They won’t be using all of their top guns during the 2016 preseason — neither will the Bears — but the NFL has lined up AFC playoff winners for the Bears to face in the first three weeks of the preseason and wrapped it up with a fourth AFC opponent.
With exact dates and times yet to be announced, the Bears will open at home against the Super Bowl-winning Denver Broncos in mid August. That will be followed by a trip to New England against the Patriots, who narrowly lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship game.
The third game will come at Soldier Field against the Kansas City Chiefs, who mauled the Houston Texans in the AFC wild-card round before falling to the Patriots during the divisional round.
[SHOP BEARS: Get your Bears gear right here]
The preseason will wrap up with the usual game against the Cleveland Browns, in Cleveland, the 12th straight year that the final warm-up game has been against the Browns.
The games will feature multiple players going against their former teams. Bears linebacker Danny Trevathan and special-teams standout Omar Bolden were Broncos last year. Defensive lineman Akiem Hicks was a member of the Patriots last season, while New England’s Martellus Bennett and Shea McClellin spent the past several seasons in Bears uniforms.
Check out the full preseason schedule below:
NFL owners voted for sweeping changes to the kickoff play Tuesday, a decision that presents a new challenge for Bears special teams coach Chris Tabor.
Player safety was the focus of the rule change. Collisions will be reduced and the play will look more like a punt than the traditional kickoff fans have become used to. Here's a breakdown of what's coming in 2018:
With less contact and physicality in the play, Tabor's game planning will be tested. Kickoffs won't require as many power players like the ones traditionally seen in the wedge block. Skill players like receivers, running backs and tight ends could be viewed as more valuable special teams pieces, as was suggested by NFL Network's Bucky Brooks.
Tarik Cohen could become even more lethal under the new rules. If kick returners end up with more space to navigate, Cohen will improve on the 583 return yards he managed as a rookie. He'll conjure memories of the recently retired Devin Hester.
The ability to contribute on special teams is critically important for players on the roster bubble. It'll be interesting to see if the Bears apply the approach suggested by Brooks. If they do, undrafted players like Matt Fleming and John Franklin III suddenly have more value and a better chance to make the team.
For a complete breakdown of the new kickoff rule, click here.
Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.
The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.
Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.
Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.
Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.
Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017).
The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.
If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.