeffrey—while still having a stellar year—may not take quite the giant leap forward as many expect. Marshall still gets his looks and catches and touchdowns.
Defenses can only hope one will have an ‘off’ season. Otherwise, with the new emphasis on defensive pass interference—or what I like to call the Kindergarten Rule … ‘no touching now, kids’—that passing game in Chicago could reach epic proportions this year.
With all the weapons in the arsenal (see Running Back and Wide Receiver points above), would YOU throw to the tight end? If the name’s not Graham or Gronk, likely not very much. No offense, Martellus Bennett. But you won’t see big numbers. The only thing potentially keeping Bennett fantasy relevant is that Cutler will keep throwing. And I guess (?) he can’t throw to Marshall, Jeffrey and Forte EVERY time. But I’d be shocked if he reaches 60 catches again this year.
But these are just predictions and such. We’ll soon see if I’m anywhere near right. As Kenny Mayne once said, “We all know that games aren’t played on paper … they are played by little men inside our TV sets.”
*Jay Marks loves writing about fantasy football, and does so for various outlets. He has NO RAGRETS. Not even a single letter. Follow him on Twitter at @FFHottieAsst.