The NFL regular season is almost here, and this is the week that writers hand out their predictions on awards, division winners, Super Bowl winners, and who's the first coach to get fired. We'll be handing out the WCG predictions later in the week, but lost amongst all the predictions, the Urlacher injury, the big game against the Pack on a short week, and potential Super Bowl hype for the Bears, is the fact that the Bears play a practically unknown opponent in week one. The Colts have a new coach, G.M., defensive scheme, and offensive players, but too many fans seem assured of the Bears heading into week 2 with an unblemished record. Come with me below the fold to look at five reasons why you shouldn't dismiss the Colts.
Now, I'm not saying I expect the Bears to lose; Chicago is favored by 9.5 points and AccuScore has the Bears winning the game 71% of the time. But many fans seem to be more concerned with the week two showdown with the Packers, negating the fact that we are facing a team with so little tape to study that its going to be interesting just to see what the new offensive players can do for the Colts, and how their new defense holds up.
1. Andrew Luck - The rookie quarterback had so much hype leaving college it seemed like he'd already been inducted into the Hall of Fame before playing a snap in the NFL. The first-overall pick had an 89.3 passer rating in preseason, showing that he his transition to the NFL should run smoother than other former number one picks (hello, JaMarcus Russell). Not knowing how the rookie will handle his first NFL game should be worrisome for both Colts and Bears fans: whether he sinks or swims could be the difference in a Chicago blowout or a Colts upset.
2. 3-4 defense - The Colts switched to a 3-4 defense this offseason, which means heralded former defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney will be outside linebackers looking to abuse Webb and Carimi on any passing down. In addition, look at Cutler's passer rating against 3-4 defenses in 2011: Packers (78.9), Saints (67.3), and Chargers (97.0). And in 2010: Bills (97.6), Cowboys (136.7), Packers (59.5), Dolphins (64.7), Patriots (32.9), Jets (104.2), Redskins (54.3). Ten games, half of which featured passer ratings below 70. Does that mean anything? Depends on how you want to intrepret the stats, but to me, it means Cutler has had as good a chance of being successful against a 3-4 team as he does to struggle.
3. Rookie Tight Ends - When the Colts drafted Coby Fleener in the second round, I thought, "solid pick, helps out Luck a ton." When they drafted Dwayne Allen in the third, I thought, "um, did they forget about Fleener already?" But, if it ever made sense to have two highly drafted tight ends on the field, it would be against the Bears, who continually struggle against tight ends. Fleener and Allen are both rookies, but both have a solid background as receiving tight ends, which could be a huge issue because of...
4. Brian Urlacher - Yes, Lovie has been adamant that he'll play week one, but you figure the Bears will limit his snaps in some regard. Plus, we really don't know what kind of shape he's in, and how affected his movement is by the balky knee. If Urlacher is limited in any way, the Bears could get abused up the middle by the rookie tight end tandem, or give up a big run to...
5. Donald Brown - Brown may have accomplished very little in his first three seasons, but now he gets the chance to be the clear cut starter at tailback, and is viewed by some as a fantasy sleeper (which means production on the field). Brown did average 4.8 yards per carry last year, and had a solid preseason. He appears healthy, which has always been one of his issues, and has the ability to break a long one against the Bears ala Jahvid Best.