2014 NFL Season Preview, Fantasy Sleepers, and Predictions: Can Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears Reclaim the NFC North Division Title?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 8-8 (2nd in NFC North, Missed Playoffs)
Key Additions: DE Jared Allen, DE Lamarr Houston, WR Josh Morgan, S Adrian Wilson, RB Shaun Draughn, C Brian de la Puente, DE Willie Young, DE Trevor Scott, S M.D. Jennings, S Ryan Mundy, S Danny McCray, CB Kyle Fuller (1st round), DT Ego Ferguson (2nd round), DT Will Sutton (3rd round)
Key Losses: DE Julius Peppers, WR Earl Bennett, QB Josh McCown, WR/KR Devin Hester, RB Michael Bush, DE Corey Wootton, DT Henry Melton, OLB James Anderson, S Major Wright, CB Zackary Bowman,
Games to Watch: Sept. 14 at San Francisco, Oct. 26 at New England, Nov. 9 at Green Bay, Dec. 15 vs. New Orleans
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
•1. Is Jay Cutler worth $126 million?
Jay Cutler is the quarterback Bears' fans love to hate. He takes heat for mannerisms, an apparent lack of dedication, and his standoffish demeanor. Being married to reality star Kristin Cavallari doesn't help, especially when he proposed in an ever-so-romantic way; via text message.
Cutler's just not a likeable guy.
Still, he led the NFL's most dominant offense to a league-leading 27.8 points per game. Cutler concluded the 2013 with a career-high 89.2 rating and was on pace to surpass totals in touchdowns and passing yards before missing five games with a sprained ankle and torn groin muscle. The oft-injured quarterback returned in time for a late playoff push, but Green Bay's staunch defense dominated their Week 17 clash.
The Bears missed a third consecutive year and Cutler finished with 2,621 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Only Ryan Fitzpatrick and Mark Sanchez have a higher interception percentage since 2009.
Everything is working in Cutler's favor going into 2014. He's got Pro Bowler targets all around. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery lineup make up one of the league's top receiving duos, and Matt Forte's consistency puts his name alongside the likes of Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy.
Head coach Marc Trestman's quarterback-friendly game plan got Josh McCown a $10 million deal with Tampa Bay despite starting only seven games since 2008. Chicago's offense can do wonders with a healthy Cutler.
Therein lays the problem; Cutler's missed 12 games over the last three seasons. His backups are Jordan Palmer, David Fales, and Jimmy Clausen. Hardly names that inspire confidence. Trestman needs to make sure Cutler is protected at all times. If that fails, Cutler prepared himself by bulking up during the spring to withstand the rigors of a 17-week season.
Cutler's seven-year, $126 million contract falls in line with the NFL's elite quarterbacks, even if he hasn't lived up to it. That won't matter If he can stay on his feet long enough to lead Chicago to the Super Bowl.
•2. Was enough done to bolster a weak secondary and defensive line?
General Manager Phil Emery's prerogative was to rebuild an inept defense that ranked among the league's worst in yards per game (27th), points allowed (31st), and dead last in sacks and rushing yards allowed.
Julius Peppers held down Chicago's shaky defensive line but he bolted for Green Bay during the offseason. Some may say the eight-time Pro Bowler is on the decline but so is his replacement, former Viking Jared Allen.
Allen joins newcomer Lamarr Houston, Willie Young, and Trevor Scott. Houston is coming off a stellar season with Oakland, compiling six sacks and two forced fumbles, while Young and Scott look to provide depth in an otherwise baron position.
A trio of underwhelming safeties signed on to head the Bears secondary alongside Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings. Adrian Wilson missed the entire 2013 season with a torn Achilles tendon. It's a long shot he regains his Pro Bowl form, but it's a risk the depleted Bears secondary needed to take.
Kyle Fuller is Chicago's future cornerback, even if starting tight end Martellus Bennett isn't fond of the rookie. Fuller yanked Bennett by the facemask last week prompting the tight end to slam him. Bennett was briefly suspended. If anything, it showed Fuller's grit.
He's a versatile defender who can play anywhere in the secondary. Fuller likely lines up across from Tillman while Jennings moves up to nickel. He's got the speed, maturity, and toughness for the position. It's only a matter of time before he becomes a premier corner.
•3. Does Chicago carry the NFL's most dangerous receiving duo?
Marshall and Jeffery combined for 189 receptions, 19 touchdowns, and 2,716 receiving yards. The duo outscored six teams in terms of receiving touchdowns and fell 465 yards short of matching Tampa Bay.
Forte may be the backbone of Chicago's offense, but Marshall and Jeffrey make the Bears the team to beat in the NFC North.
Chicago and Denver were the only clubs featuring two receivers in top 15 in receiving yards. The Broncos have Peyton Manning while the Bears had three-fourths of a season with Cutler before McCown took over.
Both receivers are mismatches due to their height and ability to get vertical. Marshall completed his seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season, dating back to his day in Denver. He also finished with 100-plus catches for the second straight year despite playing through a nagging hip injury.
The scary thing about the fierce duo is that Jeffery may be better than Marshall. After recording 24 receptions in 2012, Jeffrey broke out for 89 last year with 1,421 yards and a 16.0 yard per reception average. Part of it comes from extended playing time- he started eight more games-and the other part in double-coverage Marshall garners.
Jeffery and Marshall are dangerous on their own. With a healthy Cutler they're near unstoppable.
Jay Cutler- QB
Anyone that's drafter Cutler over the last three years has been burned. No doubt he's going to miss a few games, but he heads the NFL's most explosive offense. Cutler playing 11 or 12 games is better than a full season of half of the league's starting quarterbacks.
Cutler was on pace for career-highs in most offensive categories before going down with multiple injuries. Aside from health concerns, interceptions are a cause for concern, averaging 3.4 per pass attempt last year. If you can bear the growing pains, Cutler can be a dependable late-round selection.
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