Chicago Bears: 5 Games That Could Define the Bears 2011 Season
The Chicago Bears are coming off a very successful campaign in 2010 and they have the tools and skills to repeat that performance in 2011.
In order to get back to the playoffs, they have to survive the gauntlet, which is the first three games of their schedule.
The Bears open up the season hosting the Atlanta Falcons; then they head south to the Superdome to face Drew Brees and the Saints. The final leg of this daunting opening schedule is a rematch of the 2011 NFC Championship Game in Chicago against the Green Bay Packers.
On paper, the Bears have a relatively easy schedule, with their opponents winning just 48.8 percent of their games in 2010.
This number is deceiving. The Panthers terrible record alone skewed these stats. They also face teams that had down season in 2010, or others such as the Chargers and Lions, who will be much better this year.
The fact is the Bears have a very difficult season in 2011. If they are able to win their big games, and take care of business against the NFL scrubs, a playoff run will be inevitable.
Week 1: Atlanta Falcons
Falcons 2010 Record: 13-3 (Lost in NFC Divisional)
The Importance of this game is beyond obvious. The Bears need to start off the season with success so they can use that momentum to help them against the Saints and Packers.
The Bears are lucky because they do not have to play the Falcons at home (where Matt Ryan has only lost 3 games in his career), but this will still be a very difficult game.
The Bears have not beat the Falcons since 2005, and have dropped their last two games against the Falcons.
Bears key to winning the game: Stop Roddy White. White is one of the best receivers in the NFL and the Bears secondary is weak. If they can't contain White, this will be a very long game for the Bears.
Weeks 3 and 16: Green Bay Packers
Packers 2010 Record: 11-5 (Super Bowl Champions)
The Packers ended the Bears season at home in their biggest game since 2006. Jay Cutler was injured, but Bears fans left the game more banged up.
The NFC Championship debacle caused Bears fans to challenge and doubt Cutler, their franchise quarterback. Some (fair-weather) Bears fans called Cutler "weak" for not at least trying to play on his injury.
I am a big Cutler supporter, and it irks me when someone says he is not tough. People do not realize Cutler did attempt to play on his MCL sprain. He hurt it in the first half of the NFC Championship Game, and tried to play when the Bears started the third quarter.
The simple fact is Cutler is a tough S.O.B, and he will have to use both of the games against the Packers to prove the media and Bears haters wrong.
It is an understatement to say this game is important for the Bears.
Bears key to winning: Run the ball, the Bears need to stay away from a shootout with the Packers.
Week 5: At Detroit Lions
Lions 2010 Record: 6-10 (No playoffs)
The Lions, the Lions, the Lions. That is all we have heard all preseason long, and for good reason.
Yes, the Lions were 4-0 during the preseason, but that is not what is impressive. What is impressive is the play of Matthew Stafford.
In the preseason, Stafford completed more than 75 percent of his passes, threw five touchdowns and zero interceptions and had a QB rating of 154.7. The scary part is he was playing this well in the regular season last year before he was injured.
The Lions are going to be good this year with their young talented defensive line, prolific offense and large chip on their shoulders.
The Bears are not going to get lucky like they did last year against the Lions. If Calvin Johnson catches a pass in the end zone, I would bet good money he will hold on to the ball "all the way through the catch."
Bears key to winning: Keep Matthew Stafford off the field, and control the clock on offense.
Week 8: San Diego Chargers
Chargers 2010 record: 9-7 (No playoffs)
The Chargers are one of the most underrated teams in the NFL. Last year, they had the best offense and defense in the NFL, and arguably the best quarterback.
Unfortunately for the Chargers, their special teams forgot its play affected the outcome of a game. Their special teams easily cost them three games, but this season will be different.
Their special teams woes were an anomaly and will not reoccur, and they should also have running back Ryan Mathews healthy for the whole season. I expect the Chargers to be a heavy favorite for the Super Bowl.
The Bears will be heavy underdogs in this game, but if they are able to pull off a win, they could put themselves in position to finish atop the NFC North for a second straight year.
Bears key to winning: This game falls on the shoulders of the defense. Contain the Chargers many weapons—Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and Ryan Mathews.
Week 14: Seattle Seahawks
Seahawks 2010 record: 7-9 record (Lost in NFC Divisional)
The Chicago Bears ended the Seattle Seahawks Cinderella story playoff run last season, and though only a few of those Seahawks remain on the team, the organization will not forget it.
The Seahawks made it to the playoffs last season, but they were not good and they will be even worse this year. How could anyone possibly improve the franchise by adding Tavaris Jackson?
With all this said, why could this game define the Bears season?
This game, and others where the Bears face sub-par competition will define their season because these are "gimme" games. The Bears are in a tough division and they can not let easy games slip through their fingers.
Last year, the Seahawks snuck up on the Bears and stole a win at Soldier Field. The Bears cannot afford to let this happen again.
Bears key to winning: Do not turn the football over. The Bears can only beat themselves with the lack of talent on Seattle's roster.