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Expect greatness. Nothing less.
The fans remember 7-3 - a team surging up the inane Power Rankings that fill national sport media web pages on Wednesday each NFL week. They remember 7-3with an enigmatic offensive coordinator putting his quarterback and line in poor positions on almost every other down. They remember 7-3 without a bona fide #1 wide receiver lined up on the outside and with a fella called Hanie charged to keep the house warm for the winter. They remember 7-3. And On the Lakefront, they coulda been a contender.
That's where expectations begin. 7-3. Except new GM Phil Emery has ensured losing the starting QB will not mean a broken bungee cord for the 2012 campaign as Jason Campbell's strong arm now backs up Jay Cutler's. Brandon Marshall (trade) and Alshon Jeffery (draft) have instantly become the most exciting/promising Bears receiver tandem since the underrated '95 duo of Jeff Graham and Curtis Conway. A rash of potential impact rookies and collection of depth-providing veterans have also made their way to Halas Hall thanks to Emery and company's understanding of what makes a championship NFL roster.
There is only one true question mark on that roster: left tackle. And nobody, not even the most negative of Nelly's, is naive enough to think sub-average play at that position from either J'Maligned Webb or Priss Williams (that's a low blow) will sabotage a very talented roster. (Just look at the number of elite left tackles to hoist Lombardi trophies over the last decade and you'll realize how easy the position has become to compensate for with scheme.)
Are there specifics attached to this season's expectations? Yes. There have to be. If the Bears fail to make the postseason - even in a deep NFC field that may require eleven wins - Lovie Smith must be walked to the front door of Halas Hall before kickoff of the wild card round. Don't even bother with the cliched cardboard box bit. Just throw all his things in a bag and slap a Big Sandy, Texas label on it.
If the Bears do make the postseason, they must play well there. No double-digit road loss in Philadelphia or the Meadowlands. No last minute fumble in San Francisco or special teams blunder in Atlanta. Lovie Smith and company have shown fans they are capable of winning playoff games with a talented roster. They have also shown us they're capable of failing in the brightest of lights. The postseason in 2012 is a must. But a solid showing in that postseason might be of even greater importance, as the pessimistic fan will argue a change in short-term football leadership will ultimately yield greater long-term rewards.
For me, it all starts at home. The NFC North. And whilst the rest of the football world will surely pen the Green Bay Packers as champions of the division before I have my first cold beer on Labor Day weekend, I believe the talent gap between the two sides is nowhere near as wide as some perceive. My expectation, my personal expectation for the Bears is not making the playoffs. My personal expectation is for the Bears to win the NFC North and host a postseason game at Soldier Field - preferably after taking the WC round off. I then expect them to win that game and play, at the least, in the NFC title game.
Why? Because I believe they are a top two team in the NFC. It is the Bears and the Packers. The Saints have no coach. The Giants are not a regular season juggernaut. The Eagles are a chatty group of underachievers. The Niners will be asking the genie for a fourth wish. Bears. Packers. Emery has done his job. Now it's time for Lovie and the players to do theirs.
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