Week One in the NFL is upon us, and it's time for the Chicago Bears to suit 'em up and get after it in 2010.
Depending on who you talk to, this Bears team can be a feast-or-famine squad; the loyalists will point to the key free-agent signings of Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor, and Brandon Manumaleuna as reasons for optimism and a sign that the Bears are playoff-bound.
The realists might suggest a mediocre season is on the agenda, as the Bears still have many question marks and not nearly enough answers.
Among them are the issues with the offensive and defensive lines, depth in the secondary, and the lack of any true star power at wide receiver.
So, where do you stand on the 2010 Bears?
We can stop with the speculating and get on with it.
The Detroit Lions will be at Soldier Field this Sunday and we'll finally have an idea about this team.
The Lions aren't the laughingstock of the NFL anymore. So this will be a nice opportunity for the Bears to get off to a strong start.
The home crowd will be electric, as is to be expected during week one, but can the Bears keep them happy (and keep the critics off their back, if only for a week?).
Let's look at some of the keys for Sunday's opener.
Lions' offense vs. Bears' defense:
As always, Calvin Johnson is the name every Bears fan should be aware of on Sunday.
The 6'5", 235-pounder had a "down" year by his standards in 2009, yet nearly eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark (984) in hauling in 67 passes and finding the end zone five times.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford a year older, Johnson's numbers figure to increase at some point this season.
With the addition of No. 2 wide out Nate Burleson (63 catches, 812 yards), it's possible for Johnson to find softer openings in zone defenses.
The Lions also added tight end Tony Scheffler to better compliment starter Brandon Pettigrew and drafted dynamic back Jahvid Best in the first round.
With the new bodies on offense, Stafford and Johnson should be able to have success early and often in 2010—a dangerous proposition for the Bears.
Defensively for the Bears, Charles Tillman figures to get first crack at stopping Megatron Johnson, but he'll likely have help over the top with safeties Chris Harris and Danieal Manning.
Assuming Johnson gets his stats, it could be a matter of the "others" hurting the Bears.
If they can bottle up Johnson to a degree, they can make Stafford look to Burleson, Pettigrew, Scheffler, and friends to break the Bears' back.
If that's how the Bears approach things—and if it ultimately leads to a defeat—you'd have to at least live with yourself.
Best's first game in the NFL means anything can happen and we really don't know how the Bears plan on stopping him.
The Bears' defense is healthy, but with the additions to Detroit's offense, there is no clear advantage for either team.
Detroit should put points on the board—how their defense does against Jay Cutler and company should decide things however.
Lions' Defense vs. Bears' offense:
The Jay Cutler show, year two, is on full display Sunday. As Cutler goes, so too, do the Bears.
Everyone knows the nightmarish season that Cutler lived through last year, but facing a defense that was dead last in the NFL in total yards allowed in 2009 has to give him confidence heading into his first year working under offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
He also has some new weapons—most notably running back Chester Taylor—but it's largely the same crew in place that produced an uninspiring 20.4 points-per-game last season (No. 19 in the NFL).
Ironically, the Bears can live with that average offensive output, assuming its defense regains its once dominant form from two or three seasons ago—but that's for another day.
For 2010, it would obviously serve Cutler and his offense well if they can control the ball and limit the aging defense's minutes as much as possible.
On Sunday, Cutler needs eyes in the back of his head in order to survive what appears to be a formidable Lions' defensive line that now features free-agent signing Kyle Vanden Bosch and scary rookie Ndamukong Suh.
Both men figure to give the Bears' offensive line major problems, to put it gently.
The offensive line was abysmal in the preseason, and Suh and Vanden Bosch will be much tougher to contain in regular season NFL action.
The line play of both teams is the key for Sunday's game.
Cutler, if cool and composed, can chew up a weaker Lions' secondary, but we've seen how chicken-with-his-head-cut-off Cutler looks—surprisingly less accurate than an actual chicken-with-his-head-cut-off would be if he were suited up in a navy blue jersey.
Of course, the Bears have two reliable backs in Taylor and Matt Forte as well. There's no reason both backs shouldn't have successful openers.
It's a slight edge, but Chicago has enough talent to put points on the scoreboard without putting their defense on the field too much.
After averaging 20.4 points-per-game last season, you have to think they can score more than that against a team that gave up over 30 a game last year.
Year in, year out, the Bears have one of the finest special teams units in the NFL and that probably won't change this year with key returners Johnny Knox and Devin Hester still in the fold and placekicker Robbie Gould remaining one of the game's most-accurate kickers.
In a game that could be closer than some fans might have believed, the special teams play could swing things in a positive direction for the Bears.
Final Score: Bears 20, Detroit 14
If you assume the home-field advantage is worth three points, and special teams count for another three, then we have an even game on Sunday.
But the advantages of playing at Soldier Field on week one against a defense with a lot to prove means the Bears start off 2010 the right way, by going 1-0.
The Bears' offense did not impress at all in the preseason and will certainly need some more time to work out the kinks, but there's no better opponent to work out their kinks on than the Detroit Lions.
The Bears start off on the right foot on Sunday (let's hope it lasts).
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