Dannehy: Trip Around the NFC North

| June 8th, 2023

The Chicago Bears shouldn’t be favored to win the NFC North, but they certainly have a shot to take what is now a weak division. The Lions are the favorites, and rightfully so, but Detroit missed a major opportunity to improve at key positions and further separate themselves from the rest of the division. The Minnesota Vikings are the defending champions, but their limp to the finish line brings up many questions. And the Packers, well, where do we start?

These are things Ryan Poles was surely looking at when he told The Athletic the team should contend for the NFC North. Here’s a quick snapshot at each of the teams and why the Bears could top them.

Detroit Lions

There’s a lot to like about the Detroit Lions but that can be found all over the internet. In short, the Lions had a top-five offense in 2022 and their defense allowed a hair over 20 points per game in the second half of the year. They finished 8-2 with convincing wins over the Vikings and Packers.

But there are issues with the Lions that are largely going ignored.

  • They need quarterback Jared Goff to continue playing at a level at which he has not previously played.
  • They need him to do this while being shorthanded at wide receiver. Losing DJ Chark wasn’t supposed to be significant because Jameson Williams was going to fill the void, stretching the field vertically, but Williams has been suspended for six games for gambling. Without Chark’s speed on the field — he missed six games — the powerful Lions offense averaged fewer than 20 points per game last year.
  • The team made considerable investments in the running back position, but was that really a weakness last year? Jamaal Williams and D’Andre Swift combined for more than 1,600 rushing yards, with an average of 4.45 per carry and had 22 rushing touchdowns. Swift caught 48 passes for 389 yards and three more touchdowns. If they upgraded, it’s hard to see them being more productive.
  • There’s also the matter of Ben Johnson. There’s no question that he is a bright offensive mind, but now teams will have a full season of work to study and figure out how to stop him.

We can comfortably assume Detroit’s defense will improve, after being bottom-five in both scoring and yardage last year. How much is a bit of a mystery, though. They made some improvements in the secondary but spent a first-round pick on an inside linebacker — a position that wasn’t a strength, but also not necessarily a weakness.

On paper, the Lions should be favored to win the NFC North. But it isn’t hard to see why that might not happen.

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Bears at Lions Game Preview: Should the Bears Actually Want to Win?

| December 29th, 2022

Why do I like the Chicago Bears this week?

I always like…

Thoughts on the opponent…

Stats that matter…




There is only one relevant question facing the Bears as they head to Detroit Sunday: should the team actually want to win? It is hard to argue that answer is yes.

The team is currently positioned with the second pick in the NFL Draft and, as Dannehy pointed out yesterday, they should be considered the frontrunner for the top pick, as Houston is playing their best football in the final weeks of the season. Winning might provide some cosmetic confidence but it would also throw the Bears into a jumble with Denver, Arizona, and Indianapolis, three four-win teams with considerably easier strengths of schedule, the tiebreaker when it comes to draft order.

(Gaining confidence from meaningless victories is inherently nonsensical. A great number of 2022 Chicago Bears won’t be 2023 Chicago Bears. And the ones that stick around won’t require meaningless victories for confidence.)

If it were just about selecting a player, one could argue the difference between picking second and fifth isn’t that big a deal. Selecting players is a crap shoot. Don’t tell me you know what Jalen Carter or Will Anderson will be at the next level because you don’t. The fourth and fifth picks in 2022 – Sauce Gardner and Kayvon Thibodeaux – had significantly more impactful rookie campaigns than first overall pick Travon Walker. (Is there any question the Jags would take Sauce in a 2022 re-draft?)

What is not a crap shoot is the league’s consistently absurd overvaluing of quarterback prospects come draft time. The best years to select at the top of the draft are years where your team doesn’t need a quarterback and four-to-five QBs are projected into the first round. That’s exactly what 2023 looks like for the Chicago Bears. Ryan Wilson at CBS Sports projects four QBs in round one. Jamie Eisner at The Draft Network also projects four, with three of the first four picks being quarterbacks. Walter Football only projects three but all three gone in the first six picks. This may not be a draft deep at quarterback, but it is top heavy. And that’s when you want your pick at the top.

When you’re rebuilding your roster, the key is word is options. You re-sign key contributors to give yourself options in free agency. You’re judicious in free agency to give yourself options in the draft. And the higher the draft pick in the first round, the more options you have at that event. If the Bears have the first or second pick, they will have multiple teams making offers. There is no question about it. Look at how many teams currently slotted in the top 15 need QBS: Houston (1st), Seattle (3rd), Indianapolis (5th), Atlanta (6th), Detroit (7th), Carolina (8th), Vegas (9th), Tennessee (13th) and the Jets (15th). You can nitpick these quarterbacks all you like, but historically NFL franchises err on the side of hope.

The Bears will play Sunday. And with their rushing attack, and the porous Detroit rush defense, they could actually win the game. But with a roster in turnover, and the rostered group decimated by injury, it is hard to argue the positives of that potential victory. Having the first pick in the 2023 NFL Draft gives the Bears the clearest path to a quick turnaround. That means losing on Sunday.

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Dannehy: Put Little Stock in Last Four Games

| December 14th, 2022

It isn’t too hard to remember when Bears fans were writing Thomas Graham Jr.’s name down as a key part of the organization’s future. The sixth rounder had a strong showing at the end of the 2021 season, after not playing at all up until that point. The expectation was that Graham would be a starter in 2022, but he wasn’t even close to that. He was injured early in training camp, but even after he was healthy the team instead decided to use roster spots on Jaylon Jones and Josh Blackwell. Graham went to the practice squad where he was later signed by Cleveland.

Cleveland hasn’t had much use for him. After being signed to the active roster originally, Graham was demoted to the practice squad. He was promoted back to the active roster on Oct. 31 but didn’t play a single defensive snap until last week.

Graham’s story isn’t uncommon. Bears fans, especially, should know to be cautious when it comes to how a player looks at the end of a dead-end season, though the Devin Aromashodu highlights can be fun. Who can forget Brock Forsey running for 134 yards? My guess is most of you did.

We won’t learn a whole lot about the Chicago Bears in the last four games of the season.

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With Four Difficult Games Remaining, Bears Enter a Purely Evaluative Period

| December 13th, 2022

The Bears are unlikely to win any of their remaining games. The Philadelphia Eagles might be the best team in the league. If they’re not, that distinction could be awarded the Buffalo Bills. Since starting the season 1-6. the Detroit Lions have been a top NFC side, going 5-1 and last Sunday, making their case as the best team in the NFC North (despite overall record). The Minnesota Vikings will win the division but with Dallas and San Francisco breathing down their necks for the two seed, they will need a win in the finale. In none of these final four contests will the Bears be less than a touchdown underdog. They may steal a victory in this closing month, but it’ll be a surprise if they do.

So, what is left for the Bears fan? The answer, sadly, is not much.

Justin Fields has proven to be one of the most electric quarterbacks in the league and the future at the position in Chicago. That was everything in 2022.

We know what the Bears have on their offensive and defensive lines, i.e., not much. (Teven Jenkins can play, it seems. Can Braxton Jones? I honestly don’t know.)

We’ve seen glimpses of production from the receivers (Claypool, Harry, EQ) but know improvement is needed. We’ve seen production in the secondary but know reinforcements are needed there as well. (You can never have enough quality corners.)

And we’ve seen quite the revelation in Jack Sanborn, whose production the last few weeks saved the Chicago Bears about $100 million in what would have been misallocated resources.

The beats will beat on; they don’t have the luxury of this approach. Kevin Fishbain can’t just write, “Ah, fuck it, this game doesn’t mean anything,” and still hope his direct deposit from the fine folks at The New York Times Company goes through. But if the Bears are smart, they are going to use these final four contests for purely evaluative purposes. That means any player with a tenuous role moving forward should be on the field for meaningful reps. These are not preseason games. These are four real contests against good teams with the world to play for. You want to find out what these young players have?

Draft position is important. But there is little drama remaining there. Even if the Bears steal another victory, they will be picking in the top five, and likely the top three. With this draft reportedly top heavy at quarterback, Ryan Poles should have an opportunity to trade back and add premium picks. (This roster needs them.) If a big trade doesn’t surface, Poles will have to decide whether to a top lineman prospect or electrifying wide receiver. I can tell you right now, having watched what’s happening around the league, I’ll be pushing for the latter.

Enjoy this final month, Bears fans. The team has their quarterback and 2023 Bears, while not yet contenders, should be the most entertaining team on the lakefront in modern history. The arrow for this franchise is pointed decidedly up, with an exciting off-season soon to come. We just have to suffer through a few losses down the stretch to get there.

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Bears Fall to Lions at Home, now 3-7: Quarter-By-Quarter Analysis

| November 14th, 2022

Quarter One

  • Fields is an athletic mismatch for every defense he faces. On the opening drive he simply ran around the Lions defense. When that athleticism is paired with a serious passing attack, the Bears are going to have one of the best offenses in the league. And there’s no reason to believe that isn’t possible for September 2023.
  • The Bears now have a pretty horrific defense, and it all starts up front. This defensive line is blown off the ball weekly.
  • The story of the quarter for the Bears offense was two penalties. A bad call on Braxton Jones derailed the opening drive and a 50/50 facemask on Cole Kmet put the Bears behind the chains. When calls like these get made, I always ask the same question: who wants the game called this way? How does this increase the entertainment value of the sport?

Quarter Two

  • Already in this game, Nick Morrow, Jack Sanborn and Joe Thomas are making plays. They don’t completely account for the loss of Roquan Smith, but they are showing – quite vividly – that spending $100 million at the position is not necessary.
  • Bears well aware they have nobody to rush the passer and are selling out on blitzes. When they haven’t batted down the Goff pass, they’ve been burnt. The number of wide-open receivers on these plays is jarring but expected.
  • Bears could easily have Fields drop back and throw every down, but they need to possess the ball for as long as possible. Their defense can’t stop anyone. They’ve got to stay on the field offensively as long as possible.
  • What a play by Aidan Hutchinson on David Montgomery at the goal line. He looked like Jake “The Snake” Roberts.

Overall, I’m not sure I have watched a first half with less to write about.

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Week 10: Lions at Bears Game Prediction

| November 11th, 2022

Four Things I Think Will Happen.

  • The Bears have been building to this game. Their offense is improving weekly. Their quarterback is taking the leap before our very eyes. And Chase Claypool will have a full week of practice and certainly see an increase from his 26 snaps against the Dolphins. This is the week where the Bears offense, at home, simply isn’t beatable.
  • Jared Goff will throw two interceptions, both in the middle of the field, and one each to Eddie Jackson and Jaquan Brisker.
  • Bears stat line for the game: 31 carries between the two backs and QB, 224 yards, 3 touchdowns. (Quite possible Velus Jones adds to these numbers as well.)
  • Bears learned in the fourth quarter of the Miami game that they must blitz to generate pressure. They’ll sack Goff three times, with none of those sacks coming from a defensive lineman.

Chicago Bears 34, Lions 20

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