After a spectacular collapse after starting 7-3 in 2011, the Chicago Bears are poised to showcase one of the more talented teams the franchise has seen in a long time.  With Briggs, Urlacher, Peppers, and Tillman all expected to be healthy and ready to go, Chicago fans are hoping for the dominant, in your face defense that the Bears have executed so well in the past.  To add to the excitement, the NFC North is shaping up to be an actual, competitive division for the first time in recent memory.  The Pack is still going strong and the Lions are surging with a tremendous amount of talent and enthusiasm.  While the Vikings don't look much of a threat on paper as of yet, Minnesota has always proven to play the Bears tough.  The combination of these things brings promise of an exciting 2012 season for the NFC North.

The Bears themselves are confident in their ability for a run at the Lombardi trophy this year.  Lance Briggs told that the pickups new GM Phil Emery made in the offseason, "gives us a chance to make a championship run this year."  He stated in the same interview that he believes this version of the Bears could be the best team he's been on.  That was certainly Emery's intent, and no doubt what Bears fans want to hear.  And it all could be very true.  However, there's a few pieces of the puzzle on the offense that are still question marks.  If Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, and Brandon Marshall all play to our hopes and their best capabilities, we are looking at a spectacular offense.  But what happens if one falls short of expectations?

Jay Cutler was having a fantastic year in 2011 before breaking his thumb during a win against San Diego.  He seemed to have finally gotten the hang of balancing on the ever-precarious pedestal Chicagoans had put him on and was headed towards a Pro Bowl season, throwing for 2,319 yards and 13 touchdowns with 7 interceptions and a solid passer rating of 85.7.  Unfortunately, the broken thumb took him out for the rest of the season, leaving Bears fans to yet again question his toughness and long-term ability.  While Cutler's certainly shown Chicago what he's capable of, this season offers the hope that he can finally prove that he is the championship quarterback we've all been expecting him to be.

Matt Forte, on the other hand, has proven what he can be, and has exceeded expectations thus far.  Since his first season in 2008, Forte has gained 4,233 yards, averaging 4.2 per carry, with 21 touchdowns.  He has proven to be invaluable, despite a marked lack of protection at times as well as an oft-struggling offense.  Forte has been the bright spot and shows no slowing down.  So why the question mark?  Contracts, of course.  Forte wants to get paid like the top rated running back that he is.  He's not happy with the franchise tag the Bears are trying to put on him and has made that clear.  Bringing in veteran Michael Bush, while a good move in terms of a backup, did the Bears no favors in showing Forte that they were in with him for the long haul.  Forte may hold out for camp, though he's made it clear he will play.  His previous work ethic leads fans and analysts alike to believe that Forte will play hard no matter what his contract says.  He's an excellent player with a positive attitude and a genuine desire to win.  But as other players with considerably less success, (Marion Barber, anyone?) continue to make considerably more money, one has to wonder how it will affect his play this season.  I don't believe he will intentionally not play his absolute hardest, and don't usually hold much stock in the "outside distraction" argument, but it's hard not to think about his ability to fully concentrate should he not get the contract that he deserves.

The true wild card, however, is Brandon Marshall.  At 6'4, 230 pounds, his physical abilities have been showcased in three different uniforms in the past four years.  His problems have primarily been off the field and followed him right to the Bears in the form of a former girlfriend bringing suit against him.  (The suit has since been dismissed.)  For his part, Marshall is saying all of the right things now.  He was quoted as saying, "It's taken seven years to harness my talents and put it in a positive direction," going on to stress the importance of helping bring the younger players along to help build a strong foundation.  Publicly, at least, his head seems to be in the right place and his attitude is nothing but positive.  A reunion with Cutler, who he connected with over 200 times in Denver for 13 touchdowns and 2,590 yards, could be a great environment for him.
How this all plays out remains to be seen. If one of these pieces falls short, the Bears could still have a solid offense.  If two or all of them do, they'll be relying heavily on their defense as they so often have in the past.  But if Cutler, Forte, and Marshall are firing on all cylinders?  Chicago will be a formidable opponent on both sides of the ball and could make 2012 one of their best years.  Bear down, indeed.