As we approach the start of training camp, expectations surrounding the 2009 Chicago Bears are higher than they've been since the start of the 1986 season. (One could argue the 2007 team was expected to be better, though the Super Bowl loser curse negated much of that enthusiasm.) Here are my six reasons the Bears will win the NFC North and make a deep run in the NFC post-season.
#5. A Resurgent Brian Urlacher
54 has been remarkably quiet this off-season after his weak 2008 campaign, following a lucrative contract extension. Urlacher, for the first time in nearly a decade, will not be the focal point of this club and that easing-of-pressure should lead to the kind of numbers that made him a perennial contender for Defensive POY.
#4. Monday Night, December 28th
While I expect the Packers to be better than a year ago, this Monday night home game against the Vikings could very well decide the season. That's Chicago. Late December. Evening. Go back and watch the Jets in Seattle at the end of 2008 or the Packers in the NFC Championship Game in 2007 and you'll get a clear picture of what the elderly Brett Favre looks like in these types of conditions. Bears 31, Vikings 10.
Last year, the Bears were an injury away from starting my brother on the offensive line. This year, last year's starters have become backups. The club also has a capable starter at backup running back, two linebacker positions and across the defensive line. The Bears only have two positions on the field where a red flag goes up due to injury: quarterback and safety. (And should the Vikings cut Sage Rosenfels after signing Favre, one of those problems may get solved.)
#2. Matt Forte & Greg Olsen
In my opinion, one of the best duos of young players in the sport. I can project their numbers all day long but instead I'll say this: I expect them to combine for at least twnety-five touchdowns and expect both to be in the Pro Bowl.
...and, of course, #1