The Chicago Bears and Indianapolis Colts enter the 2012 NFL season on two different wavelengths. The Bears come in with high hopes and great expectations that their franchise quarterback, Jay Cutler, will take the Bears deep in the postseason in his fourth year with the team.
The Colts, on the other hand, will have the first overall pick of the 2012 NFL Draft Andrew Luck lead their franchise out of the cellar of the NFL standings and into a potentially promising future. Here's a look at three bold predictions for Sunday's game, which starts at 1 pm/est on CBS.
1. Bears Offense Explodes
The Bears have been anxiously awaiting the start of this season so they can gauge where their new-look offense is at. The preseason gave them flashes of greatness out of Cutler and new wide receiver Brandon Marshall, but now they can really start to get things going.
Look for Marshall to have a big day against the Colts, but it is highly likely that he will see double coverage, meaning that other options on the Bears offense may have some production as well. Fifth-year receiver Earl Bennett should get some balls his way if that is the case, and rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery should have an impact as well.
The Bears' running game was pretty stagnant during the preseason, with starter Matt Forte getting a lot of rest during the games. The Colts had a very porous defense last year, and in the first game of the new Colts' defensive scheme, it makes sense that Forte and newcomer Michael Bush will have big days running the ball. Bush provides an excellent option in the red zone, but he also possesses the capability of being a team's starting running back.
The offensive line will face a tough task in terms of blocking the fiery pass-rush combo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. In head coach Chuck Pagano's first year with the team, he has installed a new 3-4 defensive scheme, which includes these two defensive ends transitioning into outside linebackers. They may need some time to get used to rushing the passer from a linebacker stance, but the pure talent of the two is hard to miss, and they will surely provide the Bears' offensive line with some pressure.
Look for the Bears' offense to really take off in this game. Cutler and Marshall look to have big fantasy numbers as well. Forte should be able to pile up a lot of yards on the ground, but it will be interesting to see if Bush is brought in to be used in the red zone.
2. Reggie Wayne Is Back
The Colts have a lot of new faces in their locker room. From the coaching staff to the players on the field, it has been a huge transition from the 'Peyton Manning Era' to the 'Andrew Luck Era'. There are still some key contributors on this year's roster from years past, and the one who may have a big game Sunday is wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
Andrew Luck will have the weight of the world on his shoulders early on in this game. In his first NFL start, he will feel the volume of the wild crowd at Soldier Field and the pressure of the intense Bears defense. The mere thought of All-Pro defensive end Julius Peppers coming around the corner at you is enough to make someone nervous. With all that said, look for Luck to target the trusted veteran Wayne quite often.
Wayne is entering his 11th NFL season and coming off one of his worst years in recent memory. Granted, last year was a very difficult one for the Colts with the injury to their former star quarterback, Peyton Manning. Wayne's credentials are impressive. The former Miami Hurricane has been selected to the Pro Bowl five times and has amassed over 11,700 receiving yards in his NFL career.
One other big reason Wayne may have a big game is because of the lack of talent around him in the receiving corps. The only other recognizable name in the bunch is Austin Collie and he is questionable for Sunday's game with a head injury.
Wayne was signed to a three-year contract over this past offseason. It is difficult to say how long the receiver may last over that period of time, but expect him to help out his rookie quarterback quite often in Sunday's season opener.
3. Special Teams Swings Open the Game
It can be quite easy for fans to focus on the offensive and defensive sides of the football, and for good reason. Those are the two most exciting phases of an NFL game. However, it can be argued that neither of those are the most important aspect of the game itself. The play of the special teams units of both teams look to play a large role in determining which team walks away with a 1-0 record to start the year.
The Bears have been dealing with a nagging injury to their punter, Adam Podlesh. Podlesh suffered a hip flexor injury during the second preseason game, but he has rehabbed the injury ceaselessly. His status for the game on Sunday is probable, so look for Podlesh to get back in the groove again and be the Bears' starting punter.
Depending on how he fares, backup punter Ryan Quigley will either come in to relieve the veteran, or watch Podlesh succeed and then most likely get cut. it will almost be a game-time decision whether Podlesh plays or not, so stay tuned to the Twitter feed of @ConMagicJuan for the all of the latest updates.
The Colts will have their hands full come Sunday. Their roster includes an exorbitant amount of rookies and undrafted free agents, so it will be very interesting to see if their coverage units can contain the likes of Devin Hester and Eric Weems.
Hester should be the one to return a majority of punts and kickoffs for the Bears, but don't be surprised if Weems gets a couple of looks as well. The setting seems right for a potential big play in the special teams department, so keep a keen eye out for this as the game goes on.
Injury Report - 9/7/2012
Questionable - (RB) Lorenzo Booker - Head
Probable - (WR) Earl Bennett - Hand
(S) Chris Conte - Shoulder
(P) Adam Podlesh - Hip
(LB) Brian Urlacher - Knee
Out - (LB) Pat Angerer - Foot
(G) Joe Reitz - Knee
Questionable - (RB) Delone Carter - Chest
(WR) Austin Collie - Head
(WR) T.Y. Hilton - Shoulder
Probable - (RB) Mewelde Moore - Chest
(CB) Jerraud Powers - Knee
(DE) Cory Redding - Knee
This game should be a very exciting one to watch. The emotions will be high for both teams as the long awaited NFL season will finally begin. All of the hard work in the offseason, training camp, and preseason will all be worth it for these players once that regular season game begins. Look for the Colts to hang in there throughout the first half, but the Bears hold clear advantages in almost every aspect of the game.
Bears 38 - Colts 17