CHICAGO BEARS (3-14)
EXPECTATIONS: The Bears have just about nowhere to go but up. How high they climb largely hinges on how big a step quarterback Justin Fields takes in his third year. Fields dazzled running the ball last season, just missing the single-season rushing record for a quarterback with 1,143 yards — 63 shy of Lamar Jackson’s 1,206 for Baltimore in his 2019 MVP season — and running for eight touchdowns. But with shaky protection and a lack of playmaking receivers, Fields completed about 60% of his passes for 2,242 yards. The former Ohio State star threw 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and was sacked 55 times, tying Russell Wilson for the league lead. The Bears made a huge trade for a top receiver when they sent the No. 1 pick in the draft to Carolina for DJ Moore. They added to their offensive line, drafting tackle Darnell Wright with the No. 10 overall pick and signing former Tennessee Titans guard Nate Davis. The Bears didn't ignore their defense. They signed Buffalo Bills two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker T.J. Edwards and veteran edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue.
STRENGTHS: Wide receiver. The Bears might have one of the NFL's most improved offenses, and a big reason for that is the trade for Moore. Despite a revolving door of quarterbacks, he had 5,201 yards and 21 touchdowns in five seasons with the Panthers. That included three 1,000-yard seasons. The Bears now have the play-making receiver they lacked and a solid 1-2 combo with Darnell Mooney in the second spot. Mooney went from 1,055 over 17 games in 2021 to 493 over 12 appearances last season. It would obviously help if they got more from Chase Claypool, who had just 14 catches for 140 yards following a midseason trade with Pittsburgh for a second-round pick.
WEAKNESSES: Punt returner. The Bears could be in for a big jump if the moves they made on offense and defense pan out the way general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus hope. One glaring hole remaining is on punt returns, where Velus Jones Jr. had three fumbles as a rookie last season and got benched.
CAMP DEVELOPMENT: The Bears were a bit banged up in camp. Claypool and safeties Jaquan Brisker and Eddie Jackson all missed extended time. And Wright suffered a lower leg injury in practice in late August.
FANTASY PLAYER TO WATCH: Moore. If the line holds up and Fields develops as a passer, that almost certainly means Moore is putting up big numbers, too. It wouldn't be a surprise, considering he did it in Carolina with Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Teddy Bridgewater and even Cam Newton in a second stint with the Panthers.
FANDUEL SPORTSBOOK SAYS: Win Super Bowl: 60-1. Over/under wins: 7 1/2.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL
The Associated Press