Are the Bears Super Bowl Bound?
First and foremost, Jay Cutler must stay healthy and finally return to his 2007 and 2008 form as a quarterback. Cutler is the type of gun-slinging quarterback who has historically thrown a lot of interceptions throughout the course of his career. His best season was clearly in 2008 with the Broncos when he amassed 4526 yards and 25 touchdowns.
Jay Cutler’s stats as a Bronco (2007 & 2008) and a Bear (2009)
After Cutler finished his 2009 campaign, he has not finished a full season in the past two years. (Playing 15 games in 2010 and 10 games in 2011) Cutler’s Bears were 7-3 when he went down with an injury in 2011 and the Bears missed the playoffs. Jay Cutler is a vital part of this offense and his offensive linemen must keep him upright if the Bears are to have success in the regular season and playoffs. In reality, Jay Cutler could very easily return to form with the additions the Bears made at receiver. After all, it is pretty tough to throw when you don’t have receivers. Additionally, with new offensive coordinator Mike Tice calling the plays, there will be fewer 7 step drops without legitimate pass protection. The Bears play the 20th hardest NFL schedule in 2012, playing only 7 teams that won 9 or more games last season. Expect a better outing this year from Cutler.
The next thing the Bears need for a Super Bowl run is big seasons from the playmakers on offense that surround Jay Cutler in 2012.
The Surrounding Cast on Offense:
- The additions of Brandon Marshall (WR) and second round pick Alshon Jeffery (WR) will be key to success of Jay Cutler. Marshall has been a consistent 1,000-yard receiver over the past 5 years with and without Cutler. Expect him to easily top the 1,000-yard mark again this year and be a preeminent threat in this offense. Alshon Jeffery should become an integral part of this offense rapidly and become the number two receiving option.
- Matt Forte (RB) has been a very productive running back for the Bears since he came into the league four years ago. As a runner, he has topped 1,000 yards twice (2008 and 2010) and as a receiver he has at least 450 yards every year he has been in the NFL. He missed 4 games at the end of last year (with a knee sprain) but after signing a contract extension expect him to be back to full form again in 2012.
- Michael Bush (RB) as a back up for Matt Forte. He backed up Darren McFadden last year and filled in when he went down, accumulating 977 yards and 7 touchdowns. Expect security and stability at the running-back position no matter who is running the ball.
- Devin HesterÂ (KR/WR) big play return abilities. 12 touchdowns off returns over the past 6 years. A quick six in any game is a welcomed gift.
Historically, when people think of the Chicago Bears they think of a fantastic defense that shuts down opposing teams. While the Bears posted the 5th best defense against the run at 96.4 yards per game, they were vulnerable to aerial attacks, posting the 28th best defense against the pass at 254.1 yards per game. The Bears run a 4-3 defense. While a shutdown defense is not necessary to get to the Super Bowl, the Bears need a big improvement from last year to legitimately compete for the Super Bowl. I would say the major determining factor in the improvement of the Bears defense would be the play of 1st round pick Shea McClellin and the Chicago linebacking corps.
The Bears have an aging group of linebackers. While these linebackers have been fairly productive of late, there could be a significant drop-off in production in the very near future. To stopgap this possible drop-off, Chicago invested their first round draft pick in Boise State’s Shea McClellin. McClellin has been impressive in the preseason thus far and should crack the starting line-up to provide an upgrade for the pass rush. However, expectations should be tempered. He will not be this year’s Aldon Smith producing 14 sacks or even 10 sacks, but he will be a valuable long-term piece for the Bears defense.
Bears Linebackers Defensive Stats from 2011
The Defensive line of the Bears has been pretty good at pressuring the opposing quarterbacks. Julius Peppers, the superstar of this group, has been aging but has been a steady producer since coming to Chicago in 2010. Peppers has been dealing with some injuries (plantar fascistic) in at least one of his feet, but expect another steady season with around 10 sacks. The rest of the defensive line should be able to post a similar performance with respect to stopping the run in 2012.
Bears Defensive Line Stats from 2011
Lastly, the cornerbacks and safeties of the Chicago Bears were an underwhelming group of defenders in 2011. While the argument could be made that there needed to be a better pass rush and more spry linebackers, the Bears still gave up an average of 254.1 yards passing per game. Wherever the blame lies, it at least partially came back to the play of the cornerbacks and safeties. Despite this, Charles Tillman still played exceptionally last season but had little support otherwise. While he is getting older, Tillman is still one of the most reliable cornerbacks in the game and should continue to play at a high level this season.
Bears Cornerbacks and Safeties Stats from 2011
Arguments Against the Bears to the Super Bowl:
- The Bears play in one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL. Playing against the Lions and the Packers twice a year is a tough task for any team.
- The Bears play in the more competitive conference in the NFL. With the Packers, Saints, Giants/Cowboys/Eagles Trio, 49ers, and Falcons competing annually the road to the Super Bowl in the NFC is tough.
- Cutler’s health concerns and protection from the Bears offensive line.
- Cutler’s decision making abilities and the number of interceptions that he throws per season.
- The Chicago pass defense and need for a better pass rush. In a passing league, you need to be able to stop or at least slow down the onslaught through the air.
I think that with the Packers in the division, the Bears are second fiddle and are looking at a wild-card spot in the playoffs. They should be considered one of the front-runers for one of those two wild-cards. Over the past two years, both the Giants and the Packers have gone on to win the Super Bowl from the wild card spot. I think that will keep the Bears game-ready and determined heading into the playoffs. I think that if Jay Cutler can realize his potential this season and if the defense can play at a high-level throughout the playoffs, the Bears could be an exceptionally dangerous team.
Unfortunately, as it stands right now, there are too many ifs and maybes surrounding the Bears to accurately say whether or not they could get to and win the Super Bowl. Currently, assuming Cutler stays healthy, I see the Bears as a 10 or 11 win team that grabs a wild card spot and advances to the second round of the playoffs before losing. The Bears could go to and win the Super Bowl, but they would need some excellent quarterback play and a revitalized defense to capitalize on an anticipated season of success.