It might require a miracle for the Bears to become a playoff team this season, and that’s where rookie quarterback Justin Fields enters the picture.
Fields packs the potential to make something out of nothing. He can improvise, scramble and turn into a big-play threat on the run. The dynamic Ohio State product is what immobile veteran Andy Dalton is not. So for a team with a fragile offensive line, Fields appears to be Chicago’s best hope to hurdle a low bar set by oddsmakers.
Bears coach Matt Nagy’s plan to start the season with Dalton is already being second-guessed one game into the preseason. It’s no surprise Chicago fans and many in the media are clamoring for the young gun and ready to ditch the “Red Rifle” before the old-timer even gets a chance to fire a shot.
“Fields’ arm was alive,” said VSiN analyst Michael Lombardi, a former NFL general manager. “He’s very athletic, and he can get away from trouble. I thought it was a good first outing, but I don’t think it was great. You watch Dalton play, and what are you getting?
“The Bears are hurting on their offensive line. Dalton is going to be a sitting duck back there. I’m just not sold on the Nagy offense, and I’ve never been. There’s no power to it, and without a great offensive line he’s going to need Fields’ ability to move around and make some plays. Why would Andy Dalton get this job?”
Nagy promised Dalton the job, and Fields has a lot to learn, for starters. First impressions, especially for rookie quarterbacks in NFL preseason games, mean little in the big picture. Of the five first-round draft picks in April, only No. 1 overall pick Trevor Lawrence of the Jaguars and No. 2 pick Zach Wilson of the Jets entered August with expectations to start in Week 1 of the regular season.
Fields, the 11th overall pick, did gain some ground Saturday in his bid to start for the Bears, who rallied from a 13-0 deficit to defeat the Dolphins 20-13 in Chicago. Dalton opened the game with two three-and-outs before Fields got hot in the third quarter and produced an 8-yard touchdown run and a 30-yard touchdown pass. He finished 14-for-20 for 142 yards.
DraftKings posted Fields’ odds of taking the Bears’ first snap of the regular season at 7-2 (+ 350) going into the weekend and lowered the line to + 190 after his debut.
BetMGM lists Chicago’s season win total at 7.5, with the Under priced at -130. The Bears are 7-point road underdogs against the Rams and their Aaron Donald-led defense in Week 1.
“I can’t see the Bears winning eight games,” Lombardi said.
There are no QB controversies in New York this year. The Giants (7.5, Under -145) and Jets (6.5, Under -165) also have been tagged with low win totals, and neither team lit up the scoreboard Saturday in the Jets’ 12-7 win. Wilson, a gunslinger from Brigham Young, did look smooth while completing 6 of 9 passes for 63 yards against a Giants defense missing several starters.
“It’s a great first step for Wilson,” Lombardi said. “All of these guys have gotten off to good starts, but the game is going to change here in a couple weeks. It’s not going to be as easy. Anybody can look good in preseason, especially if there’s no (pass) rush. Let’s not evaluate these young guys until we get to the regular season.
“The Giants-Jets game was kind of ugly to watch.”
Ugly offenses and low scores were a theme throughout the first week of the preseason, when 14 of 17 games, including the Hall of Fame Game, stayed Under the total. Public bettors wisely anticipated the trend, resulting in a losing week for most sportsbooks.
“It was a very good week for the bettors,” MGM Resorts director of trading Jeff Stoneback said. “The wagering handle has been good and much more than I expected. Probably a lot to do with that is we have gotten beat up, and the games going Under has definitely hurt us. Early preseason is the only time the public likes to bet the Under, and it has worked out well.”
Favorites finished the week 10-7 straight up and 9-7-1 ATS, and there were at least two significant surprises. Tom Brady made only a cameo appearance for the Buccaneers, who were 6-point favorites in a 19-14 loss to the Bengals, and the Packers were 3-point favorites in a 26-7 loss to the Texans, projected to be the league’s worst team.
“Betting preseason is a risky proposition; it’s risky for the book and it’s risky for you,” Lombardi said. “It’s hard to predict these games. Who would have thought the Texans would come out and play as well as they did against the Packers?”
The 49ers and Jaguars also were upset victims. San Francisco was a 2.5-point favorite in a 19-16 loss to the Chiefs, and Jacksonville opened as a 4-point underdog but closed as a 4-point favorite in a 23-13 loss to the Browns.
Jacksonville’s flop resulted in the biggest win for the books. The curtain-raising game for Lawrence and new coach Urban Meyer was far from an offensive masterpiece. Lawrence, rarely a loser at Clemson, went 6-for-9 for 71 yards and took two sacks as the Jaguars fell behind 16-0 after three quarters.
“They have a long way to go in Jacksonville,” Lombardi said. “I thought Lawrence was good but did not think he was great. Lawrence is going to get better.”
Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick from North Dakota State, connected for an 80-yard touchdown pass and finished 5-for-14 in relief of 49ers veteran starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Aside from his big-play highlight, Lance was slow to read the defense and was sacked four times.
Former Alabama star Mac Jones, the 15th pick, helped the Patriots open with a 22-13 win over Washington. Jones is competing with veteran Cam Newton and, similar to Fields in Chicago, has an increased shot to start sometime in September.
“I don’t see Lance beating Jimmy G out,” Lombardi said. “Probably of all these quarterbacks drafted in the first round, Mac Jones played as well as anyone.”