Chicago Bears (9-7)
The Bears took early control of the NFC North but missed a chance to create a deep cushion after giving up leads against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta. And yet even with those missed opportunities and a 1-3 stretch in late November, the Bears could have earned a wild-card berth had they won their season finale at Houston. That failure should jump-start a number of self-scouting exercises, especially to figure out why their defense slipped in nearly every area two years after leading the team to the Super Bowl. Grade: B-
Biggest surprise: There was a general consensus that Matt Forte could be a 1,000-yard back in the NFL. But Forte not only rushed for 1,238 yards, but he also led the team with 63 receptions. Those weren’t all dump passes into the flat, either. Forte showed a natural ability to position his body for red zone receptions and was by far the most important player on the Bears’ offense this season.
Biggest disappointment: The Bears finished the season ranked No. 30 against the pass, failing to mount much of a pass rush from its defensive line and displaying little coverage savvy in the back end. Cornerback Nate Vasher was a complete non-factor and might not return next season, while multiple other players alluded to frustration with defensive coordinator Bob Babich’s schemes. The Bears blitzed more than any team in the NFL, according to STATS, an approach that too often left the secondary exposed for big plays.
Biggest need: Fantasy players need the Bears to upgrade their receiver position, which boasts no one who should be considered a No. 1 or No. 2 receiver. But until they get their defense rectified, it’s not going to matter how many offensive weapons they add. The Bears should look for defensive game changers — no matter what position they play — this offseason. No position, other than that of Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, should be considered untouchable.
Second-guessing: Was Devin Hester‘s performance as a receiver — 51 receptions, 665 yards and three touchdown — worth reducing his threat as a returner? There was no way Hester would have kept up the scoring pace of his first two seasons (11 touchdowns). But he never came close to returning a kickoff or punt for a touchdown this season. There has to be some connection. Right?