That title is a bit misleading, it's not like half of all NFL experts are predicting the Bears to take a step back in 2011, although if pressed I'll bet most likely would. The three of six experts I'm referring to are the panel of pigskin punduits that NFL.com assembled. They posed the question to their experts; Which 2010 playoff team will take an unexpected step back in 2011? Here's what a few of them had to say...
Elliot Harrison is predicting an 8-8 or a 9-7 record for Chicago, with a possible 0-3 start. His 1st bullet point is the Bears won't sweep the improved Lions, and I'll sort-of agree. I do think the Lions will be better, and they have a chance to compete for a wild card, but they still have some concerns in the secondary, and Matt Stafford still has to show he can stay healthy. He goes on to say:
Until that offensive line gets better, getting to 10 wins will be a stiff challenge.
OK, we get it, their O-Line is bad. But the Bears managed 11 wins last year with a line that should be worse than the '11 unit. At tackle J'Marcus Webb will be a better player, and rookie Gabe Carimi should be a upgrade. I don't think anyone is expecting another 60+ sacks allowed from those guys. Harrison dropped this insightful nugget as well:
There's still no wideout on this team that scares anyone.
I'll sort-of agree on this one too. The Bears don't have that frightening Larry Fitzgerald type receiver on the roster (...yet, see Fantuz, Andy), but they do have the kind of speed a defense has to be aware of. For all of Johnny Knox's shortcomings, he's still a burner. Devin Hester has the play making m.o. that makes defenses find him at all times, and lest we forget about underrated Earl Bennett, he of the bear trap hands.
Charles Davis also thinks the emerging Lions are the team that could stand in the way of the Bears.
I see the Bears contending again in 2011, but they will be challenged for a wild-card bid, not by Minnesota, but by Detroit, which -- if Matthew Stafford plays 16 games -- is my pick as the surprise team of 2011.
I see a name change in the future for Stafford, because every time I see anything written about him it's, 'If Matthew Stafford' this, 'If Matthew Stafford' that. So... If Matthew Staford can shirk his injury prone reputation I agree.
Bucky Brooks is more leery of an aging Bears defense.
Although their defense played very well last year, I don't know if they can continue to play that well based on their age. Their best players -- Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers, and Charles Tillman -- are over 30, and you wonder about their respective games falling off.
He also wonders if the Bears have enough defensive depth to overcome any injuries. This is a legitimate concern for me as well. The Bears need some of their young players to show improvements in '11. Brooks also thinks the possible cancellation of OTA's will hurt the offense's chances to build off last year. Agreed.
They even had a 4th expert comment on the Bears, Steve Wyche answered the posed question like this;
Initially, I was going to say Chicago -- and I still think they're going to have a hard time making the playoffs despite almost beating Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game with a backup quarterback. Maintaining success hasn't been easy for Chicago, plus Detroit could make a surge and Green Bay should be back in the mix. I'm going to go with Kansas City on this question.
I guess technically I could have titled this post, 4 out of 6 experts agree...