Bullish on the Bears

Published on Aug. 3, 2012, at 5:02 p.m. Eastern.

By Brian Edwards

My favorite NFL win total for 2012 is the ‘over’ for the Chicago Bears, who are currently sporting a 9 ½-win tally at Sportsbook.ag. The price is plus-105 at the offshore website (risk $100 to win $105).

I’ve seen other books with the total at nine, but those spots are forcing gamblers to pay around a minus-140 price. Regardless of the number, I like it ‘over’ as I have the Bears finishing the regular season with an 11-5 record.

Lovie Smith’s squad was most likely on its way to the postseason last year. Chicago was rolling to a blowout win over San Diego to improve its record to 7-3 when Jay Cutler threw an interception and suffered a broken thumb trying to make a tackle.

Without Cutler, the Bears lost five in a row to fall out of playoff contention. And that fact makes me even more bullish on the team from the Windy City.

Cutler has taken a lot of criticism through the years and it has been well deserved in many instances. Lots of pundits see a quarterback with talent galore but one that is too inconsistent and too often makes bad decisions.

With that said, there’s no denying that Cutler gives you a chance every time out. The Vanderbilt product probably has the NFL’s strongest arm and when he gets into a good rhythm, he’s as good as there is.

Another factor that has me thinking Cutler is poised for a career year is the supporting cast around him. It is undoubtedly the best he’s had going into his seventh year in the league.

Cutler and Brandon Marshall already have good chemistry from their days in Denver, and both, at the ages of 29 and 28, respectively, are entering their prime. And both are starving to silence their detractors.

As for second-round pick Alshon Jeffery from out of South Carolina, he was an absolute steal with the 45th pick. Jeffery’s college numbers don’t jump off the page because of erratic QB play but make no mistake, he’s going to be very good for a long time.

Jeffery has T.O.-like size and the ability to outmuscle smaller defensive backs. He can take hits over the middle and go up in traffic to make catches, especially down in the red zone.

With Marshall and Jeffery now on board, Devin Hester becomes the No. 3 receiver and that’s a good thing on a number of fronts. For starters, that’s as much speed as you could ever ask for from a No. 3 WR. Also, fewer plays should leave Hester, the best return guy of all-time (with apologies to Deion), with fresher legs for special teams.

The running game should be solid thanks to a pair of quality backs in Matt Forte and Michael Bush, who was signed away from the Raiders. Forte is an extremely happy camper after finally getting paid.

What if Cutler gets hurt like last year? Even that shouldn’t be a problem with an experienced veteran like Jason Campbell behind him.

As for the defense, there hasn’t been much turnover since this club was one game away from the Super Bowl two seasons ago. There are playmakers like Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman to name just a few.

The special-teams units are going to be stellar. Robbie Gould hit all six of his field goals from beyond 50 yards last season and he didn’t miss once from inside of 40 yards. (And, again, there’s that Hester Dude.)

Looking at the schedule, the Week 2 game at Green Bay on a short week figures to be the only spot in which the Bears will be substantial underdogs. A Monday Night Football game at San Francisco will be another ‘dog situation, but it’s certainly not a guaranteed loss.

As for games as healthy favorites, I see quite a few. Let’s start with these four at home – vs. Indy, vs. St. Louis, vs. Minnesota and vs. Seattle. And let’s also add a pair of road games that I’m confident will be victories, at Jacksonville on Oct. 7 and at Minnesota on Dec. 9.

That’s eight games that I believe Chicago will handle for a 6-2 record.

The other four home games are against Detroit, Carolina, Houston and Green Bay. I think the Bears go 3-1 over that stretch but for the conversation’s sake, let’s go with 2-2 to leave them with an 8-4 record.

We’re now left with four games to get two wins (and just one win to push if your number is nine instead of 9 ½). Those contests are all on the road at Dallas (MNF), at Tennessee, at Arizona and at Detroit.

I think all four of those games are winnable and a split is a worst-case scenario.

For all the reasons stated above, I’m extremely confident in backing the Bears to go ‘over’ their season win tally.

My second-favorite NFL win total is ‘under’ 6 for the Rams, who are looking at a 4-12 campaign in my opinion. I’ll justify my reasoning for that play in a column in the next few days…

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