The NFL has finally, after an offseason that saw this year perpetually in limbo thanks to the lockout, returned triumphantly to its rightful place as king of American pro sports ("Take THAT, backyard wrestling leagues!") Your hometown Chicago Bears begin their 2011 campaign at the glorious Solider Field, with its annually awful sod already in mid-season form, to take on the 2010 NFC South champs, the Atlanta Falcons. Game 1 marks a rugged and woolly start for the Ursa Chicagoans who are facing (in order) Atlanta, New Orleans and dread rival, Green Bay in the season's first three weeks. As my SB Nation counterpart, Ricky O'Donnell pointed out, this Bears team is very similar to the one from last season. AKA: You should know what to expect, a crumbling offensive line that will barely provide Jay Cutler time, Matt Forte grinding for yards and gasping for daylight; an aging defense that will still be called to continually pull the offense out of the fire. So instead, let's have a looksie at the Atlanta Falcons and see what they'll be offering the Bears:
When The Dirty Birds Have The Ball
Atlanta has the well-earned reputation of being a rather balanced, opportunistic offense which isn't wholly undeserved. Still, as Matt Ryan's evolution has continued the Falcons are looking to air it out more and more, this season should be no different and that spells trouble for Chicago Bears fans. While the Bears front seven still has the teeth and muscle to bash and clobber opposing running backs into submission (sorry, Michael Turner fantasy owners) the Bears secondary has been Chicago's little dark secret for the past few years. With the Falcons throwing all-Universe wideout Roddy White and blazing fast rookie, Julio Jones(who, also, at 6'3 will be able to out "up" any Bears defenders for a jumpball) at the Bears vulnerable secondary, to say nothing of the matchup nightmare presented by the ageless half tight end/half live oak, Tony Gonzalez. If the Falcons offense can get going, establish the run early and begin to truly sell the play-action passing game, Matt Ryan should have plenty of opportunities to torture Peanut Tillman and the gang if the front seven cannot generate the pressure to make "Tampa-2 magic."
When The Bears Have The Ball
The Bears have, to put it delicately, "really" "struggled" with offensive line issues for the past few seasons. Jay Cutler, no shock here, led the NFL in sacks last season and while there's hope for rookie lineman, Gabe Carimi, to lead a renaissance, he's merely one man and a rookie at that. Bears backers should not be optimistic about the eggshell Cutler brain and its continued health during the season. The Falcons bring a fierce team defense (ranked #5 league-wide in 2010, right behind the Bears at the four spot) and unless Matt Forte can get going to take some of the heat off the o-line, I wouldn't expect a whole lot of offensive fireworks from Cutler-bot 6000, et al.
The Bears Game Is Over What Else Is On?
Well, hopefully you were able to watch the past two Super Bowl champs duke it out last night in a very entertaining game that saw Green Bay's defense bring just enough heat to hold off Drew Brees, his laser arm and the state of Louisiana. On Sunday, thanks to the awesome that is The506, us Chicagoland folks will be treated to Minnesota visiting San Diego in the late FOX game, Indianapolis (sans Peyton Manning) @ point-a-minute Houston on CBS and the NBC nightcap is Dallas against the New York Jets (and Rob Ryan vs brother Rex Ryan) at the new Meadowlands or whatever they're calling it these days. Per usual, the Red Zone Channel is our "insta-tainment" generation's crack and I strongly suggest you go out and get the NFL package or, at the least, find a bar that offers it to get all of Sunday's madness in. For instance, without DirecTV you won't be seeing the blood feud/skullcracking fun that is Baltimore vs Pittsburgh or the destroyer of defensive coordinators careers, Megatron and the Detroit Lions take on Tampa (which will be a fun game, promise!)
The weather on Sunday is going to be gorgeous (high 70s, partly cloudly) so if you're going to the Bears game have a great time and remember the sunscreen. Thanks for reading.