This article was originally published at Football Nation:
The Chicago Bears open up the 2016 campaign in Houston, TX where they will take on the Texans at Noon central time on Sunday at NRG Stadium, formerly known as Reliant Stadium. The Bears have high hopes as this is Head Coach John Fox’s second season leading the Monsters of the Midway. In his previous coaching stops in Carolina and Denver, Fox showed solid if not spectacular improvement in the win column in his 2nd season. Last year he led the Bears to a 6-10 record. Can he improve in 2016?
After a vast number of roster moves to start this season, GM Ryan Pace is hoping these players are enough to help Coach Fox and his coaching staff including defensive mastermind Vic Fangio. Recent additions Josh Sitton at OG and Connor Barth at PK have Bears fans pumped up!…..well maybe not pumped exactly but we’ll say the Bears fans are intrigued.
I can’t wait to see the new front seven on defense. If the Bears want to return to the Monsters of the Midway, they’ll need to drastically improve the front wall. It all starts up front, and Pace worked hard this offseason bringing in Akiem Hicks to man one DE spot in Fangio’s 3-4 scheme. Hicks is a monster of a man (6’5″ 324) so at least he’s got that going for him…..which is nice. Manning (don’t remind us that Peyton retired, the Denver fans are whispering) the other DE spot will be a rotation of Mitch Unrein and 3rd round draft pick Jonathan Bullard. Bullard is showing all the signs of being a draft steal as the 72nd overall pick. He looks like an attacking pawn in Fangio’s chess game. The nose of this line will be 2015 2nd rounder Eddie Goldman. This group should be a major improvement over last year’s group.
At ILB, the new starters will both be free agent signees. This is where Pace put forth his best focus, signing Broncos leading tackler Danny Trevathan and Colts leading tackler Jerrell Freeman. These boys can hit! I saw Trevathan lay down the lumber a couple of times already in the preseason that reminded me of exactly nobody on the Bears last year. If nothing else it should be fun watching a more physical and imposing Bears team this Autumn. At OLB, Willie Young and Lamarr Houston will usually rush the passer and less often cover RB’s and slot WR’s. Backing them up will be Sam Acho and the electric Leonard Floyd. Floyd attacks like a thunder bolt…..at times. Other times he’ll play like a rookie. Of course, he IS just a rookie so it will be interesting following his development. He wears #94. Keep an eye on him.
On offense, Jay Cutler returns for his 8th season with an improved OL, we’d like to think. Adding Josh Sitton from Green Bay seems too good to be true. He was just released by the Packers and the Bears took advantage, signing Sitton to a three-year deal for $21 million. He’s 30 years old and looked excellent on his 2015 tape so the Bears snapped him up. Were the Packers just trying to save money? It makes you wonder. Maybe they know something that the Bears don’t. If it’s just a money issue, then another fantastic move by Pace and his staff. For now we’ll give the Bears the benefit of the doubt.
The big news out of Houston is that J.J. Watt will play. Will Watt be healthy? He just started practicing on Monday for the first time since his back surgery on July 21. If so, can he jump right in and start where he left off which was the most dominant defensive player in the World? So is Houston good? Last year they were 9-7. They weren’t very happy with their quarterback play. They played four QB’s and their main starter was Brian Hoyer. (2606 passing yards, 19 TD, 7 INT, 61 % completion percentage) Hoyer is now Cutler’s backup so he might feel strange using the visitors locker room across the field at NRG Stadium. The Texans went out and signed Brock Osweiler to a four-year $72 million deal as a free agent when everyone assumed Denver would resign him to be their new starter after “you know who” retired. Now that Peyton is sitting on his couch listening to Lionel Richie, life goes on for the rest of us, including Osweiler. Can this guy be the answer to a perpetual question for the Texans?
For the Bears, will the Offensive Line gel with one new guard, a rookie center, and another guard that was injured for a couple of weeks? Will Jeremy Langford and the running game be more than average in their first game without Matt Forte? Will Kevin White give us a glimpse of his talent? We’ll begin getting the answers to these questions on Sunday.
Talk is cheap. It’s time to strap it up and hunker down.
Week 1 Prediction: Bears 24 Texans 20