“I’m full go for everything, so I won’t be missing anything.” Man, doesn’t linebacker Brian Urlacher strike you as a guy who plays for the love of the game? The guy is a trooper, I mean, it’s not easy coming back, let alone this soon, when you tear your PCL and MCL in the last game of the season. I definitely have to applaud him for saying he’s ready to come back and go full steam into what will be one of the most sweltering training camps in NFL history. So, that quote of his is very telling. And if it’s any indication of the mood inside the Chicago Bears locker room, I would say they’re ready for some football! Now that a new deal with running back Matt Forte has been struck, the ideal pieces are now in position for the Bears to make a real run at the NFC title.
The strength of schedule is definitely lighter, but let’s do a quick run-through of it and look at some potentially-troubling obstacles they may face on their quest for the playoffs. The first trouble spot has to be in week 2, when the Bears face the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau. In this game, it may be a matter of just out-gunning Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the dynamic Packers receiving core. Quarterback Jay Cutler will need to take advantage of a Packers defense that had many weak points last season, giving up a ton of points to the opponents. If the Bears defense steps up when it counts the most, we may chalk this one up as a win.
Then, there are a couple of games in October which I think could be very tough for the Bears to pull out. On October 1st, the Bears go to the Dallas Cowboys to play on Monday Night Football. Quarterback Tony Romo is likely feeling some pressure to win some football games coming up, here, and if he doesn’t deliver, quarterback Kyle Orton may start getting some playing time. When a team is in need of delivering results, that team, in my opinion, automatically becomes more dangerous. Not to mention, there is certainly some added stress that goes into playing on Monday Night Football.
Then, the Detroit Lions come to town. This is another game where Cutler will have to be ready to sling it. The nice thing is, though, now they have a great tandem at running back with Forte and Michael Bush, so they can mix up the play calling making it not nearly as predictable. Also, the physicality of the Lions makes this game a tough affair. Defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will be licking his chops, ready to get a piece of Cutler. That brings up another area where the Bears made a smart move. Going out and getting quarterback Jason Campbell provides the Bears some excellent Cutler insurance in case history repeats itself and Cutler has to be sidelined yet again.
Chicago then gets to host the Houston Texans in November on Sunday Night Football. By then, the playoff race will really start to take shape. This is the point in the season where the Bears have to start winning some big games, and this is one of them. Houston’s passing attack, running attack, and stout defense make them a huge threat in the AFC and one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl. By this time, injuries will likely start taking their tolls on both teams. It is critical for the Bears to exploit any weaknesses that may come from that, and to force quarterback Matt Schaub into uncomfortable situations. Is all this common sense? Yeah, but they’re also realities that come into play when discussing how to beat a team that nearly saw the AFC Championship game with a 3rd string quarterback last year.
Then, besides the last two divisional games (both of which should be crucial in deciding who gets into the playoffs and who doesn’t), the last real tough game for the Bears comes when the Bears face the San Francisco 49ers. Can the Bears pressure Alex Smith to a degree where he starts throwing interceptions? Likewise, how will Cutler handle this stout San Francisco defense? It’s pretty well known that Cutler likes to force the ball into spots he probably shouldn’t throw into, so how will he adapt to that? All of this remains to be seen, but if things go the way I see them heading, this will be a crucial game for Chicago.
The rest of the games, like the ones against; the Minnesota Vikings, the Indianapolis Colts on Week 1, and the St. Louis Rams, are the types of games you have to win. This isn’t to say you can’t have a letdown, but ideally, you’d like it to be against a team who you aren’t slated to automatically beat (as falling to a team like the Arizona Cardinals is likely to jar your confidence more so than to a team like the Tennessee Titans). Going by this logic, I would say 7 of the games on this schedule are expected wins (keep in mind, since the NFC North plays the NFC West and the weaker AFC South, wins are going to be projected a bit higher). 5 games outside the division are toss-ups, leaving 4 games that will likely decide it all, 2 of which coming towards the end of the season (well done, schedule-makers).
Needless to say, this season should be very interesting for Bears fans. My prediction is this: 6 out of 7 “should-win” games will be wins. 3 out of 5 toss-ups will fall in the Bears favor. Then, the games against the Packers and the Lions I’ll split right down the center. This still leaves the Bears with 11 wins, which will be hard to ignore, wild card-wise. Bears fans, get ready for some awesome football. I’m David Abeyta, and that’s my opinion.