If Marques Colston of the Saints is the steal of this past NFL Draft on offense, Anderson is the biggest bargain on defense. An overlooked fifth-rounder out of Alabama, Anderson played incredibly well in the rotation at defensive end and led the team with 12 sacks. Ogunleye and Brown are two of the more experienced and well-rounded ends in the league, but neither one of them played up to their capability this season. Ogunleye compiled just 6.5 sacks after 10 a year ago, and it was rumored that Brown might lose his starting gig to Anderson despite being named an alternate for the Pro Bowl. Both Ogunleye and Brown are high-salary players, but if I had to guess which one of them might be gone to make room for Anderson as a starter in 2007, I'd say Ogunleye.
How did Rex Grossman perform statistically this season compared to what you expected? Better or worse? - Zack (Oak Lawn, IL)
Most importantly, Grossman started all 16 games this season for the first time in his career and is the first Bear since Erik Kramer in 1995 to accomplish that feat. Back in training camp, I predicted the former Gator would throw for 3,200 yards and 18 touchdowns, and it looks like I was pretty close. Grossman finished 2006 with 3,193 yards through the air and 23 TD tosses. However, his 54.6 completion percentage is way too low for a west-coast-offense quarterback, and we all know that 20 interceptions is way too many in this league. The biggest problem with his game is the simple fact that 'Good Rex' can be so good and 'Evil Rex' can be so bad, so he simply has to find a way to be more consistent.
Cedric Benson has gotten more carries than Thomas Jones the last few weeks? Should we expect to see the same in the playoffs, and who starts next season? - Will (Oxford, MS)
Most of you know that I have been a Benson supporter for quite some time and fully believe that he is the more talented back with the most upside. Jones still had a wonderful season and played his way through a handful of nagging injuries, proving why he is so beloved in the Bears locker room. The main reason Benson got more carries the last few games is the fact that Jones was a little banged up down the stretch, plus the team had the luxury of having home-field advantage wrapped up after Week 15. As far as next season goes, I would be absolutely shocked if Benson is not the main threat in the backfield. If the Bears cut Jones, they will save about $2 million against the salary cap in 2007, and Adrian Peterson has already shown that he can be a dependable No. 2 man on the depth chart.
Any chance Brian Urlacher repeats as Defensive Player of the Year? I think he's been just as good this season. Maybe even better. - Mitch (Lubbock, TX)
The voting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year was just released on Friday morning, and Urlacher came in fourth. Jason Taylor of Miami won it this time, and I don't see any way how you can argue with the voters on this one. He recorded 13.5 sacks, forced nine fumbles, recovered two more, intercepted two passes, and scored a pair of defensive touchdowns. We all know what Urlacher means to the Bears, but he simply did not have as many highlight-reel plays as he did a year ago when he was victorious. And this is not the kind of award that gets won two years in a row, as evidenced by the fact that Lawrence Taylor of the Giants is the only player to ever accomplish that feat (1980-81).
Now that Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher appear to be healthy again, will we see Devin Hester on defense anymore? Shouldn't he just return kicks? - Slater (Hyde Park, IL)
I think the Bears coaching staff finally realized that they stretched Hester a little too thin and wore him out down the stretch. He's obviously a difference-maker in the return game and will be headed to the Pro Bowl next month, but he's simply not ready to be an NFL cornerback yet. He might get a look or two on offense in the playoffs just to give opposing defenses something to think about, but returning kickoffs and punts is all he'll really be asked to do. A healthy Tillman and Vasher means Ricky Manning Jr. returns to his more familiar role at nickelback, and hopefully, Hester won't be asked to defend the likes of Deion Branch, Terry Glenn, or Plaxico Burress. He's not the reason the Bears have been torched in the passing game lately, but he hasn't helped much.
What are your predictions for the wild card round? Who do you think is coming to Chicago next weekend? - LonghornTed (Dyer, IN)
In the NFC, I believe the Cowboys will throw the ball all over the Seahawks and win in Seattle. Without cornerbacks Marcus Trufant and Kelly Herndon, I'm expecting Tony Romo to find Terrell Owens all day long and pull off the mild upset. The Giants have no chance to beat the Eagles in Philadelphia if you ask me, which would send Dallas to the Windy City in the divisional round because the Pokes would be the lowest seed remaining. Jeff Garcia has the Eagles on a roll right now, and Eli Manning has regressed. Over in the AFC, I'm going with the chalk and expecting both Indianapolis and New England to win at home.
Who are the biggest names that could get cut by the Bears in the offseason, and if so, who is there to replace them? - Ashton (Ames, IA)
It looks like I sort of answered this question based on two of my previous answers. I fully expect Jones to get cut in the offseason to make room for Benson as the starter at tailback. Aside from him on offense, I guess there's a slim chance of the team saying goodbye to Muhsin Muhammad in order to open the door for Mark Bradley, but I doubt it. Defensively, either Brown or Ogunleye is a distinct possibility at end because Anderson looks to be a star on the rise. And even though the Bears are thin at safety and need an influx of talent there, three consecutive injury-riddled seasons from Mike Brown have to make you wonder about his future.
Are the Bears pretty much assuming that Ron Rivera won't be back? If he leaves, who takes over as DC? - Hunter (Mobile, AL)
Rivera interviewed with Arizona on Wednesday and is apparently scheduled to meet with Miami and Atlanta before Saturday. NFL rules allow playoff-bound assistant coaches to interview for promotions until noon Saturday in order to give them just as much of an opportunity to be considered for promotions as coaches from teams that don't make the postseason. Chico just about got the St. Louis job last year, so I believe he's going to get a head post somewhere this time around. Lovie Smith is on the record saying that Rivera will be a fantastic head coach somewhere and has given him his full support. As far as replacing him, linebackers coach Bob Babich would probably be at the top of the list since he's in-house and knows the system.
Which potential divisional round opponent should the Bears fear the most? Do they have any preference as to which team they want to play? - Corey (River Forest, IL)
Even though he was asked a few different ways, as you'd expect, Lovie Smith offered no preference as to which team he would like to face next weekend. Personally, with the way the Bears have been torn apart in the passing game the last month, I think Dallas could be a tough matchup for them. Manning has been awful the second half of the season for the G-Men, and Matt Hasselbeck is not playing as well as he did a year ago. The Cowboys, on the other hand, probably have the most talented receiving corps in the NFC with the likes of Owens, Glenn, and Patrick Crayton, plus don't forget about tight end Jason Witten. Tony Romo has come back to earth after his sizzling start, but a banged up secondary and a diminished pass rush from the Bears could make him look like a Pro-Bowler again.
Which college player from the bowl games has been the most impressive to you? - Keith (Portland, OR)
Although LSU's JaMarcus Russell clearly outplayed Notre Dame's Brady Quinn in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night and probably made himself a few million dollars in the process, I've been nuts about Calvin Johnson of Georgia Tech since he was a freshman. As an FSU grad, I see a ton of ACC football and have been scared to death of that kid for three years. At 6'5" and 235 pounds, he is a physically imposing presence and can manhandle any cornerback lined up against him. Johnson will be one of the first names called in this April's NFL Draft and could very well be the most talented player available. I know he caught 67 passes for 1,016 yards this season, but why head coach Chan Gailey didn't find more ways to get him the football is beyond me.
Special Delivery runs every Friday on BearReport.com. If you have a question that you would like to have JC answer, please find the appropriate pegged thread on the message boards or send it to his EZInbox.