In last year's biggest turnaround, the Chicago Bears won a division title for the first time since 1990. It's particularly amazing that they won this division title without beating second place Green Bay and with Jim Miller as their quarterback. Anthony Thomas won Offensive Rookie of the Year honors and the Marty Booker emerged as a go-to wide receiver. All in all, a successful year turned very much wrong when the Eagles upset the Bears at home in the NFC divisional playoffs. In that one game, the Bears' weaknesses were exposed and head coach Dick Jauron was outcoached. Sounds very familiar, doesn't it, Steeler fans?
#8 Chicago Bears (13 - 3) First in the NFC Central
The Bears made a few significant moves over the off-season. They resigned Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, who might be the best center in the league since Dermontti Dawson, Chris Chandler, and matched Kansas City's offer for linebacker Warrick Holdman. The strangest move has to be signing safety Damon Moore away from Philadelphia. For those who watched (and who could watch football after the Steelers' heartbreaking loss), Moore tore up his knee pretty badly in the NFC championship game. He was originally expected to miss the full 2002 season, but the Bears think he can come back early and be productive.
The Good: The defense is the heart and soul of this Bears team. Brian Urlacher, Rosevelt Colvin, and Warrick Holdman make up the best linebacking corps in the NFC. Marty Booker single-handedly won a few games for my fantasy team last year, and his emergence compensated for the loss of Pro-Bowl receiver Marcus Robinson. The team added Chris Chandler to add insurance at quarterback. Although Miller is still listed as the #1 QB, it's only a matter of time till Chandler's natural abilities overtake Miller. Incumbent Offensive Rookie of the Year Anthony Thomas returns to once again run wild behind Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz.
The Bad: It may take the coaching staff a few games to realize that Chandler is the man, and it may cost the Bears a win or two at the beginning. This team needs to spread the field. A lack of offense was the true weakness last year and it cost them in the playoffs. Deep passes downfield should do the trick and that's Chandler's forte. The Bears must find a way to beat the Packers this year. The Pack looks to be a better team than last season and the Bears can't afford to be swept again.
The Ugly: The offense doesn't have much depth and many of the wins this season will be some of the ugliest, most boring football you'll ever see.
Synopsis: The Bears won't sneak up on opponents again this season. I think 13 wins are a bit much for this young team, but they'll get to double digits and the playoffs. They'll have to play above last year's level, though, to overtake the Packers for the division. 11 wins.