The Chicago Bears put together a truly remarkable season when nobody gave them a chance. The NFC North was supposed to come down to the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers, while the Bears were an afterthought. Instead, Chicago went 11-5 on the season and 5-1 within the division to capture the North title. The Bears also clinched the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye with their efforts. If you want to wager against the odds on this team to win the big dance, then you will find Chicago at +1200 to win Super Bowl XLV.
Chicago has been winning with defense, getting back to the way they played in the 1980’s and even when they made another Super Bowl run in 2006 with a 13-3 record. General manager Jerry Angelo has done a great job putting this team together, and the $91.5 million, six-year contract he gave to defensive end Julius Peppers is already paying major dividends. He has 54 tackles, 8 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 2 interceptions this season while wreaking havoc in opposing backfields. Almost all of their improvement this season can be attributed to Peppers, as he has given the defensive line the proven pass rusher they have been looking for. Still, Angelo doesn’t believe this is his most talented team since he took over after the 2000 season.
“I don’t see this as a team with great talent,” Angelo said, “but I see this as a team that’s played well together and really responded to the adversity that every team goes through. The word ‘resilient’ has been used several times, and I think that really is a good word to define this team, and hopefully we’ll keep that resiliency going on into the playoffs.” Angelo remembers back to when the Green Bay Packers signed Reggie White, and compares the signing of Peppers very similar in that he could not afford to pass up such a special talent.
Chicago’s offense ranked 30th in the league this year at 289.4 total yards per game, and what’s concerning is that seven starters will be playing in a playoff game for the first time. The list includes Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett, as well as three of five starting offensive linemen. The Bears will be relying on a the ninth-ranked defense at 314.3 yards per game allowed this season. This unit has plenty of experience, with 10 starters having played in a playoff game. That includes seven starters who participated in the 2005 and ‘06 postseasons.
The defense can play great, but ultimately it comes down to how many plays Jay Cutler can make while also avoiding mistakes. Cutler played very well down the stretch, posting better than a 100.0 passer rating in four of his final six games. For the season, he has thrown for 3,274 yards and 23 touchdowns to 16 interceptions while thriving in new offensive coordinator Mike Martz’ system. Matt Forte came on strong at the end of the year to give the Bears a steady running game. Forte finished with 1,069 rushing yards and 6 touchdowns, while also catching 51 balls for 547 yards and 3 scores.
You will also find Chicago at +400 to win the 2011 NFC Championship. If the Bears can get Forte going on the ground and Cutler can avoid making big mistakes, this team has a great shot to reach the Super Bowl. That’s because they have a defense that bends but does not break. Any team with a defense and a solid running game has a chance, and the Bears certainly have both. Cutler is the wild-card though, and it would be tough to trust him in his first-ever trip to the playoffs.