Bears

Top 10 NFL games on 2017 schedule

Top 10 NFL games on 2017 schedule

With the 2017 NFL schedule officially released, a look at a handful of games that are must-watch events or that could determine playoff scenarios in January of 2018:

Thursday, Sept. 7: Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots

The defending champs open their title defense with a Chiefs team that went 12-4 and won the AFC West last year. Kansas City had the AFC’s second-highest point differential at +78, but that was less than half of New England’s (+191) in 2016. The last time these two teams played was in the divisional round of the 2015 playoffs, with New England winning that, 27-20. 

Sunday, Sept. 17: Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons

A week after opening the season in Chicago against the Bears, Atlanta will play its first game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday Night Football against a Green Bay side it crushed, 44-21, in the NFC Championship Game in January. This could be an early battle for NFC supremacy or, at the least, an entertaining, high-scoring game. 

Sunday, Sept. 17: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos

Can Dak Prescott do it again? The Cowboys sophomore quarterback will face a tough schedule this year, headlined by this trip to Denver to face a team that had the NFL’s fourth-best scoring defense (18.6 PPG) and best passing defense (5.8 yards/attempt) last year. 

Monday, Oct. 2: Washington Redskins at Kansas City Chiefs

Kansas City’s 18 interceptions tied for the most in the NFL last year, while Kirk Cousins threw for 4,917 yards and 25 touchdowns. With Cousins likely to be on the open market after this season, he could set the tone for a rich contract with a strong performance against a top-level secondary in primetime here. 

[RELATED: NFL does Bears no favors with opening four-game stretch]

Sunday, Oct. 22: Atlanta Falcons at New England Patriots

This is only the seventh regular season rematch between the previous season’s Super Bowl participants in NFL history, though they’ve been oddly common in recent years: Denver beat Carolina last year, and in 2014, Seattle won in overtime against Denver. 

Monday, Nov. 20: Atlanta Falcons at Seattle Seahawks

The December Monday Night Football schedule is full of potential division-deciding matchups  (Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, New England at Miami, Atlanta at Tampa Bay) and overall, this year’s Monday night slate is strong. But this Falcons-Seahawks matchup in late November carries plenty of intrigue. These two teams met in the 2016 regular season, with Seattle making a fourth quarter comeback to win, 26-24. 

Monday, Dec. 11: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins last year made the playoffs for the first time since 2008, and if they have any lofty designs on unseating the Patriots in the AFC East, this could be the game that does it. Miami lost their home game against New England last year by 21 points.

Sunday, Dec. 17: Dallas Cowboys at Oakland Raiders

Prescott against Derek Carr on Sunday Night Football, in what could be one of the last “big” games at Oakland Coliseum, should be one of the better cross-conference games of 2017. 

Sunday, Dec. 31: Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia’s offseason haul was headlined by adding Alshon Jeffery to pair with Carson Wentz, which could be a dangerous combination in the NFC East. if Dallas were to fall back to earth, circle this season-ending game as one that perhaps could decide the division. 

Sunday, Dec. 31: Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions

Green Bay ended last season at Ford Field, too, with their 31-24 win securing an NFC North title. If the division goes down to this game again, there’s some added intrigue given the Lions pulled T.J. Lang away from Green Bay in March with $19 million guaranteed — an awfully high price for a guard. 

Bears 17, Packers 13: Whose arrows are up and down after spoiling Favre's retirement

Bears 17, Packers 13: Whose arrows are up and down after spoiling Favre's retirement

Well, that probably felt good. 

The Bears were apparently none too pleased about being scheduled as the Packers' opponents on the night that Brett Favre was getting his number retired at Lambeau Field. In front of a packed crowd, on the (so rainy) holiday nightcap, the Bears outlasted Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in what'll surely be the most rewarding win of the upcoming 6-10 season. Here's whose arrows are up and down in the 17-13 win: 

ARROW UP – The Bears, just in general 

Good for the (4-6) Bears! They were still technically In The Hunt, but this wasn't a particularly strong team and boy is it disrespectful to be scheduled on Favre's big night. Things never break the Bears' way in this rivalry, and especially not in Green Bay. On a nationally-televised, holiday game no less? The Bears never, ever win this game. It wasn't "a good example of football" or "fun to watch," but the luxury of winning is you don't have to remember the details. 

ARROW DOWN – The passing game 

Cutler threw for 200 yards, and would have had a good bit more if there weren't so many drops. The constant, unrelenting rain that came down throughout this game obviously made the football hard to catch,  but the Bears dropped more than a couple balls. Alshon Jeffery was guilty of a couple, and Jeremey Langford's drop on 3rd and 2 in the 2nd quarter stood out as especially egregious. 

ARROW UP – Pat O'Donnell 

Eight punts for my man Pat. Eight! He racked up 323 yards while averaging 40.4 yards per punt on a night when special teams can get messy. The Packers faced tough field position all night – starting eight of their 12 drives within 20 yards of their own end zone – and O'Donnell was a big reason why. 

ARROW DOWN – Run defense 

To be fair, Eddy Lacy is huge. Lacy ran for 105 yards on 17 rushes, his longest rush of the night going for 29 yards. He was also useful out of the backfield for Green Bay, catching four balls for 34 yards – 25 of them coming on a touchdown in the first quarter. According to Pro Football Focus' grading system, this was the run defense's worst performance (36.5) of an otherwise okay season (74.1). Shea McClellin (27.7) and Christian Jones (33.8) were graded particularly poorly, though McClellin finished second on the team in tackles. 

ARROW UP – The secondary

Kyle Fuller was targeted twice in 78 snaps, and didn't allow a reception. Tracy Porter got a rare interception off Aaron Rodgers, and would have had two if not for a penalty negating the play. Bryce Callahan had an up-and-down game, but the corner had his moments and played well in coverage on the final play of the game. 

Brian Urlacher on Robert Quinn: 'I didn't love the signing'

Brian Urlacher on Robert Quinn: 'I didn't love the signing'

The best way for the Chicago Bears to take full advantage of the Khalil Mack era is to give him a competent pass-rushing running-mate who can consistently win the one-on-one opportunities he's certain to face.

Former first-round pick Leonard Floyd couldn't do it, and that's why he's no longer a Bear. It's also why Robert Quinn, who totaled 11.5 sacks for the Cowboys in 2019, was signed to a five-year, $70 million contract in free agency.

But was it money well-spent? According to Hall-of-Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, the answer is no.

“This isn’t a knock on the player, [but] I didn’t love the signing of Robert Quinn,” Urlacher said on ESPN 1000’s Waddle and Silvy show . “I liked him, he had a great season last year, really good football player. I just – you paid Khalil [Mack] all this money, he gets all this money. Akiem Hicks is a badass in the middle, making all this money. I understand you get rid of Floyd. But do you need to spend that much money on another guy up front?

“I would think you could find someone to put pressure from that side. Khalil is getting two guys no matter who is over there anyway, and with Akiem back, it’s going to be different. Once he’s healthy, we all saw how much he meant to their defense when he wasn’t in there.”

Urlacher's points are certainly valid, and a healthy Hicks should give Chicago's defense the extra juice it was lacking for most of the second half of last season. But there's also a flaw in Urlacher's reasoning. If having two 'badass' pass-rushers is great, then adding a third can result in something truly special.

Quinn has the potential to be the final piece that the Bears' defense needs to go from great to truly elite. He's registered five seasons with at least 8.5 sacks.

Did the Bears pay Quinn too much? Did they go all-in on a player who's battled injuries before last year's resurgence? Maybe. But it's a risk worth taking, especially considering how dominant this team can be if Mack and Quinn stay healthy in 2020.