Training camp practices begin on Thursday for the Chicago Bears, so now’s the time to round up your boldest predictions and get them on the record. But if you can’t come up with anything good, fear not, because that’s exactly what Elliot Harrison of the NFL Network did for every team in the NFL.
You can check out his outside-the-box projections for AFC teams here, and his brave forecasting for NFC teams here. Although all bold predictions are inherently brow raising … the one about a certain Bears’ running back rushing for more yards than Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott really caught my eye.
To be fair (to Jordan Howard and his fans’ expectations, that is), this prediction is rather bold. Not the boldest, but it’s up there. The Cowboys showed a commitment to the run in Elliott’s rookie season, putting the ball in his hand a league-high 322 times. He made the most of those carries, rushing for a league-best 1,631 yards while averaging 108.7 yards per game. To topple Elliott and claim the rushing crown, Howard will have quite the task – but it’s not necessarily impossible.
Of course, it would help if offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains showed an increased dedication to running the ball with Howard, who averaged more yards per carry than Elliott and still ran for 1,313 yards despite receiving 70 fewer carries. As Harrison points out, Chicago’s offseason transactions are basically begging the team to run the ball more often in 2017.
Of the Bears 967 offensive plays last season, just 39.2% were of the running variety *DESPITE* the team using three different starting quarterbacks (that’s a whole lot of passing). As a point of comparison, the Cowboys ran the ball on 49.4 percent of their offensive plays. Not only is that a commitment to the running game, it’s also a show of true devotion to running the kind of balanced and productive offensive attack the Bears haven’t had in quite some time. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to think quarterback Mike Glennon would love to turn around and hand the ball off to a Pro Bowl back at a near 50 percent rate.
Howard enters the year as the unquestioned starting running back after a Pro Bowl rookie season, making it likely he’ll get more than 12 carries in his first three games. Further, the combination of job security and last year’s production should lead Howard to believing he can he can earn the rushing title he seeks in his second season as a pro.
And for what it’s worth, Howard out-gaining Elliott on the ground isn’t even the boldest prediction Harrison makes for the NFC North. Harrison sees the Detroit Lions unseating the Green Bay Packers and winning the NFC North behind the strength of the free agent additions of T.J. Lang and Ricky Wagner to bolster the offensive line. Detroit, which was one win away from winning the division in 2016, hasn’t posted consecutive winning seasons since doing it in three seasons from 1993 to 1995.
Harrison has several notable predictions for several opponents the Bears will play in 2017. Could you see Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones dethroning teammate Matt Ryan as NFL MVP? How would you react if Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees saw dips in their production this season? What if quarterback Jameis Winston leads the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2007? Those are all bold, yet plausible predictions. Though, I wouldn’t bet against Rodgers or Brees taking a tumble.