Aging defense, patchwork offensive line, and a quarterback with a strong arm but questionable decision making. This describes the Chicago Bears to a T, but it also describes the AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens and Bears are both led by strong, but aging defensive units. Both have playmakers all over the field and potential HOF middle linebackers. The Ravens were able to overcome age and injuries and ride it all the way to the Super Bowl this year. They were an average squad most of the year due to injuries, but when it mattered, they were able to come together and rekindle the magic from their younger days.
The Bears also had one of those magical years on defense too. They led the league in takeaways, and finished 8th in sacks. But like the Ravens, age is starting to creep up on them too. Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, and Charles Tillman aren’t getting any younger. And with Brian Urlacher a free agent, there might be a new man patrolling the middle linebacker spot next season. But the core is still there, and this defense still has one run left in them.
On the offensive side of the ball, both teams are led by strong armed quarterback in Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler. Both quarterbacks have the ability to WOW you with their arms, but also make you scratch your head with some of their questionable throws. The only difference between the two is Flacco’s performance in the playoffs. He’s continued to have his ups and downs in the regular season, but when the lights are on in the postseason, he shines. If he wins this weekend’s Super Bowl, it will make him 9-4 with three appearances in the Conference Championship game. Jay is 1-1 in playoff games with him only completing one of the games. Hopefully, with new coach Marc Trestman, he can finally get through to Jay and turn him into the passer most NFL pundits think he can be.
As far as offensive skill players, both teams feature great running backs and have a big playmaker on the outside. The one advantage the Ravens do have is Dennis Pitta, a legitimate tight end. Pitta is one of those rare athletes that can stretch the field and create matchup nightmares for linebackers.
The Bears, on the other hand, have Kellen Davis. The only guy who thought he was talented was Lovie Smith, and he’s no longer in town. If you need a tight end to fall on the ground, then Kellen Davis is your guy. If you need him to catch a football, good luck! This is a position that Phil figures to target in the offseason.
The one major difference between the two squads is Baltimore’s ability to protect the quarterback. The Bears struggled all season with their mismatched group. The Bears had one consistent offensive lineman all year, and they lost him to injury (Lance Louis). Each week, offensive coordinator Mike Tice would throw a new group out there in hopes of finding one that could stick. From failed first round picks (Chris Williams and Gabe Carimi) to practice squad guys (James Brown), the Bears never found that group.
Teams can’t win when an offensive line is being shuffled around like that right? Well the Baltimore Ravens did just that. Their line is made up of young rookies and re-treads from other teams. They don’t have a Jake Long or a Joe Thomas. Each week, they were shuffling tackles and guards to try and find the right combination due to injury and performance. Just as recently as wild card weekend, the Ravens had to insert Bryant McKinnie at tackle, something he hadn’t played all year. Sound familiar Bears fans?
If the Bears are able to improve the offensive line this offseason, along with finding a “true” tight end, there’s no reason to think this team can’t be a Super Bowl contender. GM Phil Emery has a busy offseason ahead of him, but if he can hit on a few guys, the NFC is there for the taking. If the Ravens can make a Super Bowl with an aging defensive unit and a sporadic offense, why can’t the Bears in 2013.