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LAKE FOREST — Well, here we go. It’s officially Week 1. Exciting things are happening. New stadium footprints. New grass at Soldier Field. And soon: a new president and CEO of the Chicago Bears.
That’s great, but the Bears still need to block Nick Bosa on Sunday. Let’s dive into this week’s Bears Things:
The Lead: New stadium still on track
When it comes to a possible new stadium, I’ll give the organization credit until the credit isn’t warranted. And to this point, they’ve done everything right.
Arlington Park was (and continues to be) the best land available to build what an NFL team worth over $5 billion needs: “A multi-purpose entertainment district anchored by a new, best-in-class enclosed stadium, providing Chicagoland with a new home worthy of hosting global events such as the Super Bowl, College Football Playoffs, and Final Four.”
Those words came straight from the Bears’ open letter that was released to the public Tuesday. We’re still very early in the process — the team hasn’t even closed on the land yet — but two words in that open letter were especially significant: “enclosed stadium.”
The Bears finally get it. They’re going as big as they can. Perhaps they’ll have to scale back at some point (funding is a major question, after all), but this is a very promising start.
Predictably, the idea of an enclosed stadium was met with some criticism from fans who still picture the Bears winning games in fog and snow 30+ years ago. My guess is very few of those fans actually still sit in the cold at Soldier Field in December and January. The reality is that “Bear weather” is mostly a myth. In my now 12 years of covering this team, I can think of exactly two games where the weather actually helped them win: 2013 against the Cowboys and 2018 against the Rams.
If you haven’t noticed, the game has changed a bit since the Fog Bowl. Offenses are built on speed and precision. You might think a slower track helps to slow down opponents, but the reality is it also slows down the Bears’ own pass rush. Just last month, Aaron Rodgers said on “Pardon My Take” that he loves playing at Soldier Field in the cold because the turf conditions slow down the pass rush.
And speaking of the Packers, they’re just 8-7 in the playoffs at Lambeau Field since 2003, so how’s all that cold weather working out up north?
We haven’t seen any stadium renderings yet, but I hope the Bears are smart enough to consider what the Vikings did with U.S. Bank Stadium. Half of the roof and an entire end of the stadium is made of glass, which lets a ton of natural light in. During day games, the stadium has an outside feel, yet you’re protected from the awful wind chills in December and January.
Oh, and it’s loud as hell inside that stadium, in case you’re interested in real home-field advantages.
A lot still needs to be figured out with the Bears’ new stadium and it will surely be complicated. But the initial plans are promising. Part of this organization’s problem is that they are too often stuck in the past. That’s what happens when you’ve fallen behind and haven’t won in a while. It’s refreshing to see the Bears looking into a brighter future with this (hopefully) “best-in-class” stadium.
Of course, there’s still plenty of time to screw it up.
Matchups that matter
Finally, real football will be played Sunday. Here are three matchups against the 49ers that matter:
Justin Fields vs Trey Lance — Technically, the quarterbacks don’t face each other, but deciding which team has the quarterback advantage is usually a good way of determining which team might win the football game. I watched every snap both of these quarterbacks took in the preseason, and while the sample size is still small, there’s no question Fields appears to be more advanced right now. I’m still very high on Lance’s potential, but he has barely played football in three years. There will be growing pains and the 49ers’ recent re-signing of Jimmy Garoppolo is an admission that they needed an insurance plan.
Bears offensive line vs 49ers defensive line — Hot take alert: This game could be decided on the line of scrimmage. In all seriousness, the 49ers appear to have a huge advantage up front with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead going against the Bears’ young offensive line. Even if Lucas Patrick can play, he hasn’t worked with Fields much since the summer. We’re about to find out a lot about offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and offensive line coach Chris Morgan as they try to scheme their way past this early disadvantage.
Matt Eberflus vs Kyle Shanahan — OK, it’s time to see how this H.I.T.S. principle translates to Sundays. There’s no question the 49ers have the overall talent advantage, but this is the NFL and crazy things happen — especially in Week 1. Shanahan has proven to be one of the better game-planners in the NFL, while Eberflus will be doing this for the first time Sunday. The Bears will likely have an element of surprise to use in the first half, but the 49ers will surely adjust. If it’s close in the fourth quarter, will the Bears’ emphasis on effort and takeaways win out?
NFL Prop Bets
I’ve settled on five value prop bets I like for the 2022 season. If you like them too and you’re not already hooked up with our great partners at PointsBet, you will not get a better deal than this one!
Steelers +310 to make playoffs — You’re never going to get better value on the Steelers making the playoffs. They’ve never had a sub .500 record under Mike Tomlin. With seven teams now making the playoffs from each conference, that likely means the Steelers will at least be in the playoff picture come Week 18, even in the AFC. They made it last year with a 9-7-1 record. Yes, Pittsburgh lost Ben Roethlisberger to retirement. So what? Did you watch Roethlisberger the last few years? For all of Mitchell Trubisky’s faults, he still made the playoffs in two of his four seasons in Chicago — yes, with the Bears! Now he’s with Mike Tomlin in Pittsburgh. This is one of the best values you’re going to find.
Chiefs +170 to win AFC West — You’re getting extra value here because the AFC West is loaded. But do you really think the Chiefs will give up the division crown? Fact: Mahomes has never lost an AFC West road game. That’s insane. Stick with the chalk here and cash in.
Seahawks +650 to have the worst record in NFL — Maybe I’m overreacting to the Bears’ preseason game in Seattle, but man, the Seahawks looked awful. Are they rebuilding or not? Why is Pete Carroll still there? They definitely don’t have a quarterback and their schedule is pretty hard this year. I love the value here.
Vikings +210 to win NFC North — There’s strong analytical evidence pointing to at least a small regression for the Packers. There’s also the very real absence of Davante Adams. The Vikings, meanwhile, should get a boost with Kevin O’Connell taking over an offense that has plenty of talent, while Ed Donatell should keep the defense going strong. I like Minnesota as a sleeper.
Bears +425 to make playoffs — I’m on record as saying there is a path to nine wins (easier schedule + better coaching + Justin Fields improvement). Even if that is the best-case scenario, 9-8 puts you in the playoff picture in the NFC, so +425 is worth taking a shot.
Final Word: New grass, finally
It shouldn’t have gotten to this point, but at least the Bears are trying to fix it. The Soldier Field turf conditions were beyond embarrassing during the preseason and something needed to be done.
Enter Tahoma 31. It’s a newer Bermuda grass that is grown in a way that allows it to hold up in colder climates and be played on immediately. Carolina Green Co. installed the new “GameOnGrass” this week and it should be a major upgrade, more comparable to what you’d see on beautiful football fields in Florida.
Skeptical that it will hold up when the weather turns cold? I am too, but the same grass is already used in Kansas City, Washington, Baltimore and Tennessee. It held up at Arrowhead Stadium all last season. Remember, Soldier Field has heating coils under the grass, so there are ways to fight the weather.
In the short-term, I have a feeling the field conditions will be the best they’ve been in a long time when the Bears play the 49ers Sunday.
I can’t wait. Football is officially back. Make sure you check out our coverage all week long on CHGO as we’ve made some great additions to our Bears team. Is it Sunday yet?
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