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posted: 7/2/2012 7:58 PM

Can Bears' season match early hype?

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  • It's a vastly improved offense now for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, left, with the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall. But some of the preseason expectations for the team might be a bit over the top.

      It's a vastly improved offense now for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, left, with the addition of wide receiver Brandon Marshall. But some of the preseason expectations for the team might be a bit over the top.
    Associated Press

 
 

It's three weeks to the opening of Bears camp.

Do you know where your expectations are?

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It seems for many in Chicago, they are off the charts, reaching levels not seen around these parts in many years.

The Bears were ranked as only the eighth choice in Vegas to win the NFC at 10-1 when the odds were first posted, according to Caesars Palace senior sportsbook analyst Todd Fuhrman. But the Bears have jumped to third at 5-1 behind only the Packers (2-1) and Niners (3-1), and ahead of the Eagles (7-1), Giants (7-1), Lions (8-1), Saints (8-1) and Cowboys (8-1).

The wiseguys are starting to get on board, and if you listen closely you can hear many Bears fans talking about a trip to New Orleans for Super Bowl XLVII.

Is it possible? Of course, it is. We're talking about the NFL, where making the tourney means a chance to win it all.

So the question is really about whether the Bears can make the playoffs for only the second time since 2006.

And they certainly can.

The Bears should be better this year, with one huge addition being the subtraction of Mike Martz.

The worst move of Lovie Smith's career cost Jay Cutler at least two years of his -- and maybe even more when you consider the awful beating he took under Martz.

The Mike Tice/Jeremy Bates combination will be great for Cutler and the Bears' offense, which gets a tremendous boost from Brandon Marshall, as big an off-season add as there was in the NFL this year.

A Cutler-Marshall-Bates reunion is a very good reason to be excited.

Marshall is that good. He's an absolute game-changer, and there have been times in the last few years when an argument could have been made for Marshall as the best player in the NFL.

No kidding, the very best player in football.

But the outlook for the Bears changed disproportionately after they traded for Marshall.

Before the deal, they were headed for disaster in the minds of Bears fans. They were old on defense and dysfunctional on offense.

They needed at least two receivers, a couple of offensive linemen, a pass rusher, a corner and a safety.

After the deal, all their ills were immediately cured, and the Bears were headed to the Super Bowl. Hey, the guy's a beast, but the reaction was a bit over the top.

Nevertheless, there is reason for optimism. With Martz gone, a bad line won't have the seven-step drops to fear, and Cutler will be able to read the defense, change plays and find the open receiver.

With Marshall on the field, there will be open receivers.

With Marshall on the field and a sane coordinator, even Devin Hester might find himself a useful part of the offense.

With Marshall on the field, Earl Bennett should have a big season.

A great passing game will make the running game even that much more effective.

For all those reasons, the offense should be much better.

It's worth noting that the Bears were 2-3 in 2011 when Cutler told Martz to go scratch and took over the offense, leading to a five-game winning streak before Cutler was injured.

Even with Cutler gone, in a soft spot in the schedule the Bears still had a chance to make the playoffs, but the failure of ex-GM Jerry Angelo to produce a backup quarterback -- unthinkable considering the dangers of the Martz offense -- led to a five-game losing streak, and the Bears were cooked.

Even that is better this year, with an NFL-caliber QB -- Jason Campbell -- backing up Cutler, who is as tough as they come at his position.

The excitement about the Bears is understandable, but many of the reasons for concern are still there, and many of those reasons are a year older.

The division is still difficult, though Green Bay and Detroit have their own issues, and no NFL team arrives this month without questions.

It just feels as though Chicago has forgotten that so many Bears questions still need to be answered.

The departure of Martz and the arrival of Marshall have made the Bears a better team, and they weren't far from being a playoff team last season.

And Marshall is so good that he's an instant solution to many problems, but he can't solve them all and the Bears have gone through an off-season failing to address some big ones.

So while the optimism is on some levels understandable, it has definitely reached irrational heights.

Then again, this is Chicago and it is July.

brozner@dailyherald.com

•Listen to Barry Rozner from 9 a.m. to noon Sundays on the Score's "Hit and Run" show at WSCR 670-AM, and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

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