Bears

Bears open 2015 with three straight teams from ’14 playoffs

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Bears open 2015 with three straight teams from ’14 playoffs

The Bears will find out very, very early in their 2015 schedule whether or not they are ready to be included in any discussion of the top teams in the NFL.

The NFL has been good enough to allow its charter franchise to open with two games at home. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the games will be two of the seven the Bears have against 2014 playoff teams: Green Bay, then Arizona. The very bad news is that Week 3 sends the Bears to Seattle for a get-together with the Super Bowl-runner-up Seahawks.

[MORE: Bears' 2015 regular season schedule released]

Meaning: The Bears’ first three opponents had a combined 35-13 record for 2014.

At the end of the schedule, games that the Bears hope will still matter, the Bears have to go on the road for games 14 and 15. Bad news. But at least the games are against two teams with losing 2014 records: Minnesota and Tampa Bay. The ideal would be some momentum-building leading into Game 16 at home against the Detroit Lions.

In between the Bears will be part of history, going to Green Bay for a Thanksgiving Day game that will feature the ceremony marking the retirement of Brett Favre’s uniform No. 4. Going to Green Bay is bad enough, let alone to play a Packers team with a lofty element to the game.

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Of course, the very good news is that the Bears will be there to make absolutely certain that the No. 4 that defeated them 23 of the 36 times they saw it, between Green Bay and Minnesota versions, will finally be in their past.

Duly noted

Pending flex-time changes, which can involve all but two of Bears’ final 12 games, the Bears’ dismal 5-11 finish last year took them largely out of prime time. Last year the Bears were initially ticketed for five prime-time games, not including Thanksgiving at Detroit.

This year the Bears have only Game 3 in Seattle (3:25 p.m.) and their only Monday night game, in San Diego, that are prime time. They again play on Thanksgiving, but this likely has less to do with the Bears than with the Packers and the Favre jersey ceremony.

The prediction problem

The trouble with assessing an NFL team’s schedule is that there is not just one variable — in this case, the Bears — but 14 of them: the Bears and the 13 opponents on the schedule. Even before the upcoming draft, the Bears didn’t stand still this offseason and neither did just about all of their scheduled opponents.

But here’s the one big problem: The Bears have nine of 16 games against teams that had winning records in 2014. The Bears may have been the most under-achieving team in the NFL last year but nine games against good teams make “achieving,” even for a proven turnaround architect like Fox, something of a challenge.

[RELATED: Gruden: Bears should get Cutler replacement in the pipeline]

And of the other seven games, three are against teams that made head-coaching changes, but only one (Oakland, Jack Del Rio) made the change because of true on-field problems. Denver replaced Fox and San Francisco said good-bye to Jim Harbaugh, but neither team was close to doormat status to begin with and have some core talent in place.

The Bears will play three of the only six teams with fewer 2014 victories than their own total of five: Tampa Bay (two), Oakland (three) and Washington (four). They also will play just seven games against teams in the 2014 playoffs: Detroit and Green Bay twice each; Arizona, Denver and Seattle. Four of those seven games (Arizona, Denver, Detroit, Green Bay) will be at home.

With game times after Week 4 subject to flex scheduling:

1. Green Bay Packers (12-4) Sun., Sept. 13, noon

Until the Packers run out of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, beating the NFC North Big Dog remains problematic. Some pieces change — LB A.J. Hawk is gone but WR Randall Cobb is back, along with OT Bryan Bulaga — but not the centerpiece, and Aaron Rodgers is an MVP candidate anytime he puts on a helmet.

Moon’s call: W                                           

2. Arizona Cardinals (11-5) Sun., Sept. 20, noon

The gaffe of failing to secure Bruce Arians is old Bears news, except that Arians brings the Cardinals to Soldier Field off a playoff season and going 21-11 in a very good division. Larry Fitzgerald was deemed still enough at WR to be worth a two-year extension for an Arians offense that restored Carson Palmer’s career but proved it can win almost regardless of quarterback (Palmer, Drew Stanton, Ryan Lindley) short of the playoffs.

Moon’s call: L

3. at Seattle Seahawks (12-4) Sun., Sept. 27, noon

Don’t look for coordinator Adam Gase to call a quick slant with the ball on the one and the game on the line. But the hard part will just be getting into that position against a team that has been to two straight Super Bowls and doesn’t beat itself. The ‘Hawks got RB Marshawn Lynch taken care of, and the trade for New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham takes a good offense up a notch.

Moon’s call: L

4. Oakland Raiders (3-13) Sun., Oct. 4, noon

Jack Del Rio goes from DC in Denver to Raiders head coach, tasked with rebuilding a team that was 32nd in points allowed and 31st in points scored. WR Michael Crabtree from San Francisco should help the latter, giving emerging QB Derek Carr a weapon on the outside.

Moon’s call: W

5. at Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) Sun., Oct. 11, noon

Andy Reid has produced winning seasons in his first two with the Chiefs (20-12 overall) and gotten Alex Smith to another level. Underachieving WR Dwayne Bowe is on to Cleveland, the OL improves with the trade for G Ben Grubbs, and the Chiefs were No. 2 in scoring “D” last season.

Moon’s call: L

6. at Detroit Lions (11-5) Sun., Oct. 18, noon

The Bears hope John Fox can do with their roster what Jim Caldwell did with the Lions’ last year. Caldwell will have some challenges. The Lions traded for Haloti Ngata, which anchors the defensive interior, but that doesn’t entirely make up for losing Ndamukong Suh to Miami and Nick Fairley to St. Louis.

Moon’s call: L

7. BYE WEEK

8. Minnesota Vikings (7-9) Sun., Nov. 1, noon

Adrian Peterson issues (knee, off-field) have loomed over the organization for the past several seasons. In the meantime, the Vikings upgraded at WR by replacing Greg Jennings with Mike Wallace from Miami, and newly acquired safety Taylor Mays played for coach Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati.

Moon’s call: W

9. at San Diego Chargers (9-7) Mon., Nov. 9, 7:30 p.m.

The last time the Bears saw the Chargers, they lost Jay Cutler to a broken wrist after an interception. John Fox should know something about defending the Chargers offense, with or without Philip Rivers, and Fox’s Broncos won six of the last seven vs. San Diego.

Moon’s call: L

10. at St. Louis Rams (6-10) Sun., Nov. 15, noon

Coach Jeff Fisher keeps stockpiling linemen for an already solid defense (Nick Fairley from Detroit), and the Rams become an intriguing team with Nick Foles taking over at quarterback for injury plagued Sam Bradford. The Rams have the No. 10 draft pick and St. Louis has had a run of landing impact players with their top picks (Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald, Tavon Austin, Michael Brockers).

Moon’s call: W

11. Denver Broncos (12-4) Sun., Nov. 22, noon

The Broncos had four playoff seasons under John Fox and turned to John Elway’s old backup, Gary Kubiak, to reach higher under Elway’s overall stewardship. But losing Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase to Chicago, OT Orlando Franklin to San Diego, TE Julius Thomas to Jacksonville and DT Terrance Knighton to Washington create first-level gaps.

Moon’s call: W

12. at Green Bay (12-4) Thurs., Nov. 26, Thanksgiving, 7:30 p.m.

Moon’s call: L

13. San Francisco 49ers (8-8) Sun., Dec. 6, noon

Few teams (other than the Bears) took more of a surprising tumble in ’14 than the 49ers and whether their turmoil is settled remains to be seen. New coach Jim Tomsula takes over after Adam Gase opted for Chicago over the Bay Area and Vic Fangio is heading up the Bears defense after a stretch of making the 49ers elite.

Moon’s call: W

14. Washington Redskins (4-12) Sun., Dec. 13, noon

The circus of the Mike Shanahan era ended with his firing after a 3-13 record in 2013 but was only slightly better under Jay Gruden, with the Robert Griffin III situation still not fully resolved, certainly not in approach to playing the QB position or possibly health, either. Washington has won more than six games just once in six years, Griffin’s rookie year (2012) and the only time the team has been in the top 20 in scoring over that period. Ex-Bear Stephen Paea and Terrance Knighton should help the D-line.

Moon’s call: W

15. at Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

Moon’s call: W

16. at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-14)

Whom Lovie Smith elects to start at quarterback will be THE Bucs’ predominant story line, right on through at least the No. 1 overall pick of the draft. Smith rapidly reversed the Bears’ course after a down first season and he has a lot of work to do to fix a team that was among the worst on both offense and defense. The Bucs will win more than 2 games this season. Just not this one.

Moon’s call: W

17. Detroit Lions (11-5) Sun., Jan. 3, noon

Moon’s call: W

Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

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Matt Nagy is winning over his players by being himself

Despite losing 34 of his 48 games as the Bears’ head coach, John Fox’s players generally liked him and were disappointed to see him fired on New Year’s Day. That’s not to say they were blindsided by it — losing leads to people losing their jobs, even if the culture at Halas Hall had changed for the better following the disastrous end of the Marc Trestman-Phil Emery era. 

It was with that backdrop that Matt Nagy was offered and accepted the position of Bears head coach a week after Fox’s firing. Four and a half months later, Nagy has seemingly made a strong first impression on his new team, with one reason standing out among many: He’s genuine in who he is and what he does.

“I would say Nagy can be stern, and he can be playful also,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said. “I think when you’re a first-year coach, you want to win (over) your guys, and you want to be firm, and he’s doing that. You can’t really tell he’s a rookie coach or whatever. I feel like he was born for this, and he’s doing a great job.”

Granted, no player is going to publicly blast their new boss — especially not before he’s even coached a game yet. But veteran players also aren’t oblivious to who can and cannot work out as a head coach, and there haven’t been any “damning with faint praise” types of comments that were more common five years ago at the beginning of the Trestman era.

Will this win Nagy any games come September? No. But consider this sort of like team chemistry: It won't win a team anything, but if a team doesn't have it, it can be costly. 

“He’s a cool coach, man,” linebacker Danny Trevathan — who played for Fox in both Denver and Chicago — said. “He’s always giving us little details and smiling but we know he’s a hard worker just like we are. He’s up there working just like we are. He’s always putting us in the right position and he takes care of us. On the back end, where I come from, you take care of coaches like that. You go out and make plays for those coaches.”

From an observational standpoint, Nagy comes across as genuinely excited not just to be a head coach, but the head coach of the Bears. Players respect that approach — he's not coming in acting like a hired gun, and he's shown through these OTAs and practices that he cares about them, even if they haven't spent much time together yet. And he's also not strutting into Halas Hall every day with an over-inflated ego based on his promotion. That resonates, too. 

“I like the way he came in,” Trevathan said. “He came in humble but he was hungry. He came anxious, moving around in the meetings. I like that. That gets me fired up. I feel like we’ve got a good leader up here in the head coach.”

Anthony Miller sports Bears uniform at NFLPA Rookie Premiere

Anthony Miller sports Bears uniform at NFLPA Rookie Premiere

Anthony Miller has quickly become a fan favorite on social media. He has the confidence and swagger found in most top wide receivers and it comes through on his Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Miller was one of 40 players in attendance at the 2018 NFLPA Rookie Premiere where he not only learned about the business and marketing side of football, but also suited up in his Bears gameday uniform for the first time. Of course, he shared the moment on Twitter:

Panini America, a sports collectible company, snapped a picture of Miller with fellow rookie receiver Calvin Ridley (Falcons) and quarterback Mason Rudolph (Steelers):

Miller has become something of a standout for the Bears despite not playing a single snap. He's expected to have a big role in an offense that has several new pieces and roles that are up for grabs.

Miller will compete with former first-round pick Kevin White and free-agent addition Taylor Gabriel for reps opposite Allen Robinson. Miller has the necessary skill set to play as both an outside receiver and in the slot which should give him an even greater opportunity to be on the field quite a bit.

The Bears first three draft picks are all vying for starting jobs in 2018. Roquan Smith (first round) is a lock to start next to Danny Trevathan and James Daniels (second round) will start at guard. Miller should make it three-for-three in a draft class that could end up the best of Ryan Pace's tenure.