One thing the Bears will not be burdened by this season is great expectations.
Fans, media and run-of-the-mill bystanders are adjusting their sights downward when they look ahead to Lovie Smith's seventh season in Chicago. That's understandable given last year's 7-9 season and this year's 0-4 preseason.
Not even the odds-makers think much of the Bears. Even though they're at home Sunday at noon against the Lions, who have won just twice in the past two seasons, the Bears are only 6.5-point favorites.
"That's kind of the mentality out there right now," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "Everyone is a little bit down on us, a little bit disappointed [in] last year and then preseason wise. Offensively, we haven't been as high-flying as we were predicted to be. That's fine. Under the radar isn't a bad thing."
The Bears aren't even on most radar screens when it comes to talk of the postseason, but that has little effect on their locker room. Players insist they're not motivated by the lack of respect or their record in the preseason because they don't put much stock in either.
"We don't really pay a lot of attention to the record as much in the preseason," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We were just trying to get better in different phases of the game. Right now, everybody is 0-0. That's the reality of it. There's no added pressure or any chip [on our shoulders] from anything that happened in the preseason. This is a fresh start as far as we're concerned."
The Bears were 2-2 in the preseason before they went to Super Bowl XLI, and they were 3-1 last year and in 2007, but they finished 7-9 both years. So any lack of faith that comes from a mundane preseason is not shared by the players.
"The preseason was the preseason," cornerback Zack Bowman said. "Those games don't count. Obviously, the season is here and these games do. We're like, It's all opinion. We can't worry about what other people think about us. We know inside this locker room we're a good team, so we're going to go out there and prove it."
The prejudging, good or bad, is just part of the deal according to Smith, who pointed out that the Saints were coming off an 8-8 year when they won the Super Bowl last season.
"That's what you do in the preseason. That's what you do in the offseason," Smith said of the prognostications. "You have a lot of experts. We're all experts based on what we think. I guess that matters before you play. But once you get to game week, it really doesn't matter. You can't really tell what a team will do."
Cutler said gloomy predictions by outsiders have no bearing on what will happen Sunday against the Lions.
"It is what it is," the quarterback said. "You can't get caught up in that. You can't get distracted by what anybody is saying, no matter how good it is or how bad it is."
While Peppers is considered by many as a solution to some of the problems that plagued the Bears last season, Cutler is looked at by some as part of the problem, considering he threw a league-high 26 interceptions to offset his 27 TD passes.
"Last year I took a hit, obviously," Cutler said. "I had a little step-down there. I'm growing. Every experience you learn more and more. I'm excited about this year."
The next step is getting the doubters to believe.
"The key to this roster, like it is with any NFL roster, your core players, the guys you're paying money to, the guys that you're building on, they've got to play to their ceilings," general manager Jerry Angelo said. "They have to play. They've got to stay healthy and they've got to play to their abilities. Everything else is built around that. If that core isn't playing well, then it doesn't really make a difference what No. 51, 52 and 53 [on the roster] look like." ...
WR Devin Aromashodu has been a Cutler favorite since last year's training camp because he's the Bears' biggest target and has the speed to get deep. In the final four games last season he snagged 22 passes for 282 yards and four touchdowns. Over a 16-game season, that's 88 receptions, 1,128 yards and 16 touchdowns.
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