The day has finally arrived.
NFL football is here, despite so much evidence that may have pointed to the contrary over the last few months. I cannot tell you how excited I am for football to start. Firstly Houston @ KC has the potential to be an incredible season opener and I am going to have to try and resist the urge to watch live so I can get to work the next day on time and in a good state! Primetime games are not exactly scheduled at a good time for UK viewers and their sleep.
The Lions start at home against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, September 13th at 1 pm ET (6 pm BST). Antony discussed the Bears on the ROTL UK blog as part of his State of the North address on August 13th if you want to see how we felt about our opponents then.
The Bears enter this matchup with Vegas having them favourite for 3rd in the division ahead of the Lions in 4th. On this specific matchup, there's a 3 point spread in favour of the Lions according to ESPN.com, and with conventional wisdom dictating a 3 point spread advantage when at home, this would indicate that the betting has the teams at an even keel. How much the effect of a lack of fans at home has factored into the spread is not clear.
RB David Mongomery - questionable with a groin injury. Montgomery's injury is supposed to be 2-4 weeks from Aug 27 which makes his estimated recovery dates Sept 10 - 24.
DB Marqui Christian - suspended for an undisclosed reason. He played mainly on special teams for the LA Rams over the last 4 years.
There are other minor injuries but none seem to be that serious or to important players.
RB D'Andre Swift - questionable with an undisclosed injury. Swift has had a very disrupted offseason with injury and even if he recovers to full fitness, his preparation and ability to start must surely be hampered.
DE Austin Bryant - active/PUP list. Austin has again struggled with injuries this offseason but is participating in practice, Detroit is being super-cautious with this one.
S Jayron Kearse - suspended for a violation of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. He was also charged with DWI and carrying a firearm without a permit in October 2019 when with the Vikings. The Lions have many options at safety so this should not be a massive concern.
Chicago Bears - Last season
The Bears finished 8-8 off the back of a 12-4 season in 2018. The defense still played at an excellent level despite losing key player Akiem Hicks for a large part of the season but the offense was fairly woeful, best summed up by Mitchell Trubisky. He threw for 3,138 yards, 17 TDs and 10 INTs. The offensive line gave up 45 sacks on the season for 12th most in the NFL which didn't help, but Trubisky's adjusted completion % and passer rating under pressure were 45th and 50th among QBs, and he was PFFs 38th rated QB.
Chicago Bears draft
Round 2, Pick 43, TE Cole Kmet
Round 2, Pick 50, CB Jaylon Johnson
Round 5, Pick 155, LB Trevis Gipson
Round 5, Pick 163, CB Kindle Vildor
Round 5, Pick 173, WR Darnell Mooney
Round 7, Pick 226, OT Arlington Hambright
Round 7, Pick 227, OT Lachavious Simmons
The Bears went into the draft without a first-round pick, the result still of the Khalil Mack trade and proceeded to pick Cole Kmet at TE at number 43, having just paid Jimmy Graham $16m for 2 years. He was the top-rated TE in the draft and is probably a matter of the best player available rather than picking a position of need.
The draft needs identified pre-draft for the Bears were, per www.sportingnews.com:
S, G, CB, TE, DL, WR
And with the draft, they appear to cover all those bases (assuming an OT can slide to G).
Chicago Bears roster
I'm going to highlight a couple of key areas on both sides of the ball and list the other predicted starters as per ESPN's current depth chart:
Quarterback: Trubisky vs Foles
This is the biggest question hanging over the Bears at the start of the 2020 season. Who starts under centre?
The incumbent, Mitchell Trubisky had his 5th-year option declined, which is hardly a vote of confidence, and he has underwhelmed consistently, only shining when the scheme was absolutely perfect, perhaps reflecting coach Matt Nagy's skill rather than Mitchell's. He has a 3-2 record against the Lions, with wins in the last 3 games.
The challenger, Nick Foles, signed a deal with the Jaguars last year for 4 years, $88m, $50.125m guaranteed. He was injured in game 1 and then couldn't beat out 6th round rookie and floppy-haired marvel Gardner Minshew on his return from injury. He was traded to the Bears for a compensatory 4th round pick. Much of the aforementioned contract was eaten by the Jaguars, meaning the contract with the Bears is a 3 year $24m deal (with an option for it to be a 2 year, $16m deal) which is far more palatable than we first thought. He is a former Super Bowl MVP with the Eagles and seems to come alive during the playoffs, but hasn't set the world alight in the regular season. He's worked with many of the coaching staff previously which should aid his transition.
During camp, neither has seemingly stood out above the other and Nagy has said he will announce the week 1 starter on Monday 7th September. I always thought it would be Foles because I don't think you should trade for a guy with that contract for him to sit on the bench, but I now think it will be Trubisky. Preference should stay with "your guy" until it is untenable, and I don't think he's "quite" there yet, although I don't think it'll take 8 games for that to change.
Predicted starter: Mitchell Trubisky.
EDIT: Trubisky was confirmed as starter on Sunday 6th September after this article had been written.
Running Back: D Montgomery, T Cohen, R Nall, A Pierce, C Patterson
David Mongomery is the clear RB1 here, but he suffered an injured groin on August 26 which is slated to last 2-4 weeks and his ability to play is questionable. When healthy he is a destructive player, but last year seemed somewhat sluggish and has shed weight over the off-season by changing his diet substantially. The game will be worse off if he's not in it.
Cohen should see the majority of the snaps if Montgomery does indeed miss out. Cohen is an explosive runner in the mould of the "human joystick" but has not delivered enough to make the RB1 spot his, often appearing as a 3rd down receiving back.
Cordarelle Patterson is a swiss army knife, formerly of Minnesota and New England, who can do it all. He's got lightning speed, especially as a kick returner. He's listed as a wide receiver but has actually spent camp with the running back group, so don't be surprised to see him line up in the backfield for a snap or two.
Other offensive starters (per ESPN depth chart):
WR: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Ted Ginn Jr TE: Jimmy Graham, Cole Kmet
LT: Charles Leno Jr.
LG: James Daniels
C: Cody Whitehair
RG: Germain Ifedi
RT: Bobby Massie
The starters at the receiver position are solid. Allen Robinson is an excellent top 15 receiver, Ted Ginn has shown flashes throughout his career and is a useful WR3. Miller is clearly a player with huge potential, but the Bears almost forgot about him until week 11, before which he only made 17 catches. In the next 5 games, he made 52 receptions for 431 yards.
The offensive line is a cause for concern. The run blocking was poor, resulting in a team which was meant to have the run game as a strength finishing in the bottom quarter of teams, but also the group may have concerns in pass protection too.
The two most important players on this good Chicago defense pick themselves:
DE Akiem Hicks
LB Khalil Mack
Hicks is a one-man wrecking crew. His size, reach, athleticism and power terrorise opposition O lines and he attracts double teams whenever he's on the field. He finished with only 5 games after suffering an elbow injury in week 5 to cap off a disappointing 2019.
This frees Mack from being tripled-teamed out of a game. Mack was traded to the Bears for two first-round picks in 2018 and has 61.5 sacks in a very successful career. Hicks going down in week 5 allowed teams to largely negate Mack in 2019, finishing with "only" 8.5 sacks, the lowest since his 2014 rookie season.
Other starters (per ESPN depth chart):
NT John Jenkins
DE Bilal Nichols
LB Roquan Smith
LB Danny Trevathan
LB Robert Quinn
CB Buster Skrine
CB Kyle Fuller
SS Tashaun Gipson
FS Eddie Jackson
The defense doesn't feel as strong as it did as in previous years. Yes, Hicks is healthy and this should help the whole O line, but the secondary is certainly weaker than it has been.
PK Eddy Pineiro/Cairo Santos
P Pat O'Donnell
PR Tarik Cohen
KR Cordarelle Patterson
LS Patrick Scales
To quote Matt "Money" Smith on the ATN podcast on Friday's edition, "you like, but don't love anything on this team".
This is going to be a game won in the trenches. The Chicago D line is certainly superior to Detroit's, and I'm projecting a big improvement from Detroit's O line, such that it is far superior to Chicago's O line.
The game will be won by either Stafford being able to perform under heavy pressure and the rookies in Detroit's O line holding up against a fearsome attack, or Detroit's reasonably poor D line overcoming Chicago's equally poor O line.
In my season predictions, I predicted a 15 point win for Detroit. This may seem ludicrous but I want to explain my reasoning.
Detroit has had the best draft, and offseason since I started supporting them in 2009. Add to this that I think the roster matches that of our 2014 season when we finished 11-5. I believe in both the O and D line to overperform, and that Stafford will pick up where he left off. Add to that the improvements in the running back crew, and I think Detroit will not only control the clock but blow away a Chicago side who's had a poor draft and still no real answers on offense - I can't see where their points are coming from.
Prediction: 32-17 to the Lions.
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