When the Chicago Bears host the Buccaneers in Week 4, QB Jameis Winston will be making his 2018 regular-season debut following a three-game personal-conduct violation, which was confirmed Thursday.
Winston, who was suspended for a 2016 incident in which he groped an Uber driver, could be returning to an 0-3 Bucs squad after Ryan Fitzpatrick holds down the fort to begin the season against three Super Bowl contenders — at New Orleans, vs. the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles and vs. the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Bears, under new coach Matt Nagy, open the season with a primetime pairing — at Green Bay and vs. Seattle — prior to visiting the Cardinals in Week 3. But Chicago also likely returns almost entirely intact its No. 9 scoring defense, a group Winston completed 18-of-30 passes for 204 yards and a score against last year in Week 1, a 29-7 Bucs victory in Tampa.
Winston has a record of 2-1 and TD-INT ratio of 5:2 with a passer rating of 98.6 vs. Vic Fangio-led Bears defenses. But those numbers are somewhat skewed by blowouts the past two seasons, when Mike Glennon and Jay Cutler embodied the usually mistake-prone Winston with a combined six giveaways and Chicago was outscored 65-17.
But this could be the best Bears unit Fangio has fielded, as Nagy's decision to retain most of Chicago's defensive staff, and the Bears' selection of top pick Roquan Smith at No. 8 overall has led to much optimism on Chicago's lesser-discussed side of the ball this offseason. Rest assured, many of those holdover Bears defenders will remember the way their quarterbacks gave Chicago's 'D' virtually no shot and will be anxious to return the favor.
Meantime, Winston has a new center, Ryan Jensen, lead tailback, Ronald Jones III, and two young pass catchers with whom his rapport remains a work in progress in Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard. That's not insignificant, particularly for a quarterback with 49 combined fumbles and interceptions in his past 32 games. Moreover, this is very much a make-or-break season for Winston and embattled coach Dirk Koetter, and Winston's tendency to press and make mind-numbing decisions could be compounded if the Bucs start the season slow in his absence.
So, though it might be a stretch to say the Bears are catching a big break with Winston's suspension — that would be hosting backup Ryan Fitzpatrick — the contrast between Chicago's continuity and Tampa Bay's flux, and the recent history of these two clubs, will be something for Bears fans to keep in mind come Sept. 30 at Soldier Field.