Juggernaut Index, No. 2: The Chicago Bears

Juggernaut Index, No. 2: The Chicago Bears

Marc Trestman's first season as Chicago's head coach brought spectacular offensive success and historic failure on defense — not exactly the traditional Bears formula. Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised that such a flawed and imbalanced group ultimately finished with an 8-8 record, narrowly missing the postseason.

For fantasy purposes, this team was an absolute gift in 2013. Not only did Chicago rank second in the NFL in scoring (27.8 PPG) and third in yards per play (6.0), but an insane percentage of the stats belonged to just four players. Together, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Brandon Marshall and Martellus Bennett combined for 5,513 scrimmage yards. All other Bears, collectively, produced just 765. So this offense was at once easy to predict and impossible to stop — a perfect fantasy combo, really.

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When all the numbers were in, Chicago had produced the No. 3 fantasy running back, the No. 6 and No. 9 receivers, plus the No. 10 tight end. And if the passing stats produced by Jay Cutler and Josh McCown had been delivered by a single player, that guy would have ranked as the No. 3 fantasy QB.

When the offseason hit, plenty of Chicago fans actually wanted the team to retain the 35-year-old McCown, allowing Cutler to walk. But that didn't happen, because the Bears aren't managed by meatheads.

Smilin' Jay Cutler, potential top-5 QB at a dirt-cheap price. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The franchise instead made a sensible decision, signing one of the NFL's most physically gifted quarterbacks to lead its offense for the foreseeable future. No disrespect intended to McCown — he was terrific last year, feasting mostly on weak defenses (MIN, DAL). But Chicago has finally assembled a supporting cast for Cutler that A) isn't terrible, and B) perfectly suits his game. He's a see-it/throw-it passer with a huge arm, yet for years he was asked to make anticipation throws to a group of kick-returners masquerading as receivers. And during the Mike Martz era, his protection was horrid.

These days, Chicago has continuity on offense, with all 11 starters returning. The O-line is respectable, the receivers are elite and gigantic, and the ground game is dangerous. Cutler enters his second season in a system he clearly enjoys, playing for a head coach he clearly respects. And still many of you won't touch him, because you're stuck in 2009. Fine.

If you're not a fan of Cutler's hungover/no-sleep sideline demeanor, OK. If you want to pretend that he should have passed for 5,000 yards back when Johnny Knox and Devin Hester were his top targets ... well, whatever. You'll probably never embrace the guy. He's not for everyone, I suppose. Just understand that Cutler's setup is remarkably fantasy-friendly — upper-tier receivers, inventive coach, terrible defense — and his talent has never been questioned. He's missed games due to injury in recent seasons, true, but it's not as if he has any sort of chronic, recurring issue. With a Yahoo ADP of 93.1 (QB12), Cutler is a ridiculous bargain. I'll take the discount all day. If Jay gives us 15 games, he's a lock for a top-8 finish at his position.

If NFL officials continue calling illegal contact and defensive holding as they have in the preseason, then Marshall and Jeffery are going to be completely uncoverable — like, it will literally not be legal to defend them. Chicago's starting wideouts are two of the most physical receivers in the league. Marshall in particular is a master of creating contact, then separating from corners. He's a 6-foot-4 box-out specialist, a deadly red-zone weapon, and one of the best run-blockers at his position. He's had four 100-catch seasons with Cutler as his quarterback (five total), in two different NFL cities. In each of the past seven years, Marshall has topped 1,000 receiving yards. And he hasn't missed a game over the last three years. There are no obvious weaknesses here, is what I'm saying. Marshall should basically never fall outside the top-16 overall picks.

Jeffery's breakout season was one of the most impressive in recent memory, by any receiver. First of all, his numbers were exceptional: 89 receptions, 1,421 receiving yards, seven TDs, 105 rushing yards. Secondly, his highlights were absurd, bordering on impossible. If you need a refresher, check out this reel. Alshon was simply unfair. He has excellent size (6-foot-3), enormous hands, unusual wingspan, and great body control. His ability to high-point the football in coverage is almost unrivaled. Jeffery should be selected in fantasy drafts not long after Marshall, in the mid-to-late second round. It wouldn't be much of a surprise if he ultimately finished ahead of B-marsh in year-end fantasy scoring; if Jeffery sees similar usage in 2014, he'll catch more than seven touchdown passes.

Alshon Jeffery hauling in a 46-yard TD. Just another impossible catch for No. 17. (AP Photo/Ann Heisenfelt)

If you're worried that Cutler only has eyes for Marshall, and thus won't target Jeffery aggressively ... well, don't stress. The first time Alshon broke the Bears' single-game receiving yardage record last season — he topped it twice, believe it or not — Cutler was at the controls of the offense. Jeffery caught 10 balls for 218 yards on 13 targets against New Orleans in Week 5. The game before, Alshon caught five passes for 107 yards on 11 targets versus the Lions. He and Cutler are cool. No worries there.

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Martellus Bennett is the only other member of Chicago's receiving corps that you'll need to consider in fantasy leagues of standard size. Bennett reached the 70-yard plateau four times last season, all of them with Cutler. He's a trusted chain-mover in this offense and another reliable red-zone weapon. Like every other starting pass-catcher for the Bears, Bennett is an uncommonly large human (6-foot-6, 248). When Marquess Wilson returns from his broken collarbone, Chicago will be able to deploy a four-pack of receivers who go 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-6. Good luck defending that, opposing DBs.

In case you're thinking about kicking the tires on Wilson, or on recently signed vet Santonio Holmes, I'll refer you back to the second paragraph above. All of the yards and touchdowns on this team were dominated by four players last season; Forte, Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett left very few scraps for other skill players.

Forte ranked second in the NFL in rushing last season (1339), third in carries (289), third in scrimmage yards (1933), and eighth in touchdowns (12). He also saw the second-most targets among all running backs (94), hauling in 74 passes for 594 yards. No matter your scoring format, Forte was a monster. He should basically never fall outside the first half of the first round in fantasy drafts; if you decide to take him top-three in PPR leagues, you won't get an argument from me. Also worth mentioning: Six of Forte's nine rushing TDs came from inside the 5-yard line last year, so Trestman didn't share the previous regime's bias against using him to break the plane. Simply put, he's an all-weather, every-down back tied to an explosive offense. Without question, Forte is a quality centerpiece for any roster, in reality or fantasy.

If you're the handcuffing type, um ... don't wast your time here. Rookie Ka'Deem Carey has been slow and ineffective throughout the preseason, rarely if ever making a notable play. He couldn't surge past Shaun Draughn on the backfield depth chart, which isn't a good sign.

(Roster depth, in fact, is the obvious weakness with this team's offense. The whole thing has a house-of-cards-feel. McCown is gone, replaced by Jimmy Clausen. Forte, Jeffery, Marshall and Bennett are not backed up by players of note. If anyone here suffers an injury, all bets are off.)

The Bears defense was a sieve last year, due to a combination of injuries and ineptitude. Chicago allowed a franchise-record 2,583 rushing yards last season, a silly number, plus the team gave up 478 total points (also a record). Whenever one of your fantasy assets faced the Bears, you started him. Period. No need for hand-wringing or debate. While the personnel has certainly improved this season, particularly on the D-line (Lamarr Houston, Jared Allen, et al), this team's linebackers and safeties aren't anything special. There's no reason to think the Bears won't again rank among the league's worst teams at defending the run. I can't recommend this unit to fantasy owners, not even in the opening week matchup against EJ Manuel and the Bills.

Postscript...

Before you guys accuse me of shameless homerism here, let's review the Bears annual placement in this fantasy index in all prior seasons: 19th in 2013, 9th in 2012, 19th in 2011, 20th in 2010, 13th in 2009, 32nd in 2008. I have not been a ray of sunshine over the years regarding this team's fantasy potential. To me, the 2014 edition of the Chicago Bears look like a fun-but-imperfect group, probably headed for a 9-7 season. I'll get no premature Super Bowl XLIX tattoos. All I'm willing to guarantee from this team are yards and points — that's it.

2013 team stats: 27.8 PPG (NFL rank 2), 278.1 pass YPG (7), 32 pass TDs (5), 114.3 rush YPG (16), 25.3 rush attempts per game (24), 36.2 pass attempts per game (16)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona, 17. Minnesota, 16. Pittsburgh, 15. San Diego, 14. San Francisco, 13. Atlanta, 12. Cincinnati, 11. Washington, 10. New England, 9. Indianapolis, 8. New Orleans, 7. Seattle, 6. Philadelphia, 5. Dallas, 4. Detroit, 3. Green Bay

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