Chicago Bears: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2011 Season
Hope is back as the chances of there being a 2011 season are getting greater and greater. We're going to take a step away from all the draft hubbub for now and see what the Monsters of the Midway might have in store for the NFL world come this August.
What does the statement "one game" mean to you? In reality it could mean many things: a win or a loss, an individual match during the season, playing something once, etc. Chicago fans might have a different mindset for the statement.
In Chicago, "one game" means the amount of games they were away from the Super Bowl. A win against Green Bay in the NFC Championship would have completely changed Super Bowl 45.
Even with a dreadful offensive line (in my opinion, the cornerstone of a good offense), Chicago managed to make their way all the way to the NFC Championship. That's huge even with the number of improvements they need on both sides of the ball.
Nevertheless, the Bears still have a good shot at getting back to where they left off last season. Solid picking in the draft and smart free agency moves could even land them at Lucas Oil Field for Super Bowl 46.
Here's what the Bears could do next season.
Julius Peppers Leads NFC in Sacks
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Sure, he's on the other side of 30 years old, but what's stopping this outstanding defensive end from getting 12, 14 or even 16 sacks? It's not like he hasn't been there before.
If the Bears boost their defensive line as well, by using the draft and free agency, offensive lines will have to focus on not just Peppers, but other Bear's linemen as well. He can take full advantage of that and hassle the quarterback on a weekly basis.
It'll be his second year in Chicago as well—he's already gotten his feet wet. Next season should be better than the one he had this year. Can you imagine what Peppers could be capable of with Cullen Jenkins lined up beside him? Offensive lines would dream to stop that tandem on either the right or left side.
Julius will find himself participating in yet another Pro Bowl next year (that is if the Bears don't make the Super Bowl) making it four Pro Bowl appearances in a row.
Chicago Bears Take the NFC North for the 2nd Year in a Row
Matthew Stockman/Getty Images
It won't be easy, no siree. Just take a look at the month of September: home against Atlanta, visiting New Orleans and then back home to play defending Super Bowl champs and rivals the Green Bay Packers.
Further on into the season, it starts to get easier, but games against the Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and the Pack again will challenge the Bears to get to that extra level of competitiveness.
But with a pretty tough schedule, how could Chicago go at least 11-5 (I predict Green Bay to have that record next season) to take the North once again?
Their offense will improve—it doesn't get any simpler than that. It'll be Mike Martz's second season coaching the offense for Chicago, and it can only get better from here on out. The Bears made it to the NFC Championship with many offensive aspects that weren't outstanding.
A couple of additions offensively and Chicago can really be a force to be reckoned with next year.
Jay Cutler Will Make the Pro Bowl
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
First of all, next season Cutler will spend less time on the ground and more time being comfortable in the pocket and making big plays downfield. It won't matter who Chicago drafts/acquires/trades for, Jay will find a way to avoid the sack this season as it has happened too much in his two years with Chicago.
Of course upgrading in the offensive line position will be helpful (and will definitely happen) to both Cutler and the entire offense, he'll still find a way to make great plays with tremendous pressure on him.
So what will he have to do differently than the last two seasons to make his second Pro Bowl appearance?
Well nothing much really. Compare his numbers from his Pro Bowl season in 2008 to last season's stats. He only threw two less touchdowns and interceptions than that of 2008.
The number that will stand out is the amount of times he was sacked—41 less times in 2008 than 2010. That's 41 more pass attempts and/or completions with the possibility of there being more yards, touchdowns or interceptions.
Despite Their Best Efforts, They Fall in the NFC Championship Game Again
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
I have no doubt in my mind that the Bears don't have a shot at the Super Bowl. Before the first ball is snapped for the 2011 regular season, every team has a shot at it.
Additionally, I don't feel that the Bears making the NFC Championship next year is not possible. They made it last year, why not again this year?
But who will be their foe in the NFC Championship? Well there are many possibilities. Green Bay obviously is the fan favorite—they won a Super Bowl with many key players injured. Don't count out Atlanta either, with their drafting of former Alabama wide receiver Julio Jones. Roddy White and him could be a dangerous, big tandem.
Other teams like Philadelphia, New York and New Orleans—even Tampa Bay—will be knocking on the doorstep as well.
Why will they lose in the NFC Championship, you ask? Because they aren't, realistically, the best team in the NFC. Don't call me a hater, but the Packers, Falcons and maybe even the Saints could be argued to be a better team than Chicago.
Do they have the potential to be the best team in the NFC? Absolutely. I can't stress enough—with proper draft picks and offseason moves, the Bears can really bolster their team and become an elite force.
Brian Urlacher Is Named Defensive Player of the Year
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
You hate to say it but time may be running out soon for the franchise Chicago Bears linebacker. Urlacher will be 33 years old and entering his 11th NFL season.
Nagging injuries have kept him sidelined every now and then throughout the past couple of years, but nevertheless he has still been able to play at a high level.
Last time Urlacher ,and any Chicago Bear for that matter, has won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award was back in 2005.
Even though he is 33, he still plays like he's a few years out of college, but time may be running out as it could all catch up to him before he and then rest of Chicago's fan base know it.
Last year was like any other year for Urlacher: 100+ tackles, a couple of sacks and interceptions and most importantly: leadership. He has been the anchor for the disruptive Bears defense for the past 11 years now and will continue to until he decides it's time to hang up the cleats.
Say 130 tackles, seven sacks and two interceptions for Urlacher along with stellar play in the post season and you have the NFL Defensive Player of the Year ladies and gentlemen.