While the major magazines and websites have been ranking the Chicago Bears somewhere in the bottom third of the NFL, I will impolitely and unapologetically disagree. I don’t think the Bears can make the playoffs. I think the Bears should make the playoffs. And while I’ve spent the last few months encouraging the organization to fix holes on various parts of the roster, no one should ignore the clear reasons for optimism.
We’ve got Julius Peppers now. Have we become so jaded and cynical as to not acknowledge that the Bears have their best defensive end since Richard Dent? Everything I’ve read applies the word “if” to Orange Julius’ production as if the player hasn’t been one of the league’s most consistent performers for the better part of a decade. The Bears were not a weaker team than the Packers a year ago and Peppers will exploit their most glaring weaknesses on the offensive line.
And look at who is lining up behind him. If there is a better linebacking corps than Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Pisa Tinoisamoa, find them. The linebackers are the team’s unparalleled strength and two thirds of them were absence from the entirety of the 2009 campaign. Yes, health in football is a coin-flip game. But if these guys stay on the field, the Bears defense will be much-improved against both the run and pass.
So will the passing game. Mike Martz’ arrival has been much ballyhooed and written about but I actually think it’s a bit overrated. If the offensive line makes their blocks – and they got much better as 2009 progressed – the Bears offense will score points. How can they not? They’ve got two terrific running backs. They’ve got a pair of the fastest wide receivers in the league. They’ve got a quarterback that, while prone to mistakes, still managed some eye-bursting numbers in 2009. They’ve got too many good tight ends. They won’t only score points. They’ll be damn fun to watch.
So will Dave Toub and the most consistently excellent special teams I’ve ever seen. Robbie Gould is automatic from inside fifty. Brad Maynard can be hot-and-cold but when he’s hot, there’s nobody better. Manning, Knox and Hester can change every game on every return. Our special teams are just plain good.
And so is this team. They have some weaknesses, sure, but they’re good. And the fans should expect to be playing in January because the talent is there. Most people thought the Bears would take “the leap” in 2009. I thought it would take until November for them to find their sea legs. “The leap” is going to come in 2010. And it looks like the Bears are going to surprise a number of people.