NFL team previews: Chicago Bears

DE Julius Peppers

With the 2012 NFL season approaching fast, we go around the league to preview every team. Up next: the Chicago Bears.

OUTLOOK

The Bears are thinking championship in 2012. The club started the season 7-3 last year before injuries derailed the campaign. With the core of that roster back, as well as numerous offseason additions, the team believes it is ready to make a real run at the second Super Bowl title in club history.

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Questions along the offensive line and in the secondary still exist, but on paper, the roster appears to be one of the best in the NFC. Head coach Lovie Smith is on the hot seat after failing to make the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. If this team doesn't make a deep playoff run, new general manager Phil Emery could install a fresh coaching regime next season.

OFFSEASON

Chicago re-signed several players and brought in more than 15 veteran free agents, at once both securing the starting lineup and adding depth to the roster. Yet the biggest offseason move came in the trade for Brandon Marshall from the Miami Dolphins. Jay Cutler now has his favorite target and former Denver Broncos teammate back in the fold, which could take the Bears' offense to the next level.


Brandon Marshall will be reunited with Jay Cutler in the Bears' passing attack.

ROOKIES

The Bears addressed positions of need with the team's first two draft picks –- defensive end Shea McClellin and wide receiver Alshon Jeffery -- both of whom are expected to be contributors from the start. Emery then added the obligatory safety in Brandon Hardin, a hybrid tight end/fullback in Evan Rodriguez and two late-round cornerbacks in Isaiah Frey and Greg McCoy.

THE SCHEDULE

Five out of Chicago's first seven games this season come against teams that finished .500 or below in 2011 -- although three of those will be on the road, including a Week 2 tilt at Green Bay.

The competition then stiffens in the second half of the season, with match-ups against Houston, San Francisco, Detroit, Green Bay and Seattle on the late slate. Yet the Bears' final stretch of games will be its most important, facing NFC North opponents in four of the club's final six contests.

BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER

Brandon Marshall, wide receiver. Chicago's newest receiver has proven to be one of the best players in the league at his position.

BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER

Julius Peppers, defensive end. A freakish athlete and seven-time Pro Bowler that can be as dominant as any defender in the NFL.

WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...

The offensive line can protect Cutler. With the new weapons he has at his disposal, the only way the offense will struggle is if the protection doesn't hold up. Additionally, Matt Forte needs to come back strong after resolving his contract dispute and an aging defense needs to hold off Father Time for one more season.

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