The Chicago Bears were in it all the way to the final game last season, when they suffered a heart-breaking loss to the Houston Texans. The loss took away any hopes of a division crown and knocked them out by half a game, and the Eagles were able to sneak in thanks to a tie with the Bengals.
Even though the price was higher than those Tickle-Me Elmos at Christmas time, the Bears acquired Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler. The guy can do it all: run, pass well, and pass far. He could be the best quarterback the Bears have had this millennium. He is still young, and with the Bears’ line he could be around a long time.
Matt Forte was one of the great surprises last season, as he led the team in receptions and gained over 1,500 yards from scrimmage. This versatile back is no push-over either, as he proved last season that he can be an every-down back. He will only improve as the line became stronger, and now Jay Cutler is behind center.
The offensive line has been the rock of this Bears' team for a few years now. Veterans Olin Kreutz (center) and Roberto Garza (guard and a personal favorite) have done a good job for the most part in keeping the quarterback upright and opening holes for backs like Matt Forte and Thomas Jones.
Now, the line has been greatly improved with the additions of tackles Orlando Pace, when healthy, and Kevin Shaffer. They also signed one of the many Carolina line products that hit the open market in guard Frank Omiyale. This line became very good, very fast.
Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark were crucial parts to last year’s offense, but they were relied on too much. Clark is getting older and Olsen needs to prove that he is an elite tight end.
Don’t get me wrong, Olsen had a good year last season, but he is not seen as a game-changer yet. He fumbled a few times too many last season, and with a receiving core like the Bears have, he will need to be the main target for Cutler.
The defense has been seen as the strength of this team for many years now and most likely always will be, but last season they lost some of their dominance. The defense allowed teams to come back late in games, which resulted in two early losses that might have cost them the division. This year, I think the Bears regain some of their dominance.
The defensive line has good depth and solid leaders like tackle Tommie Harris and end Adewale Ogunleye. The line also contains good substitutes, such as end Alex Brown and tackle Israel Idonije, who will need to continue in their roles if the line is to stop the better rushing teams in the league.
The linebackers are the strength of the defense as they are still led by Brian Urlacher. Urlacher may have lost a step, but with Lance Briggs on one side and Pisa Tinoisamoa on the other, no one will be able to tell the difference. This group is a game changer and will cause havoc for many offenses, especially with their “Mug” style defense.
With Mike Brown gone, corners Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher will need to be the leaders in the secondary. This should not be much of a problem, but health has been a problem for these two like with Brown. Both need to have a long season so they can shut down quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Kurt Warner.
The receiving core in Chicago is not like the one in Denver. There is no Brandon Marshall, no Eddie Royal, and there is barely even a Brandon Stokely. Brandon Lloyd emerged as the No. 1 receiver last season, but he rejoined Kyle Orton in Denver.
The hopes of the core rest on corner-converted returner converted receiver Devin Hester. He is supposed to be the go-to guy for Cutler, but he has a lot to work on. He has great speed and big play ability, but his route running and catching need work.
For years now, people have looked at what Carolina’s Steve Smith has done and tried to mimic him, but they failed. This will be the year Hester either proves himself a receiver or just becomes another Steve Smith wannabe.
Matt Forte is a top five back. He can run and catch like Brian Westbrook, but he gets almost all the carries. He will be a go-to target for Cutler until a receiver steps up.
Greg Olsen will be a top tight end this season. He will be the main target due to lack of receivers, and could be a top three tight end by the end of the year. The caution is do not draft him like a Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates as he will be available in the mid to later rounds of the draft.
Devin Hester looks to be the No. 1 receiver in Chicago and has Jay Cutler to throw to him, but he needs to prove he's worthy. He is probably a No. 2 receiver right now, but keep an eye on his technical progressions.
Robbie Gould is a magic man of sorts because it could be a sunny day or ten below and he will still hit that 50-yard field goal.
The sleeper is Jay Cutler. He is the sleeper because he does not have the talent around him like he did in Denver. That could change depending on Hester, and if another receiver enters the spot-light. He can launch the ball, so 50 to 60-yard passes are probable, and he can lead a team as long as he has the right attitude.
3rd place (very susceptible to change).