There is nothing worse than going 10-6 and not making the playoffs. Well, maybe going 11-5 and not making the playoffs, but you get the point.
The Chicago Bears finished 10-6 in 2012 and watched as teams with similar records competed in the playoffs. The NFC North is becoming one of the best divisions in the league, but after further review, the Bears can't really use their division as a valid excuse.
They only beat two playoff teams -- the Indianapolis Colts and Minnesota Vikings -- which is not the strongest resume, especially considering the Vikings beat them both later in the year.
So will the Bears be able to take the baby step needed into the playoffs this season? Well, the biggest change is at the helm. Offensive guru and ex-CFL head coach Marc Trestman will be taking over for Lovie Smith as head coach this season in Chicago. Trestman is a huge believer in quarterback Jay Cutler, which is big for Cutler because Trestman once turned Rich Gannon's career around in Oakland.
A great deal is riding on this season for Cutler. It is the last year on his contract and if he is unable to produce a playoff team this season, then don't expect him back in a Chicago uniform in 2014.
We all know the problems with Chicago's offense stem from people much larger than Cutler, but there comes a point where he needs to earn his money regardless of the players around him. And this season is that point.
And anyways, the front office made some major adjustments on the offensive line to give Cutler at least some protection. Chicago signed left tackle Jermon Bushrod, who was formerly with the New Orleans Saints, and left guard Matt Slauson, who played for the New York Jets last season. They also signed tight end Martellus Bennett, which should additionally aid the blocking efforts.
Furthermore, they signed offensive tackle Kyle Long with their first round pick, so the offensive line should be much improved this season.
At wide receiver, we know Brandon Marshall is going to be one of the best in the game, but after last season's outburst, the rest of the league will know as well. Cutler will need a second option when Marshall is covered, and it appears that second-year stud Alshon Jeffrey will be that guy.
Last year, Jeffrey was rarely healthy and only received 48 targets in the ten games he played. But this season he is expected to show why he was one of the best receivers in college during his South Carolina days. He should reap the rewards of Marshall always being double-covered, and that will pay dividends for Cutler and the offense.
With the running game, you know what you will get from Matt Forte and Michael Bush. That is a solid duo to have in the backfield, and as long as the passing game is able to get established, the running game will be able to follow suit.
Defensively, the Bears are kind of like a Subway sandwich. The bread of their defense (aka their secondary and defensive line) is solid, but the meat (aka the linebackers) is subpar at best.
It will be impossible to replace the leadership of former middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, but replacing his production from last season should not be too difficult. Chicago added former Denver Bronco D.J. Williams to do exactly that.
The Bears also signed strongside linebacker James Anderson to play right next to Williams. Adding Lance Briggs to that mix makes it a little bit more respectable, but the two new guys will definitely need to step up if this defense wants to be one of the strongest in the NFC.
Like most teams, this team will only go as far as their quarterback takes them. But the problem with Cutler is he needs the situation around him to be perfect for him to succeed. So that means that the offensive line needs to take giant strides for this team to be in the playoffs.
This is definitely one of those question mark teams that could be at the top or the bottom by the end of the season. But with so many contenders in their division, it will be difficult for Chicago to stand out from the pack. It looks like another strong season with nothing to show for it at the end of the year is looming for the Bears.
By: Matt Levine