Chicago Bears: 10 Bold Predictions for the 2011 NFL Season
Coming of a surprise season that saw Chicago in the NFC Championship Game, the Bears are hoping to take the next step in 2011.
Like always, they'll be led by solid defense and an adequate offense and will attempt to wear down opponents and force turnovers thanks to their physicality on defense.
Following a very good draft, optimism is high in Chicago. Check out ten bold predictions for the upcoming season.
The Bears Will Finish with 12 or More Wins, but Will Not Win Their Division
After a decade of being relative pushovers, the NFC North has suddenly become one of the best divisions in the NFL.
Expect the division to be tough in 2011 as well, as Chicago and Green Bay both reloaded during the offseason.
Both teams will be favorites to make the playoffs again next season, but the Packers will likely be the division favorites. Expect the defending Super Bowl champs to beat out the Bears for the division title, even though the Bears will have one of the best records in football.
The Bears and Packers Will Meet in the NFC Championship Game
While championship games rarely showcase rematches in consecutive years, the Bears and the Packers both have what it takes to return to the game next season.
While there could be a new setting and different seedings, expect a game similar to last year's, and one similar to all Bears-Packers games for that matter.
Bears-Packers is one of the great rivalries in football, and with both playing at their highest level in years, they could meet again for a second consecutive classic.
Jay Cutler Will Have His Best Season Yet
After a somewhat rocky first two years in Chicago, Jay Cutler is due for a solid season and a chance to win over Bears fans.
He has been wildly inconsistent over the last two years, especially last season, and has yet to find a No. 1 target in the passing game.
This year, with a more talented, more experience offensive line and a more experienced receiving corps, Cutler has a chance to have his best season yet. And if the Bears want any chance of winning their first Super Bowl since the Ditka era, he will have to be much sharper.
The Offensive Line Will Improve
After a miserable 2010-2011 season that saw the offensive line surrender an NFL-record nine sacks in the first half against the Giants, Chicago made it a draft priority to find some young, talented offensive lineman.
Offensive line coach Mike Tice helped the line improve over the second half of the season, and that improvement should continue into next year, unless the lockout hurts their development.
Bears' first round selection Gabe Carimi, an offensive tackle from Wisconsin, should help the unit make strides as well.
The Inside of the Defensive Line Will Struggle
Over the past five years, Chicago has relied on a strong, veteran defensive line. However, the line's production decreased last year as its' players started to transition from veteran to old.
Expect production to drop even more this season as the unit gets even older.
The Bears attempted to improve the line through the draft, selecting defensive tackle Stephen Paea. They also did a good job improving the ends, picking up Julius Peppers in the last offseason.
However, the inside of the line will likely struggle and it will take time for the unit to return to its previous form.
The Secondary Will Be the Best in the NFC
The Bears' secondary is the perfect combination of youth and experience and it played extremely well last season.
The unit is solid in coverage and is known for its ballhawking abilities.
With even more experience, expect the secondary to improve in 2011 and be the best in the NFC, and possibly the best in the NFL.
Johnny Knox Will Cement Himself as the No. 1 Wide Receiver
Knox seemed like an unlikely candidate to be Jay Cutler's top target last season, as Earl Bennett and Devin Hester have received more hype.
However, Knox led the team in receiving last season and has all the skills to become a top wide receiver. He is extremely athletic and is good at making unbelievable catches.
He must become more consistent in order to become the team's go-to receiver. However, he has the potential to be a game-changer for Chicago as early as next season.
Brian Urlacher Will Lead the Team in Tackles for the Second Straight Season
After a few injury-ravaged, down seasons, Brian Urlacher came back with a vengeance to lead Chicago in tackles last season.
He was just like his younger self—maybe better—and was the leader of yet another strong Bears defense.
Urlacher will be in the middle of the defense once again next season and will be needed if Chicago wants to duplicate last year's success. He is strong against both the pass and the run and is always all over the field.
Expect Urlacher's success to continue in 2011 and expect yet another pro bowl appearance for the seasoned linebacker.
The Bears Will Lead the League in Turnovers
As stated earlier, the Bears' secondary is one of the best in the NFL. Its coverage skills are good, but its ability to force turnovers is even better.
Chicago is particularly good at forcing fumbles, forcing 23 in the 2010 regular season. It also came up with 21 interceptions.
With more experience, expect those numbers to rise in 2011 as Chicago aims to rise to the top of the league in both categories.