The Chicago Bears will be one of the NFL's biggest surprises in 2013. Experts seem to be predicting the Bears will either finish second (Kevin Seifert of ESPN) or third (Jamil Farmer of Pro Football Central) in the NFC North. Only three of the 11 analysts polled at NFL.com (Bucky Brooks, Ian Rapoport and Michael Silver) tabbed the Bears as division champions for the upcoming season.
However, with a new offensive approach and an improved offensive line, the Bears are my pick to win the NFC North as well. They will get their first opportunity to prove themselves in the opener.
The Cincinnati Bengals' strengths will put the Bears' potential weaknesses to the test. Cincinnati's defensive line may be the best in the NFL. Led by All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap bearing down, we'll find out quickly whether the new-look Bears line can adequately protect Jay Cutler.
Though Cutler did throw two interceptions in the preseason, he completed 65 percent of his passes and threw for two touchdown scores. The more comfortable Cutler is in new head coach Marc Trestman's system, the better the Bears' offense will look.
Look for the offensive line, Cutler and running back Matt Forte to shine at home against the Bengals. The Bears will win behind a surprising offensive explosion 28-14.
Here's a look at two other teams that will shine in their opener.
San Francisco 49ers Will Thump the Green Bay Packers
The Niners are on a mission to get back to the Super Bowl. The journey begins in Week 1 at home against the Green Bay Packers. The Niners easily handled the Packers 45-31 in the NFC Divisional Round last season. The Packers had no answer for Colin Kaepernick's dual-threat capabilities.
Kaepernick accounted for 444 total yards and four touchdowns in that game. The Packers will definitely be keying on the Niners' quarterback this time, but Kaepernick's maturity will show.
He'll get his teammates involved and the Niners' run game will dominate time of possession. San Francisco will prove their superiority over the Packers again with a 35-20 victory.
Dallas Cowboys Will Win Big Early-Season Division Matchup Against the N.Y. Giants
The Washington Redskins are the popular choice to win the NFC East, but this is the year the Cowboys will finally make good on their wealth of talent.
The key for the Cowboys is improving their defense. The switch to the 4-3 will pay big dividends for them this year. Jay Ratliff and DeMarcus Ware will have a huge impact on this game as pass-rushers and run-stuffers.
The switch from the 3-4 will allow Ratliff to face less double-teams and take pressure off Ware to produce the bulk of the pass rush. The result will be a tough season opener for Eli Manning and company and a 23-13 win for the Cowboys.
Here are my predictions for the other games on the Week 1 schedule:
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