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Week 1 Preview: Chicago at Houston

The NFL is back!!! The Chicago Bears open the season on the road against the Houston Texans at 1 PM ET on FOX. The Texans are the defending South champions with a 9-7 record led by Bill O’ Brien and new QB Brock Osweiler. The Bears were 6-10 in the first year under John Fox. Let’s take a look at the matchups.

Bears Pass Offense against Texans Pass Defense

Jay Cutler had his best rated season in 2015 is the good news for Bears fans (92.3 rating). The bad news is former OC Adam Gase got a head coaching job with Miami, Matt Forte bolted to the Jets in free agency and Martellus Bennett was traded to New England. Cutler still has some weapons in Alshon Jeffrey (807 yards and 4 TDs in 8 games on 97 targets), 2015 1st round pick Kevin White and Zach Miller (439 yards and 5 TDS on 46 targets). Eddie Royal must improve drastically from a dreadful 2015 with Chicago. Chicago could have a nice day throwing the ball if Cutler is protected enough.

The Texans have a good secondary and allowed only an 82.8 QB rating (9th) in 2015 with 14 interceptions. Houston forced 25 turnovers in 2015 which was above average and Houston allowed the 8th best points per game in 2015. The Texans led by Romeo Crennel are tough to score against and can force turnovers.

JJ Watt (17.5 sacks) is injured (back surgery) but could play in the game. Watt practiced on Tuesday and Coach O’Brien was optimistic. If Watt doesn’t play, it would be a huge boost for the Bears offense. However, OLBs Whitney Mercilus (12 sacks) and Javeon Clowney (4.5 sacks but lots of talent) could provide some pass rush. Devon Still is switching from DT from the Bengals to 3-4 DE but could be solid. Vince Wilfork is a run stuffer but offers no pass rush at nose tackle. Chicago’s offensive line will have a challenge.

Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph is a nice veteran duo at CB. Andre Hal (4 interceptions) and veteran Quentin Demps are solid safeties as well. Kevin Johnson is a 1st round pick from 2015 that will play the nickel spot. This secondary can handle the Bears weapons, especially if Cutler doesn’t have time to pass.

Protection

The Bears have issues at tackle with Charles Leno and free agent addition Bobby Massie. They will have their hands full with Watt at DE and the Texans OLBs. The Bears interior is much improved at guard with Kyle Long back at right guard and new addition Josh Sitton at left guard. The Bears may have the top guard combo in the league. Surely, the new guards will help out with Watt and handle any blitzes. Ted Larsen is a problem at center though after Hronnis Grasu was lost for the season. Cody Whitehair (2nd round pick rookie) will be a backup now with the Sitton arrival.

Cutler was pressured 38% of his snaps last season and more in previous years. We’ll see if Long back to RG, Larsen, Massie and Sitton can fix that issue. Cutler is used to pressure and has some mobility to avoid it and make plays. However, Watt and Mercilus may be too much if the tackles have a bad day for Chicago.

Bears Run Game

The Bears are very unproven in the run game with Jeremy Langford (3.5 YPC) as the top back. Ka’Deem Carey and rookie Jordan Howard is unproven depth as well. The Bears interior can run block but their tackles may have some issues. Houston was average in 2015 allowing 4.1 YPC which could help Chicago establish the run game on Sunday.

Texans Passing Attack

Brock Osweiler is the new Texans franchise QB. Osweiler had an 86.4 rating for the Broncos in 7 games. Bill O’Brien is a QB guru and hopes to get early success with Osweiler. Brian Hoyer had a 91 rating with the Texans last year and is now the Bears backup. Hoyer may have some insight into the Texans offense.

The Texans have a major weapon in DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins notched 1,521 yards and 11 TDs and will be a matchup nightmare for Kyle Fuller (if he plays). Fuller has been hurt (knee) and if he misses the game the Bears could be in big trouble facing Hopkins with Tracy Porter as their top corner.

Will Fuller was the Texans first round pick and should provide a deep threat for Houston. Jaelen Strong had a strong pre-season and Braxton Miller is a rookie 3rd round pick. Osweiler should have enough to exploit the Bears secondary. Tracy Porter, Bryce Callahan, rookie Diondre Hall, rookie Deon Bush, Adrian Amos and Harold Jones Quartey will need a good game to stop the Texans passing attack.

Bears Pass Rush

The Bears pass rush took a hit with stud OLB Pernell McPhee on PUP. McPhee will miss the first 6 games. Chicago will rely on Lamar Houston, Willie Young and rookie 1st round pick Leonard Floyd as their new pass rush. Akiem Hicks and Jonathan Bullard could offer some pass rush at defensive end. Eddie Goldman can get some push at nose tackle as well.

Duane Brown is a very good left tackle that should handle his matchup. It will be up to Chicago to exploit the Texans interior and Derek Newton. Trevathan and Freeman are nice blitzers from the ILB spots too. Osweiler isn’t that mobile and if Chicago brings pressure that could slow down Hopkins, Strong and Fuller.

The Bears only forced 17 turnovers in 2015 and that must be improved upon by Chicago in 2016.

Texans Run Game

The Texans added a very good running back in Lamar Miller in free agency. Miller had 4.5 YPC and 8 TDs in 2015 after a stronger 2014 season. Miller may be the back the Texans needed since Foster has been hurt and is now a Miami Dolphin. The Texans added Jeff Allen (7 per) to play right guard but lost Nick Martin to IR (2nd round pick at center). Duane Brown is a good left tackle and Derek Newton can run block at right tackle. The Bears could have some success but had a poor run game in 2015.

The Bears made major additions with Jerrell Freeman (ILB), Danny Trevathan (ILB), Akiem Hicks (DE) and rookie Jonathan Bullard (DE) to improve the run defense. Chicago has a chance to stop Miller but if they don’t it could be a long day for Chicago.

Prediction

The Texans are tough at home and will want to showcase their new franchise QB. The injuries to JJ Watt and Kyle Fuller are crucial to this game. The Bears could score points if Watt misses the game. Hopkins can torch Chicago without Fuller or even with Fuller.

The Texans will be pumped up at home and have a strong defense. Lamar Miller has a nice day to help Osweiler and the Texans win 24-17. The Bears are competitive with their upgraded front 7 but still fall short.