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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
Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


 
 
 
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