No team uses the underdog/no respect stigma as a motivator better than the Chicago Bears under Lovie Smith. He's been brilliant in fostering an "us against the world" mentality. Sometimes it's manufactured and sometimes it's warranted, but this year it'll be hard to rally the troops around that particular battle cry.
Even after the Bears went to the NFC Title game in 2010, no one expected much of the 2011 Bears. They stumbled out of the gate dropping 2 of their first 3, and 3 of their first 5, with that 5th one bring a Monday Night National audience, Jay Cutler run for your life adventure. But when they caught their stride and reeled off 5 in a row, the experts started to take notice. Most experts actually believed that had Jay Cutler not went down that the Bears would have been a serious Super Bowl threat.
Fast forward to this off season with the Bears making a change at the top, and new GM Phil Emery is bringing a fresh sense of optimism to Chicago. The Bears added a top flight receiver to the team in Brandon Marshall. A #1 WR that really, really wanted to be a Chicago Bear. They've been active players in free agency, and they have a full compliment of draft picks that has fans excited.
You flip on NFL Network or ESPN and you see analysts talking favorable about the Bears. The words 'contender' and 'playoffs' are mentioned more often that not. I'm even getting a sense that America is starting to understand Jay Cutler. When noted Cutler-basher Trent Dilfer is talking up Jay as someone that could elevate his game to elite status, it's time to put away the no respect card.
"I think Jay Cutler is going to blow up this year," Dilfer said. "I saw so much last year. I think once I saw it in person, being at 'Monday Night Football.' Watching his demeanor. The body language changed. The toughness. The talent has always been there. I saw him pay more attention to detail."
So now he's being lauded for his body language?
Adam Rank of NFL.com made some bold predictions for the '12 season, and if you can stomach the Bleachery like slide show he hits on every team. Here's what he said about the Bears;
If the Bears are going to challenge the Packers for the NFC North, they are going to get an early chance in Week 2. Of course, they are going to have to go on the road to do it on a Thursday night. But don't sleep on Jay Cutler and his reunion with Brandon Marshall, as the Bears will make the playoffs this year.
Even though the Packers are still the team to beat in the NFC North, and the Lions are coming off a playoff appearance, the Bears look to be a trendy playoff pick this off season. I wonder how Lovie will spin the new found love for his team?