Cincinnati Bengals @ Chicago Bears (1PM ET, CBS)

It's the first game of the season, as the Bengals take on the Bears. Last year both teams finished the year 10-6; while that mark was good enough in the putrid AFC, the Bears were on the outside looking in last season. 

Bears Run vs Bengals Run Defense

Cincinnati is a team that can be run on. Last year, the Bengals were 23rd in the league in rush defense (per Football Outsiders). Additionally, the unit got worse as the season progressed, allowing 6 100-yard rushers in the last 8 games of the regular season. I'm not sure the unit got any better in spite of the James Harrison signing, and they are going to need to be great.

Matt Forte is one of the league's premier running backs, though you wouldn't know it from the OCs he's had to deal with. He's probably the best pass-catcher in the league (for a RB), and he's an excellent blocker as well. It doesn't hurt that he has great running vision too, though he lacks the top gear that would otherwise make him a threat to score on every play. I'd look for him to cut ribbons in this defense. Michael Bush is a very good backup RB, as well.

Bengals Run vs Bears Run Defense

You have to wonder if the loss of Brian Urlacher is going to affect this team's run defense more than what's been talked about. Urlacher is rightly heralded as a great pass defender up the middle, but he (until recently) was also a great run stuffer. In his place is the D.J. Williams/Jon Bostic tandem; it remains to be seen how they'll respond in the trenches. On the other hand, the Bears were the best run defense in the league last year, and it wasn't even particularly close (San Francisco had a GREAT run defense, but the Bears were clearly better than even that unit (or Tampa Bay)).

This is the task that Giovani Bernard is going to inherit in his first week. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is the nominal starter, but he's just keeping the seat warm for Bernard, who I expect will actually see more touches in this game. I think Bernard is going to be a very good RB in the NFL, but he's not going to look it today. 

Bears Pass vs Bengals Pass Defense

This is the million dollar question. The Bears are going to a West Coast Offense, which is fundamentally different than previous years. It requires precise timing, great intermediate precision, and a smart quarterback. We don't really have any of those (though Cutler isn't a dumb quarterback- he just makes some dumb decisions). It plays against Cutler's strengths somewhat. However, Alshon Jeffery is the platonic ideal of a WC WR: he's big, he runs crisp routes, and he has great hands. He goes out an grabs balls instead of letting the balls come to him. His lack of speed (to be nice) will be downplayed in this system. Combine this with the traditionally shoddy play of the Bengals' secondary (with regards to #2 receivers), and Jeffery is poised to have a nice little game.

The WCO should theoretically but less strain on the Bears OL, which is a good thing. They were terrible last year; so bad that their starting LT last year was just cut from the team. In fact, only one player from last year's OL is even on the team this year (the overrated Roberto Garza). I think people have really liked what they've seen from this line so far, but it's the preseason which means little and less. 

The Bengals have a pretty scary defensive line. It gets even worse with the addition of James Harrison. There's every chance that Cutler is going to be running for his life for 60 minutes. The secondary is average, but they look better than they are when opposing teams have to scramble to just get rid of the ball.

Bengals Pass vs Bears Pass Defense

Another important matchup. Andy Dalton is a solid quarterback who has a few weapons to work with. A.J. Green might be the best WR in the league without the last name Johnson, and Mohamed Sanu showed some things in his rookie season. They drafter Tyler Eifert out of ND, who could also be a factor (I'm not a Jermaine Gresham fan, per se). Sanu lives in the red-zone, so that'll be something to watch for during the game. The Bengals suddenly have plenty of options to close out drives with a score.

The Bears have a great pass defense, though they'll miss Urlacher effectively shutting down the middle of the field. Instead, they'll rely on Shea McClellin to break out and actually get to the quarterback with some frequency this year. Julius Peppers is a HOF at DE, but he's getting up there in age and will need frequent breaks. Henry Melton is a badass and should also get his share of pain in. They'll need to get to Dalton early and often; while the Bears sent two CB to the Pro Bowl last year, they aren't as good as they looked last year. Jennings is 2 years removed from being the worst CB in football, and Tillman is always injury-prone. 

Special Teams

Devin Hester is back to being ST only. We can only think what they ruined by making him a WR for so long. The Bears have an incredible ST squad, though they lose wizard Dave Toub after he didn't get the HC job (he'll get one someday). Cincinnati also has a great ST unit, though not necessarily elite.

Prediction

I think this is about as close a game as the Bears will face all season. These are both fringe Super Bowl contenders in my opinion (though Bengals are closer by virtue of being in the far easier conference). I think there's going to be some growing pains with the WCO, but Forte will more than make up for Cutler's poor game. The Bears will beat a very suspect OL in pass protection and get to Andy Dalton quite often, and a low scoring game will favor the home Bears team.

Chicago 17, Cincinnati 14

 

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