Originally posted on isportsweb.com  |  Last updated 7/10/12

5 In, 5 Out featured by NFL Live is projecting five 20211 playoff teams to fall short this year and then choosing five teams that will replace them. The Bears are predicted to replace the Lions in the playoffs in 2012. While that may sound like exciting news, the Bears need to overcome an inconsistent track record and deliver results to get there. 

If you recall last summer there were similar predictions in early analysis of the Bears, but they just couldn’t get it off the ground. Plagued with injuries: Cutler, Forte, Knox, Barber, Urlacher—the list went on, the bench was crowded and the end was disappointing.

Changes in management, coaching staff and roster will certainly influence what we see on the field this fall. Expect a strong passing game. Earl Bennet, credited with  the lowest drop-rate in the NFL, Alshon Jeffery, a second-round draft pick and  promising rookie, and Brandon Marshall, Cutler’s favorite WR in Denver, make for great targets. Without the pressure of Martz’s complex play system, Cutler will have more decision-making freedom and, hopefully, emerge as a stronger leader on the field.

Even with a stronger passing game, Forte will get his chance to finish what he started last season. In the first 12 games of 2011 Forte rushed for 997 yards on 203 carries (4.9 yards per carry). He also completed 52 receptions for 490 yards before he injured his MCL. Regardless of his contract situation at the start of the season, you can expect Forte to continue to break down barriers to achieve success.

Of course, you can’t overlook the greatest challenge for the Bears since Cutler’s arrival, quarterback coverage. The offensive line seems to have what it takes to protect Cutler long enough to make a play. Assigning a solid left tackle could have a big impact. This obvious soft spot for the Bears has left Cutler flat on his back too many times. J’Marcus Webb and Chris Williams will battle it out for the position during training camp. Lack of leadership, coordination and teamwork make this an ongoing hotspot for the offense.

A healthy and focused defense will continue to force big plays and turnovers. Chicago never runs short of a violent defense. Brian Urlacher has voiced his desire to play another 2-3 years. There’s no reason he shouldn’t get that chance as long as he maintains his physical condition and health. Together on the field with Briggs, Peppers and Tillman, they are a contending force.

Chicago Bears Special Teams unit continues to rate among the top of the league. The addition of Eric Weems is exciting, but Hester is still #1 for kick returns Chicago, according to Dave Toub. Consistency equals reliability, which is exactly what the Bears need.

The Bears have the talent to win the conference. They need to shift their strategy away from opportunistic. Last season they waited too long for nothing to happen, or worse, they missed opportunity because of error.  The roster is shaping up to be well-balanced. Let’s hope they can work out most of the details of performing together before opening day.

The Bears training camp runs Bourbonnais from July 25 through August 17.

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