The 2012 Bears schedule is out. Now the order of opponents is set, subject to flex times later in the season. That is always the trigger mechanism for predictions of how the year will go.Actually, you could have gotten into predix mode anytime after the final game, since the opponents were set back then, based on finish in the standings, yours and others in your conference.But now there are dates and times in place. More important, a major portion of player movement has already occurred, meaning that teams can be critiqued not just on last years record but also on what theyve done, not done or had done to them in the offseason.And for the third year in a row, View from the Moon is down with a prediction of 10-6 or better, with strong emphasis this year on the or better.(View from the Moon will pass on predicting game-by-game. That's minutiae, and View from the Moon is strictly big picture).Heres why:Recent historyThe 2010 season ended up 'or better' (11-5) and within a touchdown of reaching the Super Bowl. Last seasons '10-6 or better' was spot on up until Jay Cutler broke his thumb when the Bears were 7-3. The Bears still were within a game of tiebreakers even with Caleb Hanie and without Matt Forte for the final quarter of the season.Lion-izingThe draft still has to play out in a little more than a week, but the Bears were already even with or past the Detroit Lions (they whacked Detroit in their second game last year). And that was with Matthew Stafford healthy.OCThey changed offensive coordinators, formally, to the individual (Mike Tice) most responsible for turning around their game plans the past two years. The Bears didnt win 18 of 26 regular-season games entirely because of Mike Martz; they won some in spite of him.QBsTheir quarterback has ended the past two seasons wearing a baseball cap on Sundays but they are better equipped to deal with misfortune now than at any time in recent history, with Jason Campbell, should calamity befall Cutler a third straight year.(Not that it matters exactly, but if the Lions or Packers lose their starting quarterback, theyll be lucky to be playing in a BCS bowl game).UpgradesNo team in the NFC North has upgraded as much as the Bears already have with Brandon Marshall at wide receiver, Michael Bush at running back, Devin Thomas and Eric Weems at wideout and special teams, and at the same time avoided taking any significant steps backwards.This was already a good team; critics should accept that. It has only gotten better this offseason. The same cannot be said for Detroit and Green Bay, and for a number of teams on the schedule, for that matter.ScheduleForget about win-loss percentage of opponents for evaluating difficulty of schedule. View from the Moon has always placed greater store in how many good teams do you have to play?The Bears play seven games against teams with winning records for 2011, and four of those are in the NFC North (Detroit and Green Bay). The other three are the Tennessee Titans, Houston Texans and San Francisco 49ers, in succession from weeks 9-11.
Sometimes the passage of time makes things a little sweeter.
Josh Sitton had been selected to three Pro Bowls while a member of the Green Bay Packers. At the end of training camp last year, the Packers abruptly released Sitton.
On Monday, Sitton was named to his fourth Pro Bowl, replacing former Green Bay teammate T.J. Lang. At age 30, this Pro Bowl was special.
"It's a great honor, always a goal of mine every year," Sitton said via conference call. "It's an honor to me and to the guys I play with, the guys helping me along...
"I would say just the age thing, the older you get, the more you appreciate them. You can't play at a high level in this game so the whole age thing makes it even more special."
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
When the Bears were forced to go into Week 1 of the 2015 season with a shuffled offensive line, the situation wasn't ideal; Pro Bowl guard Kyle Long moving to right tackle as a hurried fill when neither Charles Leno nor Jordan Mills were an answer.
The 2016 season also began with an unexpected and significant shuffle, but this time with one that immediately bumped up the quality of the line. GM Ryan Pace moved quickly to sign Sitton after his release by the Green Bay Packers, a step that bumped rookie Cody Whitehair from guard to center, where he earned All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers Association of America.
"It was challenging for sure," Sitton said. "It was something I haven't had to do for quite some time but it was stimulating being thrown in and needing to learn the offense in four or five days."
Sitton, who signed a three-year contract worth as much as $21 million with $10 million guaranteed, joins rookie running back Jordan Howard as the two Bears scheduled to play in the Pro Bowl. He started 12 of 13 games in 2016, missing time with an ankle injury but being a strong presence in a line that ranked No. 8 in sack percentage while getting Howard to a franchise-record 1,313 rushing yards even with a rookie center and a group that never played a game together before Week 1 in Houston against the Texans.
"I think we can only get better, now that we'll have an offseason together," Sitton said. "We'll see what we can do."