Are the Bears now the favorites in the NFC North?

In one day, the Bears seemingly addressed their 20-year old quarterback problem and also added a significant piece to their offensive line. In one day, the Bears might have gone from a .500 team to the perennial favorites in the NFC North.

It’s way too early to be getting into predictions for the 2009 NFL Season. Voluntary workouts have begun, but the draft is still weeks away and teams are still trying to reshape their rosters.

But with the trade acquisition of Jay Cutler and the signing of left tackle Orlando Pace, the Bears significantly upgraded their offense and hopefully made current players like Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Frank Omiyale and Chris Williams better.

Make no mistake – Chicago is far from a Super Bowl contender. They still need to upgrade their wide receiver position, could use another defensive end to throw in the mix with Alex Brown, Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson, and even though they signed Josh Bullocks this offseason, they could still use an upgrade at safety as well.

But while every team in the division has arguably gotten weaker, the Bears have upgraded. The Vikings are still pretty strong, but they lost long-time center Matt Birk and still have questions to be answered at quarterback. The Packers are planning to run a 3-4 defense next season, but have done next to nothing to add true 3-4 personnel and the Lions will continue to take a sandblaster to their entire roster.

Perhaps the biggest thing holding the Bears back is offensive coordinator Ron Turner, who can be less than innovative at times. Maybe that’s only because he hasn’t had the personnel to run his offense at full tilt, but the bottom line is that Cutler is the type of quarterback that Turner will have to unleash. It would have been foolish for the Bears to acquire a big-armed quarterback if they’re not going to push the ball up the field through the air. I’m not saying they should go Run n’ Shoot because after all, that’s never been the Bears’ style. But now that Turner has weapon in Cutler, he needs to use him.

Again, it’s early. The draft will give us a better indication of how the Vikings and Packers will look next season and the Lions could even improve if GM Martin Mayhew uses all of his picks intelligently (i.e. not like Matt Millen). But anyone who thinks Chicago was fleeced in the Cutler deal hasn’t been paying attention. GM Jerry Angelo makes his money in rounds 2 through 7 and now that he doesn’t have to worry about squandering yet another first round pick, he can do what he does best – find gems in the middle rounds.

Assuming Cutler can put down the Kleenex for two seconds and stop crying about his situation and just play ball, the Bears are going to be tough to beat in the North next year.

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