We are just weeks away from the start of the regular season, and the Chicago Bears are putting the finishing touches on their team. After collapsing from their 7-3 start last season, to finish 8-8, the Bears are hoping to make it back to the playoffs this season.
But to do that, they're going to have play well within their own division. Both the Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions made it to the postseason last year, and Chicago is going to have to beat one or both of them if they hope to take one of their places.
For the Bears to do well in the NFC North, they are going to have to press every advantage that they have. Here are some key advantages that they have over each of their division foes.
The Chicago passing offense took a big step forward this offseason.
By adding Brandon Marshall, Chicago has a legitimate go-to receiver for the first time in many seasons. Marshall's string of consecutive 1,000-yard seasons is a welcome addition to a team that hasn't had a 1,000-yard guy since 2002. It doesn't hurt that Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler are good friends from their days with Denver.
Rookie Alshon Jeffery, all-pro speedster Devin Hester and veteran Earl Bennett round out some of the best wide receivers that Chicago has had in quite some time. Add in quarterback coach Jeremy Bates and quarterback Jay Cutler designing plays to stretch the field, and you have the potential for an explosive passing attack.
Minnesota's secondary is a giant question mark. Antoine Winfield has trouble staying healthy, and Chris Cook and Asher Allen will compete for playing time opposite him. Rookie safety Harrison Smith and rookie corner Josh Robinson both have promise, but lack experience to keep a team like Chicago in check.
The Chicago receivers definitely have the advantage over Minnesota.
As a team, Chicago running backs had almost 2,500 yards from scrimmage as a team. Bush has almost 1,400 yards from scrimmage himself with the Oakland Raiders last year. Chicago running backs could easily gain 1,800 yards rushing and over 2,600 yards from scrimmage this season.
As a team, Detroit was poor at stopping the run last season. They gave up over 2,000 rushing yards for the entire season, and finished next with 5.0 yards per carry allowed.
They are essentially the same team defensively, re-signing both Cliff Avril and Stephen Tulloch as their two big defensive free agents. Their off-the-field troubles continue to follow them and they will struggle to contain the Chicago rushing attack this season as well.
The Bears have long been known for their solid run defense. Last season, they finished fifth in the league, allowing just 96.4 yards per game on the ground.
The defensive line may even be better this season. Julius Peppers is always solid and Israel Idonije and Shea McClellin will split time opposite him. Defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea have looked great in camp, and newly acquired Brian Price joins Matt Toeaina in adding solid depth up the middle.
Green Bay struggled to run the ball last season, finishing 27th in the league, averaging just 97.4 yards rushing per game. Ryan Grant led all Green Bay running backs with just 827 yards from scrimmage and only three touchdowns.
Grant is no longer with the team, and the Packers will turn to James Starks and Alex Green to move the ball on the ground. Between the two of them, they have less than 1,000 career yards from scrimmage.
If the Packers are going to beat the Bears this season, they are not going to do it running the ball.