NFC North preview: Why the Chicago Bears are better than the Detroit Lions

Detroit Free Press

Free Press sports writer Carlos Monarrez breaks down the Chicago Bears, one of the Detroit Lions’ NFC North opponents, and their outlook  for the 2021 NFL season.

Chicago Bears

Predicted record: 8-9.

When they play the Lions: Oct. 3 (Week 4) in Chicago and Nov. 25 (Week 12) in Detroit.

Why they’re better than the Lions

With the quarterback situation still up in the air since, oh, roughly the Sid Luckman era of the 1940s, the Bears will be banking on linebackers Khalil Mack and Roquan Smith and defensive tackle Akiem Hicks to keep the team in games.

The defense took a bit of a step back last year and just slipped out of the top 10 in yards (11th) and points (14th) — and that was with two-time Pro Bowl cornerback Kyle Fuller, who was released in March. Mitchell Trubisky is gone, but other than his effectiveness against the Lions and the Minnesota Vikings, this is an addition by subtraction.

Why they’re not

Surprise, surprise. Once again, the Bears are unsettled on the quarterback who can get their offense going. Andy Dalton, who signed a one-year deal in March, will start over Justin Fields, the 11th overall draft pick the Bears traded up to select (Chicago sent the New York Giants three picks, including a 2022 first-rounder).

Despite Fields impressing everyone as a dual-threat while playing very well in the preseason — he led the team in rushing — general manager Ryan Pace said the organization wouldn’t deviate from a plan for Fields to sit and learn.

Swirling controversy

Bears fans are looking for any excuse — jaywalking, littering — to fire Pace and coach Matt Nagy. From the outside, that seems strange when you consider the Bears made the playoffs last year and two of the past three years under this regime. But the general vibe in the Windy City is that Nagy and Pace have underachieved with only one winning record in three seasons.

They’ve also made questionable decisions like going with Dalton over Fields and trading three picks the San Francisco 49ers to move up one spot and draft Trubisky, while passing on Patrick Mahomes.

Biggest asset

Mack has been the clear and obvious answer for a few years. He’s coming off another excellent Pro Bowl season with nine sacks, 11 tackles for loss, 13 quarterback hits, an interception and a two fumble recoveries.

But the Bears also have a pretty good receiving corps led by Allen Robinson (1,250 yards, six touchdowns) and Darnell Mooney (631 yards, four TDs), plus an solid weapon in running back David Montgomery, who had 1,508 yards from scrimmage with 10 touchdowns.

Biggest need

In the NFL, you need elite tackles if you want your offense to be more than just OK. Whether it’s Dalton or Fields taking the snaps, they’re going to need protection on the edge, where the Bears are sorely lacking.

They have big concerns at both tackle positions. Left tackle Teven Jenkins, a second-round pick from Oklahoma State, could be lost for the season after having back surgery in August. For now, it looks like the Bears will go with 39-year-old Jason Peters at left tackle and right tackle Germain Ifedi, who came off the PUP list with a hip-flexor injury late in training camp. Both looked rusty during their preseason debuts in Game 3 against the Tennessee Titans.

Contact Carlos Monarrez at and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.

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