Bears

NFC North ranked 2nd-toughest division in NFL

NFC North ranked 2nd-toughest division in NFL

Every team in the NFL starts the regular season with playoff aspirations. It's no different for the Chicago Bears in 2018, but their road to the post-season may be a little more difficult than most.

According to NFL.com, the Bears play in the second-toughest division in the NFL.

2) NFC North: Vikings, Lions, Packers, Bears

This is no longer the Aaron Rodgers Invitational. The Vikings kept all the best parts of their NFC title game squad while upgrading at quarterback, defensive tackle and the No. 3 receiver spot. Matthew Stafford has the perfect combination of scheme continuity, weapons and a bolstered offensive line to enjoy a career season. Rodgers is due for another MVP campaign that reminds everyone he might be the most talented ever at his position, while the Bears finally look interesting again.

Chicago's anticipated revival is the key. I don't need to watch another six-minute montage prior to a Bears-Packers national television game calling it the sport's greatest rivalry before another 38-13 target-practice sesh for Rodgers. If the Bears' hype pans out, the NFC North has the highest ceiling of any division: Two true title contenders and two dreaded "teams no one wants to face."

The Bears don't want to just be a team that no one wants to face. They want to be contenders, and the NFC North will be the ultimate test for coach Matt Nagy and QB Mitch Trubisky on the path to contender status. 

Former coach Mike Ditka offered his opinion on the NFC North in a recent sit-down with NBC Sports.

"In the National Football League you have to look at your division, that’s where it all starts," Ditka said. "You got Green Bay, you got Detroit, you got Minnesota, you got Chicago. Now Chicago has to understand they got to come out of the six games with Minnesota, Detroit and Green Bay with at least four wins. At least four. If you come out 5-1 or 6-0, fantastic, but that’s going to determine how you play the rest of the league."

No one is expecting the Bears to finish 5-1 or 6-0 in the division this year. They only won five games, total, in 2017.

A more reasonable expectation for Chicago is a 4-2 finish in the North. If they can sweep the Lions while splitting with the Packers and Vikings, meaningful games with playoff implications will be in the cards for December.

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

6-8trubiskyqbs.jpg
USA Today

Chicago Bears Training Camp: Veteran and rookie report dates

Chicago Bears training camp is right around the corner with the first practice (non-padded) scheduled for July 21. 

Bears veterans and rookies will report a few days ahead of that first session to acclimate themselves to their new (for some) surroundings. Rookies report on July 16, with veterans coming three days later on July 19.

All eyes will be on QB Mitch Trubisky and the potentially high-flying offense under coach Matt Nagy. Training camp will take on extra importance because of the plethora of new faces on the roster and coaching staff as well as the installation of a completely new offensive scheme. It's critical that Trubisky builds chemistry with wide receivers Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Kevin White, all of whom he's never thrown a regular-season pass to. Add Trey Burton to that mix and a lot of miscues should be expected in the preseason.

The rookie class is led by linebacker Roquan Smith, who remains unsigned. With less than 30 days until rookies are required to report, a greater sense of urgency -- even if it's not quite a panic -- is certainly creeping in. Assuming he's signed in time, Smith should earn a starting role early in training camp and ascend to one of the defense's top all-around players. 

The Bears have higher-than-usual expectations heading into the 2018 season making fans eager for summer practices to get underway.

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

Leonard Floyd picked as potential Pro Bowler in 2018

The Chicago Bears need a big season from outside linebacker Leonard Floyd. He's the team's best pass-rush option and the only legitimate threat to post double-digit sacks this year.

Floyd joined the Bears as a first-round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2016 and has flashed freakish talent at times. The problem has been his health; he's appeared in only 22 games through his first two seasons. 

Floyd's rookie year -- especially Weeks 5 through 9 -- showed a glimpse of the kind of disruptive force he's capable of becoming. He registered seven sacks and looked poised to breakout in 2017. Unfortunately, injuries limited him to only 10 games and four sacks.

Despite his disappointing sophomore season, NFL.com's Gil Brandt has high hopes for Floyd in 2018. The long-time NFL personnel executive named Floyd as the Bear with the best chance to earn a first-time trip to the Pro Bowl.

CHICAGO BEARS: Leonard Floyd, OLB, third NFL season. Floyd had seven sacks as a rookie in 2016, but missed six games last season due to a knee injury. He's a talented guy who can drop into coverage or rush with his hand on the ground and should play much better this season. He also has become much stronger since coming into the league.

The Bears will be in a heap of trouble if Floyd doesn't emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber player. There aren't many pass-rushing options on the roster outside of Floyd aside from Aaron Lynch and rookie Kylie Fitts. Neither edge defender has a resume strong enough to rely on as insurance.

It's a critical year for Floyd's future in Chicago, too. General manager Ryan Pace will decide whether to pick up Floyd's fifth-year option in his rookie contract next offseason. If he plays well, it's a no-brainer. If not, Pace could be looking at two straight first-round picks (see: Kevin White) that he's declined the extra year.

We're a long way from that decision. Until then, the Bears' season may sink or swim based on its pass rush. It begins -- and ends -- with Floyd.