What exactly should we expect from the Bears in the 2021 season?

A look at seven key questions facing the Bears as they approach their 2021 opener at the Rams.

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Andy Dalton turns 34 next month.

Andy Dalton turns 34 next month.

Wade Payne/AP

The Bears will begin Week 1 preparations Monday for what looks like the hardest game on their schedule: A prime-time visit to the Rams, who have the NFL’s reigning No. 1 defense and an upgrade at quarterback in Matt Stafford.

As they approach the season, here are seven key questions:

I expect Andy Dalton to …
Exit quickly. Dalton has been a league-average starting quarterback for most of his time in the NFL and turns 34 next month. He would have to play the best football of his career to hold off Justin Fields. While Fields will almost certainly make some rookie mistakes, he’s only going to get better.

When will Justin Fields play his first snap?
The Week 4 home game against the Lions. It’s the perfect time and perfect opponent for the Bears to get him started. The Lions allowed a league-worst 112.4 opponent passer rating last season and have plunged fully into a rebuild. It’s as close to a guaranteed win as the Bears have on their schedule this season. They’ve scored 26.3 points per game against the Lions under Matt Nagy, compared to 21.8 against the rest of the league.

Do you trust Matt Nagy?
No. He has earned the skepticism that has swirled since 2018, when he rode an exceptional defense to the division title. He’s allergic to running the ball, he took back play-calling after offensive coordinator Bill Lazor seemed to smooth things out at least a little last season and there’s no proof that he’s a quarterback whisperer. Are we really crediting Patrick Mahomes’ success to the one season that Nagy was his offensive coordinator?

The Bears’ roster is still missing …
A second pass rusher to complement Khalil Mack. In Mack’s three seasons with the Bears, Leonard Floyd and Robert Quinn combined for nine sacks in 2,240 snaps. Mack has still been very good, but the way to maximize him is to pair him with an effective partner.

Which injured player will they miss the most?
Rookie offensive tackle Teven Jenkins. It’s a dicey plan to go into a season depending on a draft pick to fill such a vital position like left tackle, but it got even shakier for the Bears when Jenkins needed back surgery. Jenkins could’ve bolstered the Bears at left or right tackle.

Which defensive player is under the most pressure?
Safety Eddie Jackson. Coming off his All-Pro season in 2018, people were calling Jackson the next Ed Reed — with good reason. He had six interceptions, 15 pass breakups, a fumble recovery and three touchdowns. Since then, he has had only two picks and two fumble recoveries. The Bears need more impact from someone on a four-year, $58.4 million contract.

I feel better/worse about the Bears than I did Day 1 of camp.
Slightly worse. Everything about their offseason screams mediocrity, and Nagy has barely budged off his insistence on keeping Fields on the bench. If they turn to him early, that would change the outlook on this season. Otherwise, they’ve got an offense aspiring for mere adequacy and a defense trying to fight off decline.

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