It's amazing what having a proven quarterback can do for the confidence of a fan base.
Cynicism is in very small supply in Chicago these days, as I witnessed first-hand at the Bears Expo at Soldier Field last Sunday.
The same people who were calling for Jerry Angelo's head just a few short months ago were mercilessly booing a fan who pointed out the Bears' lack of quality receivers during a Q & A session.
These boos came even as this gentlemen was calling out a receiving corps in which only two active members have caught a pass in the NFL (one of them being Rashied freakin' Davis!)
The people angry the Bears essentially kept the same defensive line whose porous pass rush led to the team finishing 31st against the pass last season, are now fully sure the simple addition of D-line coach extraordinaire Rod Marinelli and one third-round pick will fix all the problems the unit ran up against last season.
All of this optimism seems to stem from the acquisition of one individual, and that individual is, of course, Jay Cutler.
A common perception over the past few years has been the only thing keeping the Bears from winning a Super Bowl is a quarterback. Hell, it was our lousy quarterback who single-handedly cost us the Super Bowl in 2006 (disregarding that our defense allowed 438 yards and struggled to get off the field to the rate of a 38-22 minute defeat in time of possession).
Don't get me wrong—I am optimistic about the upcoming year. I can foresee a championship coming through Chicago this season; just not the one everyone wants.
The lack of receivers argument is admittedly tired, so I won't bother making it again. That being said, it's still a very valid concern.
Also, I know Marinelli's track record as an assistant coach (I'll sidestep easy jabs at his head coach debacle) is top notch, but can one coach instantaneously fix all that was wrong with the Bears pass rush last season?
Tommie Harris' injury and personal problems have limited his productions in recent years, and ends Adawale Ogunleye, Alex Brown, and Mark Anderson haven't proven they can play solid football for more than two games a year. Anderson did have about five solid games as a rookie but averaged it out accordingly by having just one good game total over the last two seasons.
Lastly, it seems destructive to look past winning the NFC North, for that will hardly prove to be an easy task.
Regardless, with or without him, Minnesota's running game and defensive line put them in a similar position to the Bears; good enough to get to the playoffs, but not good enough to make much noise when they get there.
Then there's Green Bay. As much as I'd love to guarantee another 6-10 campaign from the Packers, it's hard to. If they can get their defense right, they have enough offensive fire power to be in the mix with the Bears and Vikings.
That being said, if I were financially stable enough to make bets, I would wager on the Bears to win the NFC North this season. However, anything beyond that strikes me as wishful thinking.
I am excited about many things—there are various things to be optimistic about to go along with the acquisition of Cutler. His arm strength and deep ball accuracy will play to the strengths of his best receiving weapons, Greg Olsen and Devin Hester. He's also accompanied by Matt Forte and the deepest offensive line the Bears have had in years.
But aside from the lack of experience at receiver, this is a team whose once proud defense simply isn't the championship caliber unit it was three years ago. That isn't to say it's a bad unit, but it's a unit more equipped to go 10-6 as opposed to 13-3.
Jerry Angelo proved us all wrong this offseason. He made a very gutsy move that has rightfully gotten people abuzz over the potential of what it could mean for a city desperate for another Super Bowl title. And as much as I want to see that title, it just isn't realistic to believe it will come into vision this year.
So be patient I say. It's already been 23 years since the Lombardi Trophy was hoisted in Chicago. If it comes back in another two or three, the wait shouldn't be all that torturous.