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PFW Bears roundtable: 2018 season predictions

September 8, 2018

PFW’s Greg Gabriel, Kyle Nabors, Eric Edholm, Arthur Arkush, Bob LeGere and Hub Arkush pick Chicago’s offensive and defensive MVPs, top rookie and newcomer and 2018 record.

1. Top rookie

GG: WR Anthony Miller

Many will have first-round pick Roquan Smith here, but with Smith missing almost all of camp, I feel it will still be a few weeks before he contributes the way the Bears want him to. Miller, on the other hand, can be a difference maker on the offense with his explosive speed and athleticism. As a rookie, Miller won’t get the attention of defenses like Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel will. That will leave him in single coverage, giving Miller a chance to make big plays. I feel he will take advantage of that situation.

KN: ILB Roquan Smith

Sure, Anthony Miller could make an impact on offense, but it’s Smith that will have Bears fans excited. He’s smart, has great instincts and is incredibly fast — all traits Vic Fangio loves in his middle linebackers. Fangio expects a lot out of his linebackers in coverage to make his defense run smoothly. Smith fits nicely into that mold.

EE: ILB Roquan Smith

WR Anthony Miller could be the obvious choice here because of the time he’s had to steep in the offense, which has been longer than Smith following his lengthy training-camp absence. But Smith is a game-changing talent who is now surrounded by strong players on all three levels of the defense, especially at linebacker. Is there a better four-man unit (with some depth, too) in the NFL at that position? His run-and-hit ability will be on full display soon. Miller might be the more immediate contributor, and I love his game. But Smith will be an emerging star by season’s end.

AA: ILB Roquan Smith

Holdout and tight hammy or not, it has to be top pick Smith. In a division with Dalvin Cook, Jimmy Graham and Theo Riddick, among other mismatch threats, Smith’s speed and instincts in coverage are integral in Vic Fangio’s ‘D’ operating at peak form. Now, I also expect Anthony Miller to thrive early — perhaps even leading rookie wideouts in receiving — in what could be another terrific draft class for Ryan Pace. But at least prior to his holdout, Smith arguably was the favorite to win the NFL’s top rookie honors, not just the Bears’. He’s that dynamic.

BL: ILB Roquan Smith

He might take a couple weeks to get up to full speed after missing all of training camp in a contract dispute, and then the entire preseason after he finally reported suffered a hamstring injury, but first-round pick Roquan Smith will eventually become an impact player. While Smith may have some catching up to do as far as getting into football shape, coaches have been encouraged by his football smarts. He will benefit from a talented and veteran defense in which he doesn’t have to be the only star but will have ample opportunities to make his mark

HA: WR Anthony Miller

I’m going with Miller, not because I think he’s a better prospect than Roquan Smith, but because he’s way ahead of Smith right now after the latter’s holdout and subsequent hamstring injury. I think it’ll be much easier to see and measure Miller’s impact on the offense than Smith’s impact on the “D.” Miller was probably the most impressive Bear in Bourbonnais this year.

2. Top veteran arrival

GG: TE Trey Burton

The obvious answer here is Khalil Mack, the final link to making the Bears a complete defense. The offense, though, was the weak part of the Bears a year ago, and Matt Nagy’s scheme alone will make the Bears much improved. But the tight end is one of the key elements in this offense. Don’t be surprised if Burton is the Bears’ leading receiver. He has the speed and athleticism of a wide receiver, and will create mismatches when he is lined up wide or in the slot.

KN: OLB Khalil Mack

Could it be anyone else? The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year hasn’t even been in Chicago a week and his jersey is already one of the top selling in the NFL. The Bears haven’t had a pass rusher like Mack since Julius Peppers. And with Leonard Floyd lined up on the opposite side, the Bears are poised to have a fantastic pass rush.

EE: OLB Khalil Mack

As if I could choose anyone else. Look, this is not a knock at all to the talents of Allen Robinson or Trey Burton or anyone else the Bears brought in since March. They’ve had a thrilling offseason, as busy as almost any other team in the league. But adding Mack, even at a considerable cost, was a coup. Give him time to soak up the scheme, and he’ll start wrecking people — an inexorable force with a coordinator in Vic Fangio who will know how to unleash him. This is a stronger unit in Chicago than the one in which Mack won the 2016 Defensive Player of the Year award in Oakland, and he should be up to full speed before long. There also should be an immeasurable but crucial element to Mack’s arrival that soon will be a talking point: his character and toughness. Both are things the Raiders will miss and the Bears will reap on this emerging roster.

AA: TE Trey Burton

Because I took the easy route above and it goes without saying that adding a DPOY in Mack on the eve of the regular season could be one of the franchise’s great coups, I’ll go with Burton. His versatility not only widens Matt Nagy’s playbook, it shrinks Mitch Trubisky’s pre-snap diagnostic burden by tipping the opponents’ hand in their reactions to Burton’s myriad alignments. He’ll be the scheme’s pass-game centerpiece, while also bringing important offensive knowledge and a winning pedigree from Philadelphia. And Burton’s presence over the middle will create advantageous perimeter chances for Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and others.

BL: OLB Khalil Mack

While WR Allen Robinson and TE Trey Burton should help elevate the Bears’ offense from its previous place in the NFC cellar, OLB Khalil Mack gets the nod here. His presence not only gives the Bears one of the premier defensive players and pass rushers in the NFL, but it has energized everyone from the locker room to the coaching staff to the fan base. At just 27 years old, he’s already one of the top five defensive players in the league, and it’s likely Mack could remain at that level for another five years or so.

HA: OLB Khalil Mack

Well, if it’s not Mack than the Bears will clearly have overpaid for his services. I really love the potential for serious impacts from all of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Trey Burton, with Burton likely to get the most chances to make a difference. But at the end of the day it has to be Mack.

3. Offensive MVP

GG: QB Mitch Trubisky

The new offense is perfect for Trubisky’s skill set, as he can be superb running RPOs (run/pass options). Trubisky was a high-percentage passer at University of North Carolina, and I feel that he will be the same in this offense. I can see him throwing for more than 3,500 yards and perhaps 25 TDs. If he plays close to that, he easily will be the MVP of the offense.

KN: QB Mitch Trubisky

The second-year quarterback is going to need to make considerable progress if the Bears hope to be a true playoff contender. Luckily, he’ll have Matt Nagy running the show, which is worlds away from last season’s situation. Ryan Pace spent the offseason bringing in new weapons for Trubisky after the quarterback spent his rookie season throwing to the worst WR corps in the league. It’s time to see what the kid can do.

EE: RB Jordan Howard

I was tempted to pick someone such as Kyle Long, as I truly believe his reemergence is going to be a critical development for this line to improve and for this offense to hum properly. That might be the case, but the easier candidate to get behind is Howard, who is far more of a fit in this offense than many believed at first. You’ll see a confident workhorse of a runner and an improved receiver in Howard this season, book it. Of course, the most obvious choice would be Mitch Trubisky; quarterbacks tend to be favorites for these types of honors. I just happen to think he’ll yin and yang his way through the season enough to where Howard is valued more.

AA: RB Jordan Howard

It speaks to how much people are sleeping on him that Howard, Chicago’s best offensive performer two years running, will again be offensive MVP despite everyone’s focus on Burton, Robinson, Gabriel and Anthony Miller. Of course, it’s not just the fans’ focus on all the shiny new toys; defenses now forced to respect the Bears’ passing game only makes Howard more dangerous. And it says here that he’ll be a big part of that passing game, contrary to the misguided belief of many who decided that a 23-year-old can’t — gasp — grow in a role he’s rarely been used in.

BL: WR Allen Robinson

Robinson had an 80-catch, 1,400-yard season with Blake Bortles as his quarterback. He may not match those numbers with the Bears because the production will be spread more evenly. But Robinson, more than anyone else, has the ability to help QB Mitch Trubisky take the massive strides that the Bears envisioned when they used the second overall pick to select the quarterback. Robinson’s combination of size, strength, route-running and run-after-the-catch ability will make him the go-to guy for Trubisky.

HA: RB Jordan Howard

I know you’re all thinking this has to be Mitch Trubisky. But even if the kid comes fast at that position, he’s going to have some ups and downs. Based on what Nagy did last year in Kansas City with rookie Kareem Hunt and how he developed Travis Kelce, I’m looking at Jordan Howard and Trey Burton. Based on their careers to date, you have to go with Howard, and I’ll give Trubisky a good chance of being ready to compete for this honor in 2019.

4. Defensive MVP

GG: OLB Khalil Mack

As I wrote earlier this week, Mack has Lawrence Taylor-esque traits and commands attention from any offense. Just being on the field will make guys like Akiem Hicks and Leonard Floyd better and more productive. Mack has the ability to control a game, and the Bears haven’t had a player on the defense like that since Peppers and Urlacher. Put Mack down for 12-15 sacks, and with him getting attention from the offense, it will increase Floyd’s sack total to around 10.

KN: OLB Khalil Mack

What else is there to say? Mack won’t just be the Bears’ defensive MVP, he should once again be in contention for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Mack possesses the speed, strength and size to make life miserable on even the best offensive tackles in the league.

EE: DL Akiem Hicks

Maybe I’m being a bit cute on this selection after extoling Mack as the second coming. And if things go right and Mack gets his dozen or so sacks, that’s your selection. But the work Hicks has done the past two seasons, recognized roundly in local circles but not enough nationally (no Pro Bowls), will be seen more readily this season. He’s just a tough matchup, and Hicks will benefit from Mack’s arrival just as much as the converse is true. Hicks turns 29 this season and is in the perfect spot to be rewarded for his past dominance and to keep it up on what could be the Bears’ best defense since the last unit that led a Super Bowl run more than a decade ago.

AA: OLB Khalil Mack

The Bears haven’t had a double-digit sack guy since Willie Young was playing end in Mel Tucker’s ‘40’ front four years ago. It’s a streak likely to be snapped by Mack — if not multiple Bears defenders — but there’s so much more to his game. Commanding double teams, consistently setting a hard edge, allowing Vic Fangio to dig into his arsenal of twists, stunts and line games — Mack does it all. Perhaps most important, he arrives in a positional room marred by injuries more than any other during Pace’s tenure, after playing over 89 percent of Oakland’s total defensive snaps since 2014.

BL: DL Akiem Hicks

Mack will make the splash plays, but I’m going with Hicks for his every-down reliability and propensity for making plays in both phases of the game. Hicks has been the Bears’ defensive MVP in each of the previous two years. Now, in his age-29 season and with his best supporting cast, this could be his best year ever, especially with opposing offenses no longer being able to double-team him as much.

HA: OLB Khalil Mack

See: Top Veteran Newcomer for your answer here. Considering I picked Khalil Mack to be the league’s Defensive MVP in our NFL round table just yesterday, how can I pick anyone else here? Mack is easily the top talent on the Bears roster, and again, if he doesn’t fill this bill, the Bears ridiculously overpaid for him.

5. 2018 record

GG: 9-7 (second place in NFC North)

I’m an optimist, and I feel this team will be close to being like the Rams were in 2017. I’m not predicting a first place finish like the Rams produced, but I can easily see a 9-7 record and a second place finish in the NFC North. The key game will be the opener. If they come away from Green Bay with a win, then momentum will be on the Bears’ side and they could very well finish the first quarter of the season 3-1.

KN: 9-7 (third place in NFC North)

For the first time in recent memory, it’s acceptable to look at this roster and believe that the Bears will make the playoffs. With that being said, I think they’re a year away from being a legitimate contender. There are questions at wide receiver – Is Allen Robinson a No. 1? Can Anthony Miller make an immediate impact? Is Taylor Gabriel anything more than a burner? – and the offensive line is lacking. But the Bears should be playing meaningful football in December, and after the past few years, that should bring a smile to your face.

EE: 9-7 (third place in the NFC North)

I feel like I’ve undershot this by a game now, but I made this prediction earlier in the week for our Bears insert in the Shaw Media papers, and, well, I don’t want you guys calling me out for being a flip-flopper and all. There are still some really stiff challenges on the schedule — six games against the Vikings, Packers, Patriots and Rams for starters — and this is a first-year head coach in Matt Nagy who also is calling plays and learning how to manage games for the first time at the same time. There will be hiccups. I worry about Trubisky a little, and I don’t know there’s a stretch on the slate where you say they can surely win four or five straight. But the arrow is certainly pointing way up, and you can even entertain the idea of a Super Bowl run down the road. It’s just a bit off in the horizon, I think.

AA: 9-7 (third place in NFC North)

The 2017 Lions finished 9-7, good for second in a division without Aaron Rodgers for more than half of the season. Rodgers is back, and I can’t predict his Packers falling behind Mitch Trubisky’s Bears before I see the second-year quarterback take a big step forward. Still, the Bears not only will surpass Detroit, they’ll eclipse John Fox’s win total in the past two seasons combined. Playoffs? Maybe, but I doubt it in the stacked NFC. Progress? Marked. To the point of making them a sexy Super Bowl contender pick entering 2019.

BL: 8-8 (third place in the NFC North)

If anything, the Vikings should be better with the upgrade at QB — Kirk Cousins for Case Keenum. A healthy Aaron Rodgers makes the Packers playoff contenders every year, but they have questions on the O-line and in the secondary. The Bears seemed a year away from respectability before the Khalil Mack trade boosted them into playoff discussions, and they may be able to escape the NFC North cellar. If they do, it will come at the expense of the Lions, who can’t continue to rely solely on QB Matthew Stafford’s heroics.

HA: 9-7 (third place in the NFC North)

I had the Bears at 7-9 or 8-8 prior to the Mack trade, so now I’m going to say 8-8 or 9-7. As much as Mack improves the defense, football is the ultimate team sport, and one guy almost never wins a football game by himself. Maybe Mack gets them 1 or 2 more wins. To me, the Vikings are the cream of the NFC — not just the North. I’ve got the Packers second, although I do think the they have a lot more questions than people are asking: lack of talent on the interior of the offensive line, no sure things at wideout after Davante Adams and a bunch of talent in their young secondary but very little production or certainty on how good any of them are going to be. I do have the Bears third, escaping the cellar for the first time since 2013, and the Lions taking their place, possibly via a tiebreaker but still last.

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