GLS Preview: Chicago Bears

Okay here it goes. The Chicago Bears are the NFL’s most overrated team.

Yes, they were in the NFC championship game last year. Yes, they won a division that contained the eventual Super Bowl winner. Yes, they had the second-best run defense in the league. But the 2011 Bears shouldn’t be mentioned in the same breath as the Packers, Eagles, Saints or Falcons.

Actually, I’d put the Buccaneers and Cowboys ahead of them too. And maybe even the Lions.

Sorry, Chicagoans. I love your city and there’s something about your team that I really like, but that team is the Bulls.

Let’s start with the fact that the front office wrapped up the offseason (or at least the meat of it) with about $20 million in salary cap room. Good teams that have space to make up to become great teams don’t leave money on the table like that. This is a roster that lacks talent on the offensive line, in the receiving corps and in the defensive backfield, and yet they failed to bring in a sure starter beyond Amobi Okoye, who really only replaces Tommie Harris.

Don’t be fooled by last year’s “success” in Chicago. The Bears’ only playoff win came against the 7-9 Seahawks. Only three of their regular-season victories came against teams that finished the season with winning records. This summer, they took the league’s third-worst offense and removed the four-time All-Pro center and the starting tight end. They replaced neither player in satisfactory form.

Instead, the league’s fourth-oldest team got older by adding a few spotty vets (Roy Williams? Marion Barber? Matt Spaeth?). And when they were asked why they weren’t spending money to retool an unbalanced roster, they shrugged their shoulders and told us that you can’t have stars at every position.

As if that’s some sort of rule.

2010 in a nutshell: They finish one game ahead of the Packers to win the NFC North, beat the sub-.500 Seahawks after a bye and then fall to the Pack in the NFC championship game.

Three predictions for 2011:

1. The offensive line will suck again: Does general manager Jerry Angelo really think that his offensive line didn’t need an infusion of veteran blood? He not only let veteran center Olin Kreutz walk (which could cause locker room problems and leaves the team without a leader on offense), but he failed to lure a lineman or two to help improve a unit that surrendered a league-high 56 sacks in 2010. In their first preseason game, against a bad Bills team, the Bears gave up nine — nine! — sacks. J’Marcus Webb, Gabe Carimi and Lance Louis are unproven and Roberto Garza is being forced to play center because apparently Chris Spencer isn’t good enough.

2. Johnny Knox will be the top receiver again: Mike Martz is either a complete idiot or he’s playing games. I won’t rule out the former, but I’m quite sure the latter is true. Martz is calling Roy Williams “elite” and the Bears have penciled him in as a starter above Knox on the depth chart. Knox is easily the team’s best receiver, but it’s clear that Martz is trying to light a fire under him by making him earn back his starting job. And once Martz realized that this isn’t the same Roy Williams he coached in Detroit five years ago, it won’t matter how motivated Knox is. He’ll land the job by default, and Williams will eventually end up buried behind Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Hester.

3. The defense will save them from embarrassment: The front seven is greater than the sum of its parts and Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Julius Peppers can still be relied upon to dominate. Despite hiccups against the Patriots and Jets last December, the unit was stellar in 2010. They finished the year second against the run and fourth in points allowed. I don’t think the loss of safety Danieal Manning will hurt much (Major Wright might have more upside) and Okoye improves the defensive line.

The final word(s): The Lions are better and the Packers are the defending champs. In that division and that conference, they just don’t have the offense to keep up. I think they finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs.