Chicago Football Madness Rd. of 32: Linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith face off in 2018 region

Chicago Football Madness Rd. of 32: Linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith face off in 2018 region

Excitement for the Bears are at an all-time high, so while March Madness and the NCAA Tournament begin, we still have Bears on the mind. So we've created Chicago Bears Football Madness, pitting players from the three best Bears teams and legends head-to-head. This is the 2018 region.

1.   Khalil Mack
8.   Roquan Smith

Mack: Good players are hard to find in the NFL. Great players are even tougher. Elite players? Those guys rarely become available. So when the Oakland Raiders were willing to trade an elite player, Ryan Pace did what he had to do, surrendering two-first round picks and a boatload of cap space in the process. Mack immediately transformed the Bears’ defense from a good unit to a great one, with his mere presence scrambling opposing quarterbacks and coordinators. No player had a bigger impact on the Bears’ 12-4 season from not only a production standpoint, but from a mental one, too. Mack was worth every bit of draft capital and cap space the Bears parted with to acquire him in 2018. 

 -JJ Stankevitz

Smith: There may have been a touch of disappointment among Bears fans when Bradley Chubb and Quenton Nelson didn’t fall to number eight in the 2018 NFL Draft. And while both had great rookie campaigns, their ultimate pick - Roquan Smith - had one of the best rookie seasons in Bears franchise history. No training camp? No problem. Despite waiting until mid-August to finally sign, Smith racked up a team-leading 121 tackles, falling just a few shy of Brian Urlacher’s rookie record. He only started 14 of the Bears’ 16 games, but Smith logged six games of 10+ tackles, ranked third on the team with 5.0 sacks, and picked off a pass too. 

- Slavko Bekovic

2.    Matt Nagy
7.   Tarik Cohen

Tarik Cohen: The other half of Ryan Pace’s prized 2017 4th-round draft, Cohen was arguably the most valuable member of the Bears’ offense last season. Whether it was his 444 rushing yards, 725 receiving yards, or eight total touchdowns, Cohen improved across the board in his sophomore campaign. He also led the league in punt return yards, went to the Pro Bowl, and was named the NFL’s All-Pro punt returner. It’s not a coincidence that the Bears’ double-doink loss also saw Cohen only touch the ball four times. Right now, at least, Matt Nagy’s offense flows through him. 

- Cam Ellis

Nagy: From the moment Nagy first addressed his team in early April of last year, his message resonated. It wasn’t just the offense quickly buying into him — it was the defense, too, appreciating his genuine personality and swagger. “Club Dub” became a massive hit, as did him yelling “Boom!” after wins later in the season. Innovative plays like “Willy Wonka” and “Santa’s Sleigh” became almost an expectation near the goal line. Not only did Nagy make the Bears good again, he made them fun, too. 

- JJ Stankevitz

3.   Akiem Hicks
6.   Kyle Fuller  

Akiem Hicks: Ryan Pace's biggest hit in free agency. Hicks is your #3 seed in a bracket that some might consider the favorite to come out of the region. While he might not have the flare of a Mack or a Nagy ahead of him, his hard nosed and nasty presence anchored arguably the NFL's top defense to the tune of 7.5 sacks, 41 tackles, and 3 forced fumbles. Freezer Left made him the most beloved Bears DL since the Fridge. 

- Matt Rooney

Fuller: All Fuller did to prove he was worth the Bears matching Green Bay’s 4-year $56M offer in free agency last year was to tie for the NFL lead in interceptions (7) while leading the Bears ball-hawking defense. Crazy to think that at this time two years ago, it was looking like his future was all but assured to be in some place other than Chicago. He is more than capable of snatching a few wins from unsuspecting opponents…as long as he doesn’t let a sure game-winner slip thru his hands. 

- Paul Aspan

4.   Eddie Jackson
5.   Mitch Trubisky

Jackson: The undisputed breakout start of the 2018 Bears, Eddie Jackson is extremely the real deal. PFF had him as their top safety in football all year, and the NFL seemed to agree when he was named All-Pro. He has a knack for finding the end zone, and at one (late) point this last season had as many touchdowns as a BUNCH of Pro Bowl receivers. 8 interceptions, 3 touchdowns, and 94 solo tackles over 30 games is incredible, and Jackson’s set to be a staple of the Bears’ defense for years to come. And you think Landon Collins got paid … 

-Cam Ellis

Trubisky: Were there head-scratching moments for Trubisky in 2018? Of course. Does he need to be better in 2019? Definitely. But we saw the upside of just how good he can be in wins at Soldier Field over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Detroit Lions, and he showed an ability to dial back some of his more aggressive/ill-advised throws over the final few games of the season. Also, his running ability was a sneaky weapon for Matt Nagy’s offense (421 yards, 6.2 yards/attempt). Trubisky took command of the Bears in 2018, and going forward, they’ll go as far as he’ll take them. 

-JJ Stankevitz  

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How the Bears' schedule stacks up against the rest of the NFC North

How the Bears' schedule stacks up against the rest of the NFC North

We’ve known who the Bears will play in the 2019 regular season since New Year's Eve 2018, and have known where they'll play those opponents for even longer. That always makes the NFL’s schedule reveal sort of an odd phenomenon, especially because most of it gets leaked long before primetime shows air on NFL Network and ESPN. 

Additionally: Do we really know how good anyone is going to be in 2019, the Bears included? 

So yes, the Bears have the most difficult schedule of any team in the NFC North by virtue of playing fellow 2018 division winners New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. But a side-by-side comparison to the rest of the NFC North reveals the Bears’ schedule has both its drawbacks and advantages compared to the rest of the division: 

Different opponents

Bears: @ Rams, Saints (division winners)
Vikings: @ Seahawks, Falcons
Packers: @ 49ers, Panthers
Lions: @ Cardinals, Buccaneers

The Bears, undoubtedly, have the toughest pairing of NFC opponents here. But the Vikings having to go to Seattle — where they lost a year ago — isn’t easy against the 12th man, and the Falcons still have a powerful offense and could rebound to contention with an improved defense. 

As for the Packers, San Francisco should be much improved with Jimmy Garoppolo returning from a season-ending injury along with adding Dee Ford, Kwon Alexander, Tevin Coleman and whoever they pick second overall in next week. A healthy Cam Newton could do wonders for the Panthers, too. 

The Lions have two of the likely worst teams in the NFL, though questions remain if the Lions are any good anyways. 

The verdict: The Bears have the toughest pairing, but the Vikings and Packers don’t necessarily have easy ones, either. 

Different locations

Bears: @ Broncos, @ Raiders (London), @ Washington, @ Eagles, Chiefs, Chargers, Giants, Cowboys
Vikings: @ Kansas City, @ Chargers, @ Cowboys, @ Giants, Broncos, Raiders, Washington, Eagles
Packers: @ Kansas City, @ Chargers, @ Cowboys, @ Giants, Broncos, Raiders, Washington, Eagles
Lions: @Broncos, @ Raiders, @ Washington, @ Eagles, Chiefs, Chargers, Giants, Cowboys

The Bears and Lions, theoretically, got the easier draw in the AFC West with the Chiefs and Chargers — two of the AFC’s best teams in 2018 — at home, with the Broncos and Raiders at home. But this is worth noting given the timing of the Broncos’ game in Week 2:

Worth noting, too: The Chargers, who for one more year will play in a soccer stadium that’s usually full of opposing teams’ fans, had a 6-2 record on a road in 2018. 

But missing the Chiefs on the road is a good thing for the Bears — outside of fans losing out on a trip to Joe’s Kansas City. The game being in Week 16 could be fascinating, especially if both the teacher (Andy Reid) and protege (Matt Nagy) have something for which to play. Of course, there are eight months separating now and that game, so plenty could happen. 

Drawing Washington and New York on the road would’ve been the most ideal, but that didn’t happen with any team in the division, so right now it looks like a wash between how the NFC East opponents line up. 

The verdict: The Bears probably have the most favorable-looking schedule of any team here given they get the Raiders in, effectively, a neutral-site game (that likely will be heavily attended by Bears fans at Tottenham’s stadium). Whether or not Denver's uncanny success at home early in the season continues in the Vic Fangio regime remains to be seen. 

Time off

Opponents following an off week: Saints (Bears), at Seahawks (Vikings), at 49ers (Packers), at Packers (Lions)

Opponents following a Thursday night game: At Broncos, at Packers (Bears), at Chiefs (Vikings), Vikings, at Cowboys (Packers), at Vikings (Lions). 

The verdict: This isn’t a huge deal — the Bears had the quickest turnaround in NFL history from their Sunday night game against the Vikings to their Thanksgiving afternoon game against the Lions and wound up fine last year. 

Bears fans on Twitter excited for challenging 2019 schedule


Bears fans on Twitter excited for challenging 2019 schedule

The Bears 2019 regular season schedule is set after a day of leaks preceded the full reveal.

The opponents were no mystery but the order is locked in and fans are understandably excited for the season.

The reaction on Twitter showed respect for the quality of opponents on the slate, but of course, there was no shortage of optimism flowing out of Chicago.