I'm not sure why blogs that spend the entire year discussing certain teams often feel the need to summarize everything that occurred that offseason with a season preview. I mean, what exactly am I supposed to write that I haven't said a million times already? It's going to end up as a list looking something like-
1. JAY CUTLER- CAN HE STOP THROWING INTERCEPTIONS?
2. CAN THE OFFENSIVE LINE BLOCK FOR JAY CUTLER?
3. CAN MATT FORTE GAIN, LIKE, YARDS AND STUFF?
4. CAN THE DEFENSE PREVENT OPPOSING TEAMS FROM, LIKE SCORING ALOT?
IF THE ANSWER TO ALL FOUR IS YES, THEN 11-5.
So I'm going to try to avoid that. I think Jay Cutler will be fine. I really do. If Jon Kitna can have a career year and throw for 4,000+ yards under Martz despite taking 61 sacks, I think Jay can do some really impressive things in this offense. The only question is the turnovers, which will only be avoided if the offensive line does a better job of protecting him than they did last year.
The preseason seemed to indicate that they won't, but, once again, that doesn't mean shit. Chris Williams is a better player than he was against Kamerion Wimbley. Williams' play at left tackle last year wasn't a fluke. He'll be okay. I'm also sure that Garza will be passable, and I'm actually pretty impressed with Lance Louis. I don't buy that Kreutz swam in the fountain of youth just because he had some bone spurs removed, and while I think Frank Omiyale will be better at tackle than he was at guard, better than "really fucking awful" may just be "sorta fucking awful." So I'm going to say I'm still pessimistic about the possibility of Jay taking fewer than 40 sacks in this offense.
I do think the zone blocking scheme will better suit the personnel the Bears have this year. The run-game will therefore be better than last year's non-existent one. The offense will score more points than last year. I guarantee it. More than enough to be a playoff contender.
On defense, Tommie Harris is healthy. Julius Peppers is Julius Peppers. I don't see how the pass rush can't be better, but I'm also not willing to believe that they'll be so murder-ificly awesome that the questions in the secondary won't matter.
Charles Tillman knows how to play cornerback, but he's never had top flight speed. He'll match up better going against most team's #2 guy this year. Zack Bowman should be better, but he's still going to struggle to slow down Calvin Johnson and Greg Jennings four times a year. That side will be the one that opponents will try to exploit, and I'm hoping the return of Chris Harris will be enough to help Bowman out. Major Wright should finally be the replacement for Mike Brown, meaning a guy capable of roaming the deep middle third of the field without too much help. If he keeps Danieal Manning at nickel all year long the Bears are significantly stronger at both positions.
Brian Urlacher isn't "finished." He's also not going to magically return to pre-2008 Urlacher, either. The improved defensive line should free him to make more plays, however, and he'll be a considerably upgrade over what they had last year. The big dope doesn't help himself out much by talking like the hare-brained idiot he is all the time, but his critics largely ignore the fact that 85% of an in-his-prime Urlacher is still a pretty damned good linebacker. Lance Briggs Is still in His prime, so he's good to go on the weakside. Tinoisamoa did a great job defending the pass in St. Louis. Last year he looked good on the strongside if you didn't blink. Nick Roach is capable of playing that position pretty well, although you may have missed it while he was overshadowed by the sheer suck of Hunter Hillenmeyer and the sheer stupidity of Jamar Williams most of last year.
I know an 0-4 preseason has sunk fan morale pretty low, especially considering that it's been low since last October outside of one very brief resurgence at the beginning of free agency. Oh well. It's really hard to argue this isn't an improved team. (How improved is the question, would be my next statement in CLICHE SEASON PREVIEWspeak) I'm going to go ahead and put them at 11-5 for a couple of reasons:
1. I think the Vikings will suck. Part of that's tainted by malice, I know, but it's mostly because that team is injury riddled and old and was nowhere near as good towards the end of last year as their hot start against shitty opponents made them appear.
2. Their schedule isn't as brutal as it appears. They get to start at home for the first time since 2004. The Lions will be better, but I still the Bears have a considerable edge in talent, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. The second game In Dallas will be tough, but they draw the Packers at home first. I'm not convinced the Giants, Panthers, Seahawks, or Redskins are good at all. I know the Bills will suck. The Eagles will not be as strong behind Kevin Kolb, and they get the declining Patriots and overrated Jets at home. (Yes, the Jets are overrated. Well. Mark Sanchez is. He fucking sucks. Get over it).
Now, I didn't "handicap" the schedule to get to 11 wins. I suck at that. As do most people. Teams vary way too much from year to year to really figure out who the easy and hard opponents really are, so I pulled the 11 out of my ass because it seems doable. Hell, last year the Bears were supposed to have the "easiest" schedule in the NFL and their opponents had almost a .500 winning % (if you take out the Lions and the Rams, their other opponents had a combined winning % of .563) and they faced 6 playoff teams and played just 4 teams that had losing records, so that tells you how useful that stat is going into a season.
Will those 11 win the division? Probably not, because Aaron Rodgers terrifies me beyond all human reason. But it should be more than enough for a wildcard. Anything less and I'll call up Fro Dog for some good old pitchfork and torch mob action.