The 2011 Chicago Bears were a talented team that started off 7-3 until injuries mounted up, thereby resulting in an 8-8 season. With new General Manger Phil Emery, new Offensive Coordinator Mike Tice, and a new passing game influenced by Jeremy Bates, the Bears offense has already changed drastically before playing a single snap. The infusion of talent at wide receiver and the new offensive philosophy should help the Bears win more games this season than they were on pace to win before injuries derailed the 2011 season.
When we take a look at some statistics and weaknesses of the Bears oppenents in the NFC North, things seem to be favoring the Bears as NFC North champions in 2012.
The Minnesota Vikings
Generally speaking, the Vikings have three players who have given the Chicago Bears problems in the past. Jared Allen, who appeared unblockable in Martz' scheme, Adrian Peterson, who will be recovering from a blown knee, and the injury prone Percy Harvin, who has recently expressed his desire to be traded.
The Vikings' biggest weakness on offense is a lack of overall talent at the wide receiver position. The Vikings' offense appears to be nearly identical to their 2011 version with the possiblity of Adrian Peterson not performing like he has in previous years, should injuries start to take their toll.
On defense, the Vikings main weakness is their secondary. While they have tried to improve their secondary with draft picks, the inexperienced rookies are likely to be schooled by Jay Cutler and company as they get used to the speed of the pro game. In 2011, the Vikings gave up 34 touchdowns through the air and only picked off 8 passes. You can't tell me that Jay Cutler isn't salivating at the chance to play the Vikings.
The Bears have a better offense, defense, and special teams than the Vikings do. Thus, they should win both matchups between them.
The Detroit Lions
The Lions have three strong areas which have given the Chicago Bears problems in the past. Calvin Johnson, who will be looking to beat the odds of the Madden curse, Matthew Stafford, who had a great 2011 season, and their entire defensive line, whom have wreaked havoc versus the Bears offensive line and thereby quarterback Jay Cutler. Though the Lions made progress last season with a playoff berth, they actually never beat a single team that ended up with a winning record last season.
Though the the Lions defensive line is among the best in the league, their defense does have weaknesses elsewhere. Specifically, the Lions had a hard time stopping the run, they had both a weak linebacker corps and a weak secondary. The Lions gave up over 2,050 yards rushing on defense. On average, opposing teams rushed for 128.1 yards per game against them in 2011. In the air, opposing teams passed for over 3,800 yards in 2011. So, despite the strength of their defensive line, the Lions still have some serious problems on defense that they must improve on in 2012. As a result of both weaknesses, the Bears should be able to take advantage of the Lions' weak secondary with their new weapons, as well as have success running the ball with the addition of Michael Bush.
The Lions offense has some firepower with a talented wide receiver corps and a quarterback who threw for over 5000 yards in his first full season. The Lions offensive line has to improve, though, in order to help keep Mattew Stafford healthy, who has been injury prone. As for the Lions running game, it seems to be non-existent. With the improvements the Bears have made to their secondary, who now have a much better chance to prepare for the Lions by practicing against the Bears new passing game, they should be able to hold up better in 2012 versus the Lions' passing attack.
Though the Bears split both matchups with the Lions last season, the improvements the Bears have made both offensively and defensively should give them the edge to possibly win both matchups in 2012.
The Green Bay Packers
Generally speaking, the Packers have only two players that can give the Bears problems. The deadly accurate Aaron Rodgers and the still dangerous Clay Matthews. The Packers have arguably the best wide receiver corps in the NFL who are led by the best quarterback in the league over the past four years. Their two weaknesses on offense are the offensive line and the absence of a running game. Having said that, Aaron Rodgers has shown that he can overcome those weaknesses to help the Packers win games.
The Packers' defense is another story. No team in 2011 played worse on defense than the Green Bay Packers. In 2011, the defense gave up over 4,796 passing yards and 29 touchdowns through the air.
As long as the Bears new offense can keep Aaron Rodgers off the field more than they did in 2011, the defense should be more fresh, thereby increasing the Bears chances to beat the Packers. That being said, the Packers are still the toughest team that the Bears will face in the NFC North. So, I don't see the Bears sweeping the Packers in 2012. I think both the Packers and Bears will win their respective home games against each other.
Primed to be NFC North Champs
The NFC North is one of the toughest divisions in the National Football Conference. In order to compete, the Bears have improved their offense to help keep up with the offensive firepower that both the Packers and the Lions bring. Along the offensive line, arguably the Bears biggest weakness in 2011, much has already been documented regarding the improvements that should be expected due to the changes in scheme, which new offensive coordinator Mike Tice will bring. The Bears already had the best defense and special teams in their divison before adding more depth via free agency and young talent via the draft. Much has changed since the Bears finished 8-8 and third in the NFC North last season, and the change appears to be for the better. It's these changes coupled with the aforementioned weaknesses of their division opponents which has me thinking that the Chicago Bears are primed to be champions of the NFC North in 2012.
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