Many early publications are already projecting the Bears to finish third in the NFC North. Chicago finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs, while Green Bay (15-1) lost in the divisional round and Detroit (10-6) lost in the wild-card round. This ranking doesnt sit well with Bears fans or the team, especially after the 2011 playoffs evaporated with one injury.
The upcoming season could shape up to be a good one. I can hear the Peanut Gallery already shouting, Mills, you're a Bears homer!
For the Bears, 2012 is more or less about offensive accountability and consistency. If they can achieve this at a high level against their opponents, they will be a playoff team. If not, discussions of rebuilding with a new head coach will come into play as Lovie Smith would be entering a lame duck season in 2013. The offense could potentially be even stronger in 2013 if a good foundation is built in 2012.
The best comparison to the Bears' situation can be seen when analyzing the Baltimore Ravens. Since head coach John Harbaughs arrival in 2008, offensive accountability has been stressed. The Ravens have made the playoffs four straight seasons because their offense has come up big, bailing out what once was a feared defense. The Ravens' offense has also built leads in games their defense has not been able to hold on to. During Harbaughs first season in Baltimore, offense jumped from 17.2 points a game under Brian Billick in 2007 to 24.1 points a game under Harbaugh. The Ravens have hovered around that number ever since. The bottom line is Harbaugh has achieved his goal--the Ravens are a more complete team with greater consistency offensively.
Before the Bears reach the bye week during Week 6, they will play three teams with new head coaches installing new schemes, who are rebuilding with young quarterbacks (Indianapolis: Week 1, St. Louis: Week 3, and Jacksonville: Week 5). Much like the Bears' offense, these teams will be sorting things out early, defining who they are and what they can do. The Bears understand their other two opponents (Green Bay: Week 2 and Dallas: Week 4) very well. The Bears' defense will have to rise to the occasion like they normally do, but these, by no stretch of the imagination, are unwinnable games as many will predict. The Bears would then have the bye week to really start getting their offense humming smoothly.
The Bears could be re-living the fast start from 2011, but can they sustain it this time around? If Mike Tice can embolden the offense with a mindset of confidence and consistency rather than depressed and unpredictable chaos, the Bears will be dangerous in 2012.