2012 NFC North Preview: Chicago Bears
Projected 2012 Finish: 2nd NFC North
Projected 2012 Record: 11-5
2011 Record: 8-8
The Chicago Bears suffered key injuries last season that they couldn't overcome. Most importantly, losing QB Jay Cutler for the season in week 11. The ironic part of all this: Chicago's offensive line wasn't to blame for his loss. Cutler broke his thumb on a freak accident while trying to make a touchdown saving tackle against San Diego. Had this not happened, the Bears probably would have made the playoffs last year. Instead, they finished 8-8 and were left on the outside of the playoff picture.
This year, Cutler is back and the Bears have made sure he has a talented group of weapons around him to help get this team back to the postseason. The same question arises every year since they traded for Cutler: Can the offensive line keep him upright? They have a QB, RB and now a legitimate down-the-field threat in WR Brandon Marshall. If only they put as much thought into upgrading their offensive line, we wouldn't be asking this question year-in-and-year-out.
This will be Cutler's 4th year in Chicago. He's a very good QB waiting to break out and carry his team to a championship. The talent and potential are there, but the Bears and Cutler just haven't put it all together yet. If Cutler goes down, so do the Bears. That's what kind of QB he is. Now, Chicago has reunited him with WR Brandon Marshall. The last time they were together was 2008 in Denver. Cutler threw for over 4,500 yards and Marshall had 104 REC for over 1,200 yards and both made the Pro Bowl that year. Add a happy Matt Forte and that's one potentially electric offensive threat.
The big concern on offense is that offensive line. Gabe Carimi has to stay healthy and show that he is what Chicago thought when they spent a 1st round pick on him last year. A lot will also depend on J'Marcus Webb's maturation from his rookie year to his second. Both tackles are young and need to step into big roles to protect Cutler and solidify an already questionable line. The only reliable mainstay is 12 year veteran C Roberto Garza. It's a wonder Matt Forte put up the numbers he did last season with this unstable line in front of him. (In just 12 games in 2011 he had 4.9 YDs/carry, 53 receptions and 3 YDs shy of a 1,000 YDs rushing.)
Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman and Brian Urlacher. Each one older than the next. Rivals in the North division keep waiting for their production to drop as the years pass bye, yet to no avail. These guys keep doing it year-after-year and do it as well as anyone else in the league.
Perhaps the best 4-3 defense in the NFL, the defensive line and linebackers are second to none. More needs to come from the DTs and the secondary is susceptibleto big plays, especially with four games against the Megatron/Stafford connection and Rodgers slinging balls to nine different weapons.
Israel Idonije is one of the more underrated DE in the league and teams will already be focusing in on Peppers each game. The pass rush they get from Peppers, Idonije and their blitzing linebackers will help a secondary that desperately needs it. Chicago had 20 picks last year, but 4 INTs came from Urlacher and Briggs. In order for this defense to be truly top tier again, the secondary is going to have to be aggressive and have more than 16 interceptions this season.
Doesn't it seem like Bears' fans have a certain lack of respect for head coach Lovie Smith? He's been inconsistent in 8 seasons as the head guy, but he's 71-55 overall and took the Bears to the Super Bowl in 2006. Mike Tice is the new offensive coordinator which might work well towards a more balanced offensive attack with Forte on the ground and an aerial attack combination of Cutler and Marshall. The Bears were unlucky last season, so if they can stay relatively healthy, a playoff berth is more than attainable.