As the Bears walk through their hiring processes general manager, passing-game coordinatorQB coach the NFL has some business to do this weekend. The games dont involve the Bears but there is rarely a game played somewhere that doesnt have something of interest for the Bears.
Besides, theyre worth analyzing, too. The home teams won all four of the wild-card games and all four will win the divisional games as well (this isnt home-field-advantage thing, incidentally teams have home games because they have better records because they actually are better):
New Orleans at San Francisco (Sat. 3:30 p.m.)
Maybe the most fun matchup of the weekend. The Saints throw the ball exquisitely and have three Pro Bowlers on their offensive line. The 49ers stop just about everything, giving up less than 11 points per game at home.
All three of New Orleans losses came on the road and the Saints are 0-4 in road playoff games; San Francisco lost just once at home but hasnt been in the playoffs since 2002.
The 49ers run the ball well (129 yards per game) with Frank Gore, and the Saints, for all of their offensive pyrotechnics, have given up nearly five touchdowns (34 points) per game in their last three road playoff games.
Bears fans should keep an eye on this one. Besides Jim Harbaugh as San Franciscos coach (and dead-solid lock for coach of the year), Saints wide receiver Marques Colston is an unrestricted free agent. So is San Francisco cornerback Carlos Rodgers. Two of the Bears top three need positions going into this offseason.
Visualize those guys in Bears uniforms as you watch a late David Akers field goal:
San Francisco 23 New Orleans 20
The Chicago Bears have been compared to the Los Angeles Rams as a team capable of a significant one-year turnaround after the many moves by GM Ryan Pace to improve the offense and build around second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
According to NFL.com's Adam Schein, the comparisons go one step further. He thinks Trubisky is the best candidate to be 2018's version of Jared Goff:
"I'm infatuated with the Bears' offseason," Schein wrote. "The Bears smartly followed the Rams' blueprint from last offseason: hand the keys to an offensive guru/quarterback whisperer (Matt Nagy) and dedicate the offseason to surrounding your young signal-caller with talent (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton in free agency, James Daniels and Anthony Miller in the draft). Trubisky will follow in Goff's footsteps and take a major jump in his sophomore campaign."
MULLIN: Teammates see greatness in Trubisky
The comparison of Trubisky to Goff makes a ton of sense. Both were drafted with franchise-quarterback expectations but had average rookie seasons. Both played their first year with an old-school, defensive-minded head coach who was later replaced by a young up-and-coming offensive specialist. And both Goff and Trubisky were given high-powered weapons to begin their sophomore seasons with (the Rams signed Robert Woods and traded for Sammy Watkins before last season).
Trubisky has to turn these comparisons into production, however. The Rams' remarkable 2017 campaign was just that because rarely does a team have such a dramatic turnaround in only one offseason. The odds aren't in the Bears' favor.
Still, there's a surge of confidence and support in and around Trubisky from the coaching staff and his teammates. He's doing everything he can to prepare for a Goff-like season. We'll find out soon enough if his preparation pays off.
There's a lot of pressure on the Chicago Bears' pass rush this season.
The NFC North has suddenly become one of the league's most talented quarterback divisions with Kirk Cousins (Vikings) joining Aaron Rodgers (Packers) and Matthew Stafford (Lions). Chicago is the only team in the North without a proven veteran under center.
Leonard Floyd is the most gifted pass-rusher on the roster and the onus is on him to become the superstar sack artist Ryan Pace envisioned when he traded up in the first round in 2016 to select him. Floyd, combined with free-agent addition Aaron Lynch and veteran Sam Acho, have to deliver.
“Leonard Floyd has to stay healthy and have a good year,” Pace told The Athletic's Dan Pompei. “Aaron Lynch has to come on. Vic [Fangio] had background with Aaron Lynch, so that gave us a comfort level in signing him. There is upside there. He’s still a young player. He fits the defense and knows Vic. Sam Acho has been a consistent player for us."
Floyd has just 11 1/2 sacks through two seasons, both of which have been marred by injury. He's played in just 22 of a possible 32 games as a pro.
Pace didn't address the team's pass rush until the sixth round of April's draft when he nabbed Utah's Kylie Fitts. It seemed odd at the time that he waited so long to address one of the team's most glaring needs and there haven't been any veteran signings to sure up the group since the draft concluded. The Bears are one injury away from a serious problem at outside linebacker and are relying on a bunch of guys who haven't proven capable of playing a full season in their careers.
"We felt fortunate to get Kylie Fitts in the sixth round, and he has to stay healthy," Pace said. "You are never going to come out of the offseason and say we addressed everything, we’re perfect.”
The Bears invested most of their offseason resources into surrounding Trubisky with playmakers who can help him compete with his NFC North counterparts. The offense will be better.
But if Floyd doesn't have a breakthrough season, more pressure will be on Trubisky to score points -- and a lot of them -- to keep games close in the division. And that's not the kind of pressure the Bears are hoping Floyd creates in 2018.