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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Chicago Bears

Senior Fantasy Writer
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As an organization, the Bears made swift moves this offseason to improve their defense. Jared Allen and LaMarr Houston were swiped in free agency to bolster the pass rush, Shea McClellin was moved back to the linebacker group to add depth and a pair of big defensive tackles (Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton) were drafted. Additionally, Charles Tillman was re-signed, Ryan Mundy found his way via free agency and rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Brock Vereen (brother of Shane) were drafted to stabilize what became a shaky secondary. All told, the Bears should have five or six new starters for Week 1 compared to Week 1 last season.

Of course, the Bears were able to focus on the defensive side of the ball because the offensive side of the ball was sensational. The arrival of head coach Marc Trestman along with a much improved offensive line proved to be the magic combination to turn the Bears offense from good to great. The Bears tied for second in the NFL in points per game (27.8), finished fifth in the league in passing (267.6 yards per game) and 16th rushing (114.2 yards per game, most of which went to Matt Forte). They also set seven franchise records including most net passing yards in a season (4,281) and passing touchdowns (32).

So while the Lions are tinkering a little bit and the Vikings are rebuilding their offense, the Bears are upping the ante in their arms race with the Packers in the NFC North. The biggest focus they have is staying healthy. It's no secret that the Bears' offense did so well because the O-line did its job and kept Matt Forte motoring for 15 games. Cutler's health is also a priority -- he's put on more weight in an effort to become more durable. He was sacked just 19 times last year, 1.7 times per game on average, the best he's done since arriving in Chicago. The better protection he gets, the better this offense will be. To that end the team added center Brian De La Puente via free agency to compete for a starting job. After protecting Drew Brees for years, De La Puente should come in handy as at least quality depth. Just another very good player on a very good playoff contending team.

Top 10 Fantasy receiver ... Alshon Jeffery

Remember when Chicago used to be Fantasy Siberia for wide receivers? Holy cow, the Bears now have two Top 10 Fantasy receivers worth your consideration. Brandon Marshall is a gimme but Jeffery deserves attention after he led the Bears in receiving yards, posting 126 more than Marshall on 11 fewer grabs. But what about the Marshall-Cutler bromance that could take targets away from Jeffery? In a detailed dig into the Bears' stats, Cutler attempted exactly 89 passes in Jeffery's direction with the wideout catching 50 of them (56.2 pct. conversion) for 773 yards and three touchdowns. It's not amazing but it certainly suggests that Cutler knew to throw to Jeffery, a trend he should continue doing in 2014 (he wants to win games, right?). Jeffery had eight or more targets in seven games with Cutler. He knows he's there. Jeffery should be there for you in Round 4 of your drafts.

Not a Top 12 tight end ... Martellus Bennett

September's a great month for Bennett. Over the last two seasons he's tallied 36 catches for 412 yards and six touchdowns in eight September games. Then he's been lousy, combining for 973 yards and four touchdowns in the other 24 games in October, November, December and January. Maybe Cutler can be a difference-maker for Bennett's post-September stats but even with Cutler he didn't do a lot over the course of 2013, snaring 46 passes on 65 targets for 555 yards and those three early-year scores. Bennett has ultimately disappointed over the past two seasons and it feels like there's just not a lot of upside with him. That's why the smarter Fantasy pick on Draft Day is on a younger tight end with a more optimistic outlook. Eric Ebron, Zach Ertz and even Ladarius Green all have more to hang your hat on than Bennett. If anything, Bennett is a desperation pick late to start the season with, but get rid of him before the Bears' Week 5 game in (gasp!) October.

Great mid- to late-round value ... Jay Cutler

You've already read up on just how prolific the Bears passing offense was last year. You might have even heard us spout off that if Cutler had received all of Josh McCown's stats in 2013 that he would have been last year's third-best Fantasy quarterback. But perhaps the most inspiring stat we can give you from the past season is that Cutler's rate of getting 20-plus Fantasy points was at 60 percent, good for ninth-best among all quarterbacks. So it's safe to say that had Cutler stayed healthy he would have had another big year. The problem? Cutler's track record for staying on the field is about as healthy as a slice of stuffed sausage Chicago-style pizza, which is to say it's not very good (but delicious nonetheless). Drafting Cutler as a starting Fantasy quarterback in 2014 is a grand idea, particularly because you can find him after Round 8 or 9. But he can't be your only quarterback because of that injury history, and that means committing to two passers on your Fantasy roster. Pairing Cutler with Philip Rivers or Cam Newton or Russell Wilson or Carson Palmer is a fine plan, even if you're bound to mess up starting the right one from week to week.

Schedule analysis

2013 Touches Leaders
777 total touches
Matt Forte 363 (289 car., 74 rec.) 46.7%
Alshon Jeffery 105 (89 rec., 16 car.) 13.5%
Brandon Marshall 100 rec. 12.9%
Michael Bush 67 (63 car., 4 rec.) 8.6%
Martellus Bennett 65 rec. 8.4%
All others 77 9.9%

It's a tale of two halves for the Bears. Their first eight games are tough including their first three road games over Weeks 2 through 5 against the 49ers, Jets and Panthers with a home game vs. the Packers mixed in. They also play at New England in Week 8 which should be an absolute chess match between Trestman and Belichick. After their Week 9 bye, though, they're in awesome shape. Five home games in their last seven and the toughest matchup in the second half of the season might be at Detroit. Overall the schedule-makers wanted to put the Bears in front of a national audience as they have six such games (five in prime time, one on Thanksgiving afternoon). They're also one of two teams to play two Thursday games, though they're in consecutive weeks. If several Bears players begin the year slowly, do not panic. In fact, trade for them since the second half of the year should be great.

Training camp battles

Who's backing up Matt Forte? If only for Fantasy handcuff purposes, owners need to keep tabs on whether or not rookie Ka'Deem Carey can earn the No. 2 role or if Michael Ford or Shaun Draughn (or someone else) swipes it away. It's always a good idea to handcuff your first-round pick and Forte will be a top pick for someone in every league.

Who's the third receiver? This is more of a Bears roster thing than a Fantasy thing since the total number of receptions for receivers not named Marshall or Jeffery last season was a massive 35. If you're in a dynasty league keep an eye on how second-year receiver Marquess Wilson looks in camp. The 6-foot-3, 207 pounder is the odds-on favorite to win that third job and could be a decent stash for down the line.

Who's backing up Cutler? In what might be the least anticipated camp battle in the history of the National Football League, Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen headline a four-man race to back up Cutler. Exhilarating. One of the names in the chase is rookie David Fales, who should get the backup job by this time next year. It's important to note who's backing up Cutler since the starter hasn't played 16 games in a season since 2009.

Bold prediction

Everyone has come to love Matt Forte in Fantasy. The 28-year-old is entering his seventh NFL season with an excellent track record that reached new heights last season in Trestman's offense. Forte totaled over 1,900 yards in 16 games with 12 total scores, all career-bests.

And he's going to do it again.

In time, the Bears will have to reel in Forte's workload -- he has over 1,500 career carries and 300 career catches already. But unless the rookie Carey plays like a Forte clone, the Bears won't be comfortable going with an inexperienced rusher in an offense that asks so much from them. Forte has a huge advantage being where he is without a single challenger to his throne. And so long as he stays healthy, he'll continue to rack up over 20 touches from week to week. Throw in that pretty second-half schedule and we should see Forte get real close to matching his totals from 2013.

In Kansas City, Jamaal Charles lost a number of offensive linemen but still will dominate the workload there like Forte. But in Philadelphia, the Eagles added Darren Sproles and got bigger and brighter at receiver, potentially taking a little bit too much off of LeSean McCoy's plate. That's enough of a reason to call Forte a better candidate for the No. 2 overall pick in Fantasy drafts this summer instead of McCoy. Count on him to finish very, very well once again -- better than McCoy.

Injury report

Chris Conte (shoulder), questionable for start of training camp. ... Jordan Mills (foot), probable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Tom Brady has out-of-character performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:52 pm ET) The Patriots have played some weird games against Jets in recent years, including a 27-25 squeaker when they were at their hottest back in Week 7. So perhaps it's not surprising quarterback Tom Brady wasn't at his best Week 16 at the Jets as the Patriots eked out another victory, this time by just one point.

He completed 23 of 35 passes for 182 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He was coming off a streak of 10 games with both 200-plus passing yards and two-plus touchdowns.

Brady was playing without his top target, wide receiver Julian Edelman, who was out with a concussion. But with Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell still at his disposal and Danny Amendola filling in capably, that likely wasn't the reason for his struggles. The matchup shouldn't have been either given where the Jets rank against the pass, but in three of his last four games against the division rival, Brady has thrown for less than two scores. And in all four, he's thrown for less than 300 yards.

Maybe it's just a matter of them being too familiar with each other. In any case, you shouldn't let this performance discourage you from starting Brady Week 17 against Buffalo unless of course the Patriots have already secured homefield advantage throughout the playoffs by that point.


Seahawks' Cooper Helfet able to return Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(10:27 pm ET) Seahawks tight end Cooper Helfet was able to return Week 16 against the Cardinals.

Helfet was carted off in the first half with a rib injury. He was initially ruled questionable to return to the contest, but was cleared to return after half time. Helfet returned at the start of the third quarter. 


Patriots' backfield remains an enigma
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:17 pm ET) LeGarrette Blount was out for Week 16 at the Jets with a shoulder injury, which meant surely the Patriots would make Jonas Gray their go-to running back. After all, he had a 200-yard, four-touchdown game earlier this season and finally got out of coach Bill Belichick's doghouse with 11 carries for 62 yards last week.

Wrong again.

Gray was the Patriots' only running back to score a touchdown in Week 16, plunging in from 1 yard out in the fourth quarter, but to say he was the go-to back would be disingenuous. He and Shane Vereen tied for the team lead in carries with six, but Brandon Bolden also had five. And Vereen and Bolden were both more productive with their carries, averaging 6.3 yards and 6.4 yards, respectively, than Gray was with his, averaging 0.8 yards.

And then there's the fact that Vereen is far and away the best pass-catcher of the three, but he was hardly involved in the passing game on a quiet day for quarterback Tom Brady.

So basically, you wouldn't have gone right with any of Blount's three replacements, and considering they were all equally involved, you have to wonder how they'll impact Blount's role if he returns Week 17 against Buffalo. Given that it's a tough matchup anyway, you might just want to avoid every Patriots running back.


Field goals down Ravens in loss to Texans
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:01 pm ET) Coming off their best performance of the season, the Ravens DST unit failed to live up to expectations in Week 16's 25-13 loss to the Texans.

The Ravens mostly held the Texans offense in check, limiting them to 313 yards of total offense. However, the Texans had the ball in the red zone seven times, and were able to rack up a solid scoring day despite being held to just one touchdown, as they kicked six field goals in the win. The Ravens forced just one turnover, and failed to sack Case Keenum in the loss.

The Ravens finished Sunday's game with just 5 Fantasy points, one week after dropping 26 against the Jaguars. They will look to bounce back in Week 17, as they face the Browns in the season finale.


Seahawks' Jermaine Kearse ruled out with hamstring injury
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:59 pm ET) Seahawks wide receiver Jermaine Kearse has been ruled out Week 16 against the Cardinals.

Kearse is dealing with a hamstring injury. He caught one pass for 8 yards before leaving the contest. 


Seahawks' Cooper Helfet gets carted off Week 16
by Chris Cwik | CBSSports.com
(9:57 pm ET) Seahawks tight end Cooper Helfet was carted off the field Week 16 against the Seahawks.

Helfet came into the game with an ankle injury, but was carted off with a rib injury. He is questionable to return to the contest. Helfet caught two passes for 9 yards before leaving. 


Texans DST keeps on rolling in win
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:56 pm ET) The Texans defense dominated in Week 16, in a 25-13 win over the Ravens.

The Ravens managed just 211 yards of total offense in the game, despite running 68 plays. The Texans pass rush got home for just two sacks in the game, but they forced Joe Flacco into three interceptions anyways, as they finished the game with 18 Fantasy points, their second in a row with that total.

The Texans DST unit enters the final week of the season riding a eight-game streak with at least 10 Fantasy points, and they should have no trouble keeping it going with a matchup on the way against the Jaguars. 


Greg Zuerlein drills a 51-yarder
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:54 pm ET) Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein nailed a 51-yard field goal against the Giants, making him 4 of 6 from 50-plus yards this season. He also hit a 20-yard field goal and three PATS for nine points.

Zuerlein wraps up the season at Seattle.


Steelers pass rush dominates in victory
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(9:51 pm ET) The Steelers DST unit continued its solid play in Week 16, in a 20-12 win over the Chiefs.

The Chiefs racked up 327 yards of total offense in the win, but did little to take advantage of that. They made four trips to the red zone and failed to come away with a single touchdown, settling for four field goals in the loss. The Steelers forced one turnover and sacked Alex Smith six times, en route to 14 Fantasy points.  

The Steelers have at least 9 Fantasy points in eight of their last nine games, including 9 against the Bengals in Week 14. They will look to pull that feat again in Week 17, with the Bengals on the schedule again to close the season out. 


Don't lose faith in Mark Ingram
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:50 pm ET) Though Saints running back Mark Ingram scored a touchdown Week 16 against Atlanta, plunging in from 1 yard out in the first quarter, he didn't have the most productive afternoon, rushing 13 times for 38 yards and catching three passes for 17. He's now run for less than 60 yards in three straight games, averaging 46.7 during that stretch compared to 101.3 in his previous six.

It's not like the Saints have turned to other options, though, which was Ingram's problem in previous seasons. Khiry Robinson was the only other running back to get any carries in Week 16, and he had just two. It's just that the Saints haven't been in a position to run the ball in recent weeks, losing big in both Week 14 and, of course, Week 16.

So what about Week 15? That's partly on Ingram. He got the carries, finishing with 17, and didn't do much with him.

The good news is that the Saints should be able to win handily Week 17 at Tampa Bay, which should mean plenty of garbage-time opportunities against a so-so run defense. Outside of maybe PPR leagues, you'll want to keep Ingram active in Fantasy.


 
 
 
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