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Chicago Bears 2017 Outlook

It’s that time of year for Bears fans.  You know, the premature-Doomsday talk for the Bears’ up-coming season.  The annual and agonizing punchlines about the Bears weak front office, past draft mishaps and the whole “Jay Cutler” era.  And in 2017, lets not fail to mention the touch of awful comedy bestowed upon the Bears: how a team who won three games last year ended up with one of the toughest schedules (on paper) this year.   It’s business as usual for Chicago as it appears they will once again be expected to be bringing-up-the-rear of the NFC North.

Vegas is giving Chicago a chance to be better than last year, which isn’t saying much after a 3-13 season.  The over/under for total wins is set at 5.5, which seems just about right considering this team’s secondary and wide out group.  Something that the Bears do have in their favor this season is that they are only traveling an estimated 8300 miles this season, which is the fifth lowest in the NFL this year (in some kind of Chicago Bears luck, they play all four teams who travel less than they do this year).  With a young team, this should work out in their favor more than not.

But aside from ridiculous positives this writer is trying to find, let’s look at this offense.   The Bears did some pretty confusing things in the off-season but when you sit back and think about it, they did it right. . . at least you’d hope.  They signed free agent QB Mike Glennon to a three year $45 million dollar contract, consequently outbidding nobody for his services and then months later they moved up in the draft to take QB Mitch Trubisky out of UNC.  A one year starter who the Bears say won’t see the time of day this season.  And let’s not forget they went and signed everyone’s favorite klutz, Mark Sanchez.  Aye.  Best case scenario is that Glennon puts up decent enough numbers and doesn’t get hurt all year.  The Bears signed Sanchez for two reasons: to not have Glennon worry about his starting job and to help mentor (yes mentor, look at how good he was as a cheerleader for Dak Prescott in Dallas last year) the young Trubiksy.

The issue here is, if Glennon struggles – and there’s a good chance he might – the Bears fans will be screaming for Trubisky or head coach John Fox’s head.  Fox is saying Trubisky will remain number three on the depth chart but Fox is also coaching for his job this time around so if Glennon struggles, he’ll likely put his future in the hands of Trubisky rather than Sanchez.

The Bears offensive line, if healthy, can prove to be one of the better surprises of the 2017 season.   As of right now Cody Whitehair remains at center for the Bears, but Hroniss Grasu is healthy now and he was slated to be the starter in 2016 before he got hurt.  Whitehair is versatile enough to move around the line and the Bears have shown that they will put Kyle Long, and his intensity, pretty much anywhere along that O-Line.  Anything can happen here, and the depth is the most legit that it’s been in a long time.

Jordan Howard enters his sophomore season behind this offensive line and he is looking to prove that his rookie season of over 1300 rushing yards at 5.2 yards a clip, was no fluke.  The depth at running back is interesting – Jeremy Langford who not too long ago was thought to be their guy moving forward took a step back last season.  Kadeem Carey who writer Kevin Fishbain  of the Athletic pointed out “has never rushed for 160 yards in a season” may struggle to be anything more than a special teams coverage guy, and rookie Tarik Cohen, all five foot, six inches of him – is a fan and camp favorite.

The wide outs on the Bears are a collection of under achievers looking for one more shot.  Kevin White, Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright all had promising careers at one point but either due to injury or just “not being as good as advertised” – things haven’t worked out their way.  Folks love Cameron Meredith, but I’d be careful to fall in love with an undrafted rookie out of Illinois State who probably wouldn’t get a chance to play wide receiver on just about any other roster than this one in the NFL.  The Bears know their wide outs are more boom than bust which is why they signed free agent tight end Dion Sims who. . . oh yeah that’s right, he’s a bust too.  Zach Miller has been okay at the tight end spot, but everyone expects the Bears to showcase rookie Adam Shaheen early and often.

Defensively, it’s all about what this front seven can do.  General manager Ryan Pace didn’t think too hard in the first round of last years draft and went with the obvious choice in Leonard Floyd who should – excuse me – will be a defensive star for years to come in this league. Veteran Willie Young has kept himself in Floyd’s ear, pushing him all through camp, apparently.  Young is a versatile defensive OLB who should probably get a lot more credit than he gets. Defensive end Akiem Hicks is primed to have a big season this year, which should do wonders for the likes of Jonathan Bullard who needs to come on strong early this year.  Jerrell Freeman is in his second year in this defense and will find his footing in it as well.  Injuries to Pernell McPhee and Danny Trevathan bring Bears fans close to tears because if those guys were added onto this front seven, it becomes one of the most formidable in the league.

The secondary though. . .

Can we just stop waiting on Kyle Fuller?  The corner back had two good games in his rookie year and people treat him as if he’s the next Charles Tillman. Enough. The Bears signed veteran safety Quintin Demps to a three year $13 million dollar contract, with five million guaranteed.  It took Demps 8 years to have his best season and he did it with a great defense last year (Texans) – he doesn’t create for himself but is opportunistic.  Rookie safety Eddie Jackson from Alabama could be a legit steal in the draft if he can stay healthy.  He has all the tools to be a starter in the NFL but injuries in college made his draft stock plummet.  There is really nothing to get excited about at the moment with this Bears secondary.  There is a lot of youth fighting to get on this squad.  Hopefully, at least one of these kids can be like catching lightning in a bottle.  The front seven can help make this secondary look a lot better than they actually are.

At the end of it all, Bears fans have got to stay focused on what’s really important here.  Developing the youth, and looking toward the future.  This season is tough, Minnesota’s a good team and Green Bay is Green Bay. . . The Bears have to focus on the win-able games and build from there.  Six wins – maybe even seven are not out of the realm of possibility for this team. Expect a stronger second half of the season from this team and a positive look into 2018.

 

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio

Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Preview

The Steelers of Pittsburgh have a lot of fantasy football nerds hyped over their offense’s potential.  They do everything right on the offensive side of the ball but for the Steelers, to enter a season and have their offense talked about more than their defense – it’s a rare occurrence – actually one might be hard pressed to see if that was ever the case for Pittsburgh.

This defense is young and is depending on their young core of linebackers to carry the weight of this unit.  Jarvis Jones was a first-round pick in 2013 who seemed to be coming into his own last year until he got hurt.  Ryan Shazier was their first-round pick out of Ohio State last season, but like Jones, had his share of injuries that slowed him down.  This season, the Steelers kept putting faith into the linebacker surplus coming out of college and they drafted Kentucky linebacker, Bud Dupree in the first-round.  Dupree is a nice athlete, but is raw when it comes to what they need: pass rushing.  His instincts in the “search and destroy” department still need help, but he’s excellent when needed to drop back into zone coverage.  With the right coaching he could develop into a nice linebacker.   Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats are the veterans on this squad which is coming into the season under the radar.  This has the potential to be the best linebacker rotation in the league if things pan out right.  The health of Jones and Shazier will play a huge role.

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The defensive line will look different without the intensity and the amazing beard of defensive end Brett Keisel.  Nobody on this roster can fill the void the beard left (literally, the beard) but someone needs to be the aggressor up front.  The Steelers are hoping to see more improvement from their sophomore end Stephon Tuitt.  What he lacks in intensity, he has in intellect.  He just needs to see the plays quicker as he at times is a step too late at the line.  Steve McLendon may be the starter at nose-tackle, but the world wants to see more of the 6’7″ 350-plus pounder Daniel McCullers.   McCullers is just a fun guy to watch, but it’s impossible to keep this monster on the field for too long, especially against fast paced offenses.

The secondary wasn’t too good when Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu were a part of it last year, and now with both men retired, the situation hasn’t gotten better.   Their best player in the secondary may be a seventh-round pick from Louisville, safety Gerod Holliman.  Holliman is more of a finesse player at the position, which is far from what fans in Pittsburgh are used to.  Especially after seeing Polamalu for all those years.

Ben Roethlisberger is under center for what may be one of the more explosive offenses he’s had at his disposal.  Ben was a marvel last year throwing thirty-two touchdowns and only nine interception for over 4900 yards.  He still plays with a chip on his shoulder and is still elusive in the pocket regardless of his huge frame.   If he had any issues with offensive coordinator Todd Haley before, he’s obviously passed it all now.

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In front of Big Ben is all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey leads a steady and dependable offensive line that helped this offense finish second in time of possession, yards per game and passing yards per game.  The impressive thing about this line is how a guard like David DeCastro or Ramon Foster are able to tail out and block on the outside in the screen game.

The Steelers offense was jump-started by running back Le’Veon Bell, who is suspended the first two games of the season for a DUI arrest.  Bell had over 2200 yards last season and will continue to be the focal point of this attack.  The Steelers got some insurance this season by signing long-time Panther DeAngelo Williams to the mix.  Williams will be used mostly to spell Bell, but in those first two weeks, he will carry the load.  Williams too often has been hit or miss week to week.

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Remember when the Steelers had to decide between Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace a few years back?  Safe to say, Pittsburgh made the right choice.  For too long Brown, was going under the radar – this year, don’t expect to get him in the fourth round of your fantasy draft, especially after having a monster season with nearly 1700 receiving yards.  Brown is accompanied by speed and athleticism all along the depth chart at the receiver position.  People are expecting big things from former Clemson Tiger Martavius Bryant, who is a tall receiver with great speed; Markus Wheaton would be the number two wide-out on this team if not for the talent of Bryant – but Wheaton playing in the slot role, fits him better anyway.

The Steelers are primed for a deep playoff run, even with the lack of a secondary.   They are multifaceted on the offensive side of the ball and an MVP caliber season from Big Ben should be expected.

Predicted Record: 11-5

Predicted Pro Bowlers: Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Ryan Shazier, Martavius Bryant, Le’Veon Bell

G.W. Gras

twitter @GeeSteelio