August 9, 2011

2011 Chicago Bears Preview and Prediction

The Chicago Bears won 11 games last year to take NFC North title and hosted the NFC championship game. But in the end we were left wondering just how good the Bears actually were. Their offense struggled, especially along the line, the running game sputtered, their QB got sacked a lot, and they had to rely on special teams and the defense to an unhealthy degree.

Most sportsbooks sent Chicago off last year getting right around 18/1 to win the NFC championship. The Bears then began their season with a very fortunate victory over Detroit on opening day, part of a 4-1 start that also included wins at Dallas and vs. Green Bay. They later won five games in a row, and they beat the Jets and gave an admirable effort in a (to them) meaningless game at Green Bay in the season finale.

A home playoff victory over a mediocre Seattle team got them to the championship game, where they came up a TD short against the hated Packers, despite the valiant efforts of their backup QB.

So that’s three division championships and two championship game appearances in seven seasons under Coach Smith. Which ain’t bad for a guy who’s been on the hot seat for a good part of his time here.

But just what are the Bears? They ranked 30th in total yards last year at 289 YPG, 22nd in rushing at 101 YPG, 22nd in total yardage at -25 YPG, and they gave up more sacks, 56, than any other team in the league. Defensively, they were better, ranking ninth overall at 314 YPG and second vs. the run at 90 YPG.

Chicago also went 9-6-1 ATS last year, 5-2-1 ATS on the road. And they were 7-9 on the over/unders, as Bears games averaged 39 total points.

Chicago has been among the more active teams this off-season, trading TE Greg Olson, letting C Olin Kreutz, DT Tommy Harris and S Danieal Manning go, and signing, among others, RB Marion Barber, WR Roy Williams and DE Vernon Gholston. And they tried to address a weak spot when they used their first-round pick to grab Outland Trophy-winning OL Gabe Carimi from Wisconsin.

The Bears play six games this season vs. teams that made the playoffs last year, and they visit Tampa and host San Diego. Overall Chicago’s strength-of-schedule ranks 23rd.

QB Jay Cutler owns a 50/42 TD/INT ratio in his two seasons with Chicago, so he needs to cut down those mistakes. And we wonder a bit about Cutler’s mental health, after last year’s championship game.

Bodog.com is listing Chicago at +450 to win the NFC North again this year, at 14/1 to win the NFC and at 28/1 to win the Super Bowl, with a regular-season wins over/under of 8.5. But we get the feeling Chicago might struggle this year, so we’ll go with the under 8.5 on their wins total.

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