Chicago isn’t New York or Dallas, but that doesn’t mean we don’t heap expectations on our sports teams.
The Second City is packed with teams that have failed to live up to the lofty goals that sportswriters and fans set for them, but none might be more frustrating than the 1986,post-Super Bowl Bears.
That 14-2 squad had as much talent or more returning from the 46-10 Super Bowl XX victory over the Patriots and couldn’t put it together for another title run.
Disappointment? You bet.
This was the team that set an NFL-record for least points allowed. But they didn’t stop Washington enough in the playoffs to give Doug Flutie a chance to work some of his mojo.
Not living up to expectations like that can haunt youand the Bears have tried and failed to capture that magic ever since Mike Ditka, Walter Payton and the Fridge shuffled out of town.
Hopes begin with a new arm
Jerry Angelo decided to make things interesting this season by bringing back some of that hope the city felt in the mid-80s.
The GM made what could be the best move for the franchise in the last 10 years when they traded Kyle Orton for Jay Cutler after the former-Bronco quarterback had a falling out in Denver.
Cutler immediately gave the Bears something the team had been struggling to find since Jim McMahon still roamed the sidelines: a solid option under center.
No offense to Orton who has the talent to be a steady starter in the NFL, but he was never going to be “the man” in Chicago. That much was obvious when Lovie Smith kept going back to the talented-but-erratic Rex Grossman despite Orton’s consistency.
And so with Cutler, the 2009 season is rife with lofty expectations.
It isn’t without good reason.
The talent that Chicago brings to the field should almost automatically triumph over Cleveland, Detroit (twice), Seattle, San Francisco, and St. Louis. Take a chance that the mess that is Cincinnati won’t get it together and that the Bears will at least split with Green BayChicago is looking at eight wins.
After that, it becomes tricky. Yet it is not beyond the realm of possibility for the Bears to get to 10 wins this season.
Take the shallow NFC, add in 10 wins, and you have the recipe for playoffs.
But to get to double-digit wins, things will have to go the Bears’ way. It means winning once against Minnesota, and finding a way to trip up one of the tougher teams on the schedule.
It also means no let downs, and that starts with the defense transforming back into the Monsters of the Midway.
Defensive depth could be trouble
Last season, Chicago lost some of the swagger that was its defensive trademark.
The squad that had long been the strength of the team forgot how to close out games.
Does anyone need to be reminded of the two games that got awaylosses that ultimately kept them home in January?
Blame it on the weak secondary, a hole that the Bears seem to contend with as often as a poor signal-caller.
Sure, there were injuries at work. Nathan Vasher, Danieal Manning, and Charles Tillman all missed at least some time last season with aches and pains. That put a huge burden on the line-backing corps to help defend against the pass.
With Brian Urlacher and crew dropping back into coverage, the pass rush suffered.
The Bears managed only 28 sacks in 2008, tied for No. 22 in the NFL. Only one team with as many or less sacks made the playoffs last season, and San Diego can thank the weak AFC West for that honor.
Chicago stalled at No. 30 in the league in passing defense, far from championship caliber.
The Bears added some youth to the defensive front seven in the draft but staying healthy in the backfield will continue to be a key for the Bears as they didn’t do much to deepen the secondary.
One wrong step or one bad tackle, and 2009 could look a lot like 2008.
The receiving corps needs to step up
Even if the Bears manage to keep the injury list sparse, the Cutler addition has to pay off.
Yet Chicago still lacks the impact wide receiver that would be a catalyst for change. Devin Hester might be a speedster, but he isn’t what would normally be considered a No. 1 receiver.
Still, that is what he was last season, and there is no new face likely to replace him in that role. The Bears tried to make a run at Anquan Boldin, but didn’t have anything to offer Arizona after the Cutler trade.
No, the Bears are going to have to continue to generate the passing game with tight ends and running backs. That isn’t a receiving core that Cutler is used to dealing with. That isn’t a receiving core that puts fear into opposing defenses, either.
So even with Jay Cutler, the offense might look a lot like 2008 and that could have Bears fans grousing over their beers.
While the pieces are there for a solid season, it all sits on a precarious perch for the Bears. It wouldn’t take much to push this team from a 10-win pedestal to a six-win valley.
This isn’t 1986, and last season was a far cry from 1985, but to have expectations of a playoff team in Chicago isn’t asking for as much as the city asked of those squads.
That is why 10 wins seems just about right.