The usually frugal Chicago Bears, it was said, didn’t fire Coach Lovie Smith following last season’s incredibly disappointing 7-9 season because the team didn’t want to have to pay Smith to not coach for the next two years left on his contract.
But that theory went out the window when the Bears were uncharacteristically the big spenders in free agency by luring star defensive end Julius Peppers from Carolina, versatile running back Chester Taylor from Minnesota and blocking tight end Brandon Manumaleuna from the Rams.
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The problems last year on this team were many. First and foremost Jay Cutler made some incredibly bad decisions in leading the NFL with 26 picks. That overshadowed a solid year yardage-wise (3,666) and in touchdown passes (27). In fairness, it wasn’t all Cutler’s fault. He didn’t have a true No. 1 receiver to throw to and was sacked 35 times and hurried dozens more times behind a patchwork offensive line. And second-year RB Matt Forte took a huge step back from a terrific rookie campaign as the Bears ranked 30th in the league in rushing. But, again, the offensive line had to take some blame for that.
The problems weren’t limited to the offense. The defense was gutted when its heart and soul, linebacker Brian Urlacher, was lost for the season in the regular-season opener. The Monsters of the Midway ranked 29th in the league on defense, a slap in the face to Smith, a defensive coach who took over calls on that unit. The Bears couldn’t get a consistent pass rush and the secondary was injury-prone and, frankly, not very good. So the Bears brought in Peppers to solve their pass rush problems and brought back safety Chris Harris in a trade with Carolina.
Taylor should help the offense – look for Forte to still be the starter but for Taylor to basically be 1A. And WR Devin Aromashodu emerged as one of the league's most productive receivers the last month of the '09 season. But no one is being counted on more than new offensive coordinator Mike Martz, who usually improves his quarterbacks and his offenses immediately but also sees his QBs get sacked more and throw more interceptions, which are the last things Cutler needs. Plus, the offensive line wasn’t really addressed this offseason.
The 2010 Bears could win 12 games or lose 12 – it’s a club that potentially has a high ceiling but a low floor. BetUS lists the Bears’ NFL season win total right in between at 8. But anything less than 10 and a playoff berth means Smith is gone and so probably is Martz and GM Jerry Angelo.
Here’s the 2010 Chicago Bears schedule (all times Eastern):
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 3: Monday, Sep. 27, Green Bay, 8:30 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at NY Giants, 8:20 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, at Carolina, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Seattle, 1:00 PM
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 24, Washington, 1:00 PM
Week 8: BYE
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, at Buffalo, 1:00 PM (Toronto)
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, Minnesota, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 18, at Miami, 8:20 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Philadelphia, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 5, at Detroit, 1:00 PM
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 12, New England, 1:00 PM
Week 15: Monday, Dec. 20, at Minnesota, 8:30 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, at Green Bay, 1:00 PM
This is ranked as the 14th overall toughest schedule in the league with an opponents’ 2009 winning percentage of .504 (129-127). There are eight games against playoff teams from last year, including four in the division.
The first thing one must notice is the Bears better start 9-3 or something close to that because the final four games are all against potential Super Bowl teams that were a combined 42-22 last year. And Chicago plays three of its first five on the road against possible playoff teams in Dallas, the Giants and Carolina. So the middle stretch of the season will be vital to have a decent winning streak.
Certainly Chicago should open with a victory against Detroit in the first opening game at Soldier Field since 2004. The Bears scored 85 points in sweeping the Lions last year, although certainly Detroit should be better. Chicago is 2-3 in its past five openers, all on the road of course.
Chicago has four home games before Nov. 1 this season after having only two such contests in 2009. And, really, the Bears probably need to win them all, although the Packers swept them last year.
That game with Buffalo after the bye is the first game outside the U.S. in Chicago’s 90-year history. Yes, Toronto is 100 miles from Buffalo, but as well as Bears fans travel that should eliminate the fact it’s technically a Bills home game. That short week game on Nov. 18 in Miami should benefit the Dolphins because they are home the Sunday before as well and thus don’t have to worry about travel at all. It’s a little odd that Chicago doesn’t have consecutive road or home games following the bye.
To reach the playoffs the Bears probably need to go no worse than 7-1 at home and take winnable road games in Detroit, Miami and that Bills game in Toronto. I’m not sure the Bears can win seven of eight at home, however. This looks like a 9-7 team that sits out the playoffs yet again and that probably means a coaching and front office overhaul in Chicago.
Allen Eastman is back with his 99 System for NFL picks in 2010 and before he even came across this system he was considered one of the best NFL handicappers in the business – now he is just unstoppable. Last season the 99 System was 27-13 ATS and this system not only helped his clients make a boatload of money, but also helped Eastman to third place in the prestigious Las Vegas Hilton NFL Contest.