Sunday, August 7, 2011

NFL 32 in 32: Chicago Bears

Last year, the to-be NFC North Champions surprised everyone with a 11-5 season and a 2 seed in the playoffs, despite not having an offensive line or an abundance of weapons for Jay Cutler. Now, they are looking to defend their NFC North title against the Super Bowl champs and 2 up and coming teams. Can they?

What's New: Not anything major, but there are some new pieces in Chicago this year. Marion Barber and Roy Williams come over from Dallas, and Williams figures to be at least in competition for the #1 wideout spot with Johnny Knox. Amobi Okoye, a castoff from Houston's defensive transition will look to resurrect his career on arguably a much better defense. The losses figure to become bigger issues for the Bears this year, as they did lose their offensive line anchor in Olin Kreutz. They also lost safety Danieal Manning to Houston, and that could be a bigger loss than many think in the secondary. The biggest loss could be TE Greg Olsen, who was a major safety blanket for Cutler when he was under pressure, and they really did not pick anybody up to replace him. Chicago overall did not change much, but some losses and gains could prove to have major impacts for this team in 2011.

Biggest Strength: Jay Cutler is still one of the league's premier QB's, despite being sacked plenty often last year and not having enough weapons on offense. The same probably will be said this season too. The biggest strength is still in the defensive front 7. They can get after the QB with ease, and Amobi Okoye will likely reach bigger heights playing alongside Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije. And, the Bears still have Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs, and they don't mess around.

Biggest Weakness: The offensive line. Losing Olin Kreutz will be a major loss for one of the worst offensive lines in the NFL. Kreutz was able to anchor the line and the rotating door at tackle and guard positions, and now he is gone. The rookie Gabe Carimi may make some impact, but having Kreutz would have been a major help to his development. It does not look like the line will be any better than it was last year, and that will be a major problem for Jay Cutler, and Matt Forte and the running game.

Outlook: This team did overachieve slightly last season, and that was a result of playing in a weaker division and getting some help from Jay Cutler and a lucky draw in the playoffs.  This year, don't expect the Bears to be so lucky. They still have the front 7 to compete and keep them in games, but otherwise, there may not be much on this team that is better than it was last season. The playoffs are not out of the question, but it's doubtful that it will be back-to-back NFC North titles for Chicago.

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