As of mid November the Chicago Bears were sitting at 7-3 and coming off of a convincing win over the San Diego Chargers. Following that game it was discovered that Jay Cutler had broken his right thumb and would miss significant time. Two weeks later Matt Forte would injure his knee against the Kansas City Chiefs and the wheels were officially off the Bears 2011 season. They would go on to finish the season 8-8 after dropping 5 of their 6 final games. Ask any Bears fan and they will tell you it was not pretty to watch. Ask any fantasy owner who had Bears on their team last season and they will concur with the Bears fan. Once Forte went down the Bears had only one viable fantasy option, and up until that point one could argue they had only two. Those two would have been Matt Forte and the Bears defensive/special teams unit. Despite playing in the pass happy offense of "the mad scientist" Mike Martz, Jay Cutler was not having what would have been deemed even a decent fantasy season. Before his injury Cutler was a middle of the pack fantasy performer with 14 total TDs and 10 total turnovers. Cutler was definitely not someone who would be considered worth starting regularly on a fantasy team. So, exit Mike Martz to retirement (he must have finally realized that Lovie Smith was not going to get fired) and enter Mike Tice as the new Bears offensive co coordinator. You read that correctly, pencil chomping Mike Tice will now be guiding the Chicago offense. With that in mind let's take a look at what lies ahead for the Bears in the world of fantasy.
It is hard to determine what sort of offensive scheme the Bears will roll out next season as Mike Tice has no former experience as an offensive co coordinator for us to draw conclusions from. Just knowing that it is no longer the quarterback killing system that Martz had been implementing is very good news for Jay Cutler. In the two seasons that Martz was in charge of the Bears offense Cutler was sacked 75 times. It's safe to assume that Cutler was smiling like the butchers dog at the news of 'Mad Mikes' retirement. Whatever offense that Tice decides to run in Chicago you can bet that it will protect the quarterback better than its predecessor did. Lovie smith needs to win, and win now to keep his job so look for Cutler to get the chance to use that cannon arm quite a bit in 2012. Now that he will be out from under the no audible regime of Martz, Cutler should be able to once again flourish. Between 23 and 28 total touchdowns are possible for Cutler next season as long as the Bears commit to getting him some help on offense. Believe me, there is more to come on that topic. Caleb Hanie punched his ticket out of Chicago by failing to win a game (0-4) in Cutlers absence. The 2010 NFC conference game hero came crashing back to reality, tossing 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions in his four games. Thanks for the memories Caleb and don't let the door hit you on the way out. Look for the Bears to work out a deal to keep Josh McCown on board as the number two quarterback next season while Nathan Enderle continues to develope.
For Jay Cutler to possibly reach the touchdown totals mentioned earlier in this article the Bears must address what is by far their most pressing concern. The wide receiver position in Chicago is a disaster both in reality and fantasy. A complete and utter overhaul is needed as there is not a single fantasy option at the wide receiver position in Chicago. Prior to Cutlers injury Devin Hester led the Bears wide receivers in targets with 49 and converted a measly 22 into receptions with a single touchdown. The lack of a true number one receiver has plagued the Bears for the entire time Cutler has been under center. Earl Bennet may have gone to Vanderbilt with Cutler, but he is too inconsistent and injury prone to trust. Roy Williams took his underachieving tour to Chicago for a season and there will be no encore. There is no way the Bears bring back Williams. Rookie Dane Sanzenbacher was leading the team in touchdown receptions with 3 when Cutler was lost for what would be the season. This kid shows the most potential as a possession receiver out of the slot and could be a possible PPR sleeper to keep an eye on. Johnny Knox has flashed potential the last few seasons and was averaging over 19 yards a catch last season. However, the back injury he suffered at the end of 2011 puts his playing future in doubt. Reports are that he may be able to return but it is not a given. Kellen Davis had his best year in 2011 and actually led the Bears in touchdown receptions with 5. The tight end position had always been a forgotten one in a Martz offense so this was no small feat for the converted defensive end. Davis should be resigned by Chicago and look for an uptick in his production moving forward. Matt Spaeth and Sam "I may be going to jail for a long time" Hurd are useless fantasy wise.
The list of free agent wide receivers this year is stacked with big names and big time talent. Wes Welker, Desean Jackson, Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston and Stevie Johnson are all free agents. Look for New England and Philadelphia to franchise Welker and Desean but that does not diminish the talent pool by too much. The Bears must actively pursue one or more of these wide receivers in an attempt to bolster their passing game. The Bears need to steer clear of signing a Randy Moss, Brandon Lloyd or Robert Meachem level talent. These players are hit or miss types and Chicago cannot afford a miss. Drafting at #19 in April will offer the Bears a chance to get Michael Floyd from Notre Dame or perhaps Kendall Wright out of Baylor. Getting a talented young receiver in house to develope behind whichever big name free agent they bring in is a must. If Chicago does not pick up at least one of the previously mentioned names then it will be a fantasy wasteland for wide receivers yet again.
Once the Bears either resign or franchise tag Matt Forte the running game will be fantasy relevant for 2012 immediately. Forte may see a dip in his receptions total now that Martz is gone but he is still a top 10 fantasy running back. Under Mike Tice, the Minnesota Vikings always ran the ball effectively and I think the Bears will become a much better run blocking team as well. Kahlil Bell stepped in for the injured Forte and was very impressive. Bell averaged over 4 yards a carry and showed nice hands out of the backfield. He is a restricted free agent and the Bears will look to lock him up with a decent tender. Marion Barber looks to be going the way of Caleb Hanie and Roy Williams. Marion ran admirably last season but the Denver game debacle and emergence of Bell make him expendable. The best chance to get fantasy production out of the Chicago Bears will once again lie in the running game.
Defense and special teams are always strength for the Bears and will continue to be so in 2012. Devin Hester as a wide receiver is still a work in progress. Devin Hester in the return game is the best special team weapon in fantasy football. The Bears took 6 turnovers back for touchdowns last season (4 interceptions and two fumble recoveries) to go with 3 Hester returns for touchdowns and 33 sacks. Once again the Bears will finish in the top 5 scoring D/STs in 2012.
Unfortunately, the fantasy future of the Bears looks a lot like the recent past. There are precious few options on the current roster worth having on fantasy draft boards. Unless they make radical changes to the receiving corps they will struggle to produce any fantasy worthy players other than Matt Forte and their defense/special teams unit.