Latavius Murray

Depth check: How injuries and suspension will have a major impact on Bears-Vikings

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USA TODAY

Depth check: How injuries and suspension will have a major impact on Bears-Vikings

A month ago, the Bears could reasonably describe their depth at inside linebacker as strong, and maybe as the strongest unit on the team. 

But on Monday, the Bears will be without the trio of players who comprised that depth: Jerrell Freeman is on injured reserve with a pectoral tear; Nick Kwiatkoski’s pec injury isn’t as serious but will keep him sidelined; and Danny Trevathan will serve his one-game suspension for the helmet-to-helmet hit he leveled on Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams last week. 

Trevathan will be back next week and Kwiatkoski appears to have avoided injured reserve, meaning he can be expected back at some point this season. But without them, the Bears will roll with Christian Jones, John Timu and Jonathan Anderson (the latter two began the season on the practice squad) against the Minnesota Vikings. 

“It's a concern, but at least we're playing with guys that were here that were in camp,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “That was the one position on defense, when we went to the 53 and practice squad where we did have guys, we had four active and two on practice squad and now all six of them have played, so (we) feel good about that in that we're not having somebody in off the street having to learn a new system and I think they'll all do fine.”

Jones and Timu have seen a decent amount of snaps alongside Trevathan this year: In the last three weeks, Jones’ defensive snap counts are 47, 36 and 28 while Timu played 17 snaps against Pittsburgh and 19 against Green Bay (Anderson has not played a defensive snap since Week 2). 

Timu, who’s played in 20 games over the last three years, will handle the defensive calls on Monday.

“We’re confident in John,” Fangio said. “John knows our defense. He’s been here for three years. The game’s not too big for him. He loves to play. He is instinctive and smart. So we think he’ll go in there and do fine.”

Added linebacker Pernell McPhee: “Timu’s a very good player, a very smart player, a very patient player. I think his play on the field shows how much he’s studying and how much he’s really locked in throughout the week.”

The Bears may be without two other starters, too: Saturday’s final injury report listed outside linebacker Willie Young (tricep) as doubtful, while cornerback Marcus Cooper is questionable with back spasms. Going back further, the Bears are also without veteran safety Quintin Demps, who handled a lot of the communication duties for this defense. 

But the Vikings will be without rookie Dalvin Cook (74 carries, 354 yards, 2 TDs), who tore his ACL last week. Backups Jerick McKinnon (2.6 yards/attempt) and Latavius Murray (2.7 yards/attempt) haven’t inspired much fear in 2017. And the expectation at Halas Hall is that quarterback Sam Bradford will start, though he’s listed as questionable on the Vikings’ final injury report. 

So in the matchup of the Bears' defense against the Vikings' offense, the group that gets the most out of its depth guys may be the one that swings that battle on Monday. 

“Any time you lose a starter — I think there's a reason they're the starter — but you know I feel good about our backups,” coach John Fox said. “I feel good about the replacement people we've had in there. We've got more depth this season than we've had in the past so I feel confident in the people we'll have out there and the options we have.”

Fantasy Football: 10 waiver wire targets for Week 5 and beyond

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football: 10 waiver wire targets for Week 5 and beyond

Dalvin Cook, Chris Carson, Derek Carr, Marcus Mariota. The Grim Reaper came for some big names in Week 4.

And we're not really sure how Odell Beckham Jr. survived the Grim Reaper's scythe after looking at this picture.

I give this game everything I got. Ain't no way around it..

A post shared by Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) on

If your team went unscathed in Week 4, hats off to you. If it didn't, don't panic.

We've compiled a list of 10 players who should provide some help in Week 5 and beyond.

1.  Wayne Gallman, RB, NYG

Gallman was inactive for the first three games of 2017, but found himself suiting up for Week 4 and when Paul Perkins went down with injury, Gallman racked up 50 yards and a TD on 13 touches. Nobody has taken the Giants backfield and run with it yet and while it's possible this game was a flash-in-the-pan for the rookie Gallman, he's worth an add just in case. (Tony Andracki)

2. Deshaun Watson, QB, HOU

The rookie set the world on fire in Week 4 with a whopping 307 combined yards and 5 scores. Despite entering the season as the Texans backup to Tom Savage, Watson is already fantasy football's No. 6 quarterback. With his propensity to gain a large chunk of yards on the ground, Watson possesses one of the highest floors among QBs, and should easily be a weekly Top 10 fantasy signal-caller throughout the remainder of the 2017 season. (Scott Krinch)

3. Will Fuller, WR, HOU

Fuller is a big-play wide receiver who scored just 2 TDs in 14 games his rookie season. So of course he finally suits up in Week 4 after an injury and averages just 8.8 yards per catch and immediately finds the endzone twice. He should be up for more big plays in the future and with Watson taking the reins and running with it in the Houston offense, Fuller could be an excellent fantasy option in his sophomore campaign as opposing defense focus on not letting DeAndre Hopkins beat them. (Andracki)

4. Latavius Murray/Jerick McKinnon, RB, MIN

A season-ending ACL injury to star rookie running back Dalvin Cook has now vaulted the Vikings backfield situation to one that the fantasy football community will keep close tabs on going forward. Following Cook's injury in Week 4, Murray out-snapped McKinnon 19/6. While Murray is nowhere near the caliber of player Cook is, he'll still slot in as the Vikings' early-down running back with McKinnon remaining in his role as a third/passing down specialist. Both players should be added to all fantasy rosters, but owners should take a wait-and-see approach when making the decision to insert them into their lineups. (Krinch)

5. Alvin Kamara, RB, NO

Kamara's time is officially here. After seeing only 20 touches in the first three games of the season, the third-round rookie touched the ball 15 times in New Orleans' Week 4 win with five rushes and 10 receptions, totaling 96 yards and a TD. He's clearly ahead of Adrian Peterson in the NO pecking order, but Kamara is also clearly the best pass-catching back in an offense that airs it out. Kamara has improved on his PPR fantasy point totals each week and there's no way he should be owned in only 19.7 percent of leagues. (Andracki)

6. Devin Funchess, WR, CAR

It looks like it's about time to start buying stock in the third-year wide receiver. Funchess had the best game of his career against the New England Patriots on Sunday, hauling in 7 passes for 70 yards and two scores. Funchess has 19 targets in his last two games and is starting to surpass Kelvin Benjamin as Cam Newton's go-to target with Greg Olsen sidelined. Funchess is a must add in all formats. (Krinch)

7. Mitch Trubisky, QB, CHI

If you're looking for a potential game-changer at quarterback, Trubisky probably isn't your guy. Not in his first NFL start in Week 5 against a tough Vikings defense. And not with a shaky supporting cast. But Trubisky could be a matchup play moving forward and provides a new wrinkle in the Bears offense with his mobility. He currently resides outside the Top 20 in terms of fantasy QBs, but his rushing potential alone could make him worthy of a roster spot in deep leagues. (Andracki)

8. Jaron Brown, WR, ARI

We've been waiting for a wide receiver to emerge as Larry Fitzgerald's Robin in Arizona, and if last week was any indication it appears that guy is Jaron Brown. Carson Palmer targeted Brown 12 times against the San Francisco 49ers, which was tops among Cardinals wideouts. If the targets weren't enough proof, Brown played in 95 percent of the offensive snaps in Week 4. On a pass-heavy team like the Cardinals who are without their top offensive weapon in David Johnson, Brown is suddenly a must-own player. (Krinch)

9. J.D. McKissic, RB, SEA

McKissic came from out of nowhere to score 2 TDs on five touches in Week 4 and is owned in just 0.2 percent of ESPN leagues. While that could be enough to warrant a roster spot, we wouldn't recommend wasting a waiver on him, even with Chris Carson nursing a broken ankle. McKissic was filling in for the injured C.J. Prosise and with the latter expected to suit up for Week 5, McKissic could wind back in the lands of fantasy obscurity. Thomas Rawls and Eddie Lacy figure to handle Carson's workload until the rookie returns. (Andracki)

10. Evan Engram, TE, NYG

Engram is debunking the myth that rookie tight ends need time to adjust to the NFL. The Giants' 2017 first-round pick currently ranks first in targets (30) and receptions (19) and third in yards (200) among rookie tight ends through the first four weeks of the season since 2000. Engram has totaled 18 targets while registering 11 receptions for 107 yards throughout the last two weeks. Obviously he doesn't have the upside of somebody like Rob Gronkowski or Travis Kelce, but Engram is starting to show he's a viable TE1 in a year where finding a serviceable tight end is like somebody at the White House convincing President Trump to delete the Twitter app from his phone. (Krinch)

Bears open season against defending NFC champion Falcons, check out full 2017 schedule

Bears open season against defending NFC champion Falcons, check out full 2017 schedule

Week 1: vs. Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, Sept. 10, 12 p.m.)

A very good team got stronger in its defensive core with addition of defensive tackle Dontari Poe to help one of NFL's worst run defenses. Super Bowl losers can struggle the next year and Falcons need to get past devastating loss to the New England Patriots.

Moon's call: L

Week 2: at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sunday, Sept. 17, 12 p.m.)

The Bucs are difficult case study in what the Bears haven't been able to do over the past several seasons: get the franchise arrow pointing conclusively up. Tampa Bay was 2-14 in 2014 while the Bears were collapsing under Marc Trestman, got the quarterback thing right by selecting Jameis Winston No. 1 overall and have gone 6-10 and 9-7 the past two seasons, missing the 2016 playoffs only by a tiebreaker. The Week 10 game vs. the Bears last season was a Jay Cutler low point.

Moon's call: L

Week 3: vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, Sept. 24, 12 p.m.)

One of two 11-win opponents (Falcons) for the 2017 Bears. The Steelers haven't been sub-500 since 2003 — when Ben Roethlisberger arrived — and reached the playoffs the past three seasons. May be toughest opponent on Bears schedule.

Moon's call: L

Week 4: at Packers (Thursday, Sept. 28, 7:25 p.m.)

Bears have produced surprises — good and bad — in Lambeau, including going up 10-6 early in the second half of their game in Green Bay last year with a defensive touchdown before losing Brian Hoyer and Kyle Long to arm injuries and collapsing defensively.

Moon's call: L

Week 5: vs. Minnesota Vikings (Monday, Oct. 9, 7:30 p.m.)

Jay Cutler's last Bears win was over the Vikings, who've shaken up their roster, signing new offensive tackles' Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers and running back Latavius Murray to improve the offense, and underachieving defensive end Datone Jones from Green Bay for the defensive line.

Moon's call: W

Week 6: at Baltimore Ravens (Sunday, Oct. 15, 12 p.m.)

A top-10 defense and a stable quarterback situation (Joe Flacco) make Ravens a consistent threat, and beating the Bears to sign safety Tony Jefferson upgrades their secondary. Credit Ravens for creative thinking, going by cruise ship to game in London rather than by airplane.

Moon's call: L

Week 7: vs. Carolina Panthers (Sunday, Oct. 22, 12 p.m.)

Another sufferer of the Super Bowl curse now looking to regain dominance, bringing back Julius Peppers and Mike Adams to defense. Head coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman can't afford another underachieving year with Cam Newton in place.

Moon's call: W

Week 8: at New Orleans Saints (Sunday, Oct. 29, 12 p.m.)

The Saints traded Brandin Cooks to the Patriots but Drew Brees, Bears GM Ryan Pace's template for a franchise quarterback, predicts Saints' rise despite being sub-.500 in four of the last five seasons. Coby Fleener is matchup problem for Bears, who haven't handled good pass-catching tight ends well.

Moon's call: W

Week 9: Bye

[VIVID SEATS: Get your Bears tickets right here!]

Week 10: vs. Green Bay Packers (Sunday, Nov. 12, 12 p.m.)

The Packers underwent massive offseason changes, and new tight end Martellus Bennett adds a threat but the Bears simply need to end second-half collapses regardless of specific Packers on the field. As long as Aaron Rodgers dresses, the Bears remain underdogs.

Moon's call: L

Week 11: vs. Detroit Lions (Sunday, Nov. 19, 12 p.m.)

Matthew Stafford directed eight comeback wins in 2016 but the Lions lost their final three games and were blown out at Seattle in the wild-card round of the playoffs. Bears have lost seven of last eight to Lions. Turnover on the offensive line makes the Lions offense an unknown until the parts mesh.

Moon's call: W

Week 12: at Philadelphia Eagles (Sunday, Nov. 26, 12 p.m.)

Eagles made their big quarterback move in least year's NFL Draft (Carson Wentz) and handled Bears easily in Soldier Field. Now Bears have to deal with motivated Alshon Jeffery, presuming injury issues don't return for the talented wide receiver.

Moon's call: W

Week 13: vs. San Francisco 49ers (Sunday, Dec. 3, 12 p.m.)

"The Brian Hoyer Bowl" is probably a touch strong for this meeting of 2016 bottom-feeders, both making wholesale changes and owning top-3 picks going into the draft. The 49ers were the Bears' only victim over final eight games last season. Kyle Shanahan becomes fourth head coach in past four years in down-spiral since Jim Harbaugh.

Moon's call: W

Week 14: at Cincinnati Bengals (Sunday, Dec. 10, 12 p.m.) 

Bengals flop in playoffs but they get there under Marvin Lewis (6 of last 8 years). And 11 picks in the 2017 draft should add talent to a good core of defensive tackle Geno Atkins, quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green.

Moon's call: L

Week 15: at Lions (Saturday, Dec. 16, 3:30 p.m.)

Bears have lost four straight in Ford Field, the last two by field goals, including Week 14 last season when Josh Bellamy dropped a pass for a fourth-down conversion, all this after the Bears rallied from 10 down to lead 17-13 but could not stop a 76-yard go-ahead Lions drive.

Moon’s call: L

Week 16: vs. Cleveland Browns (Sunday, Dec. 24, 12 p.m.)

The Browns have lost 13 straight away from their lakefront as quarterback issues fester — cutting ties with Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown, The Browns have had 26 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. And now they have Brock Osweiler after his failed trip to Houston, plus an expected addition via the draft.

Moon's call: W

Week 17: at Vikings (Sunday, Dec. 31, 12 p.m.)

Bears haven't won in Minnesota since 2011 and their last two losses there were by 21 and 28 points, as Vikings have been on the rise and Bears on the decline both during recent seasons and as competitive franchises. Bears desperately need prove-it road win to start regaining relevance in NFC North.

Moon's call: W

Moon’s season prediction: 8-8