Picking the Super Bowl winner for 2012 is relatively easy from the standpoint of simply looking at the 2011 playoff qualifiers and selecting a Green Bay or San Francisco for a repeat high finish.
More intriguing is IDing a team that will be a major playoffSuper Bowl player despite not even making the playoffs the year before -- like the 2011 New York Giants.
A surprise here will be if the Bears are not high on that list. They were 7-3 and ahead of Detroit and the Giants on playoff rankings at the time of Jay Cutlers injury and the expectation is that with Cutler back and other obvious upgrades, this will be a team of note.
Indeed, a handful of NFL.com analysts have their handful of teams and the Bears are the only team to be picked by more than one expert.
Jason Smith and Steve Wyche both see the Bears as a definite prospect for being next seasons Giants. Jason LaCanfora thinks it will the San Diego Chargers; Pat Kirwan sees the Carolina Panthers riding Cam Newton to 16 or 17 wins. And Adam Rank has a thing for the Miami Dolphins.
A good point to keep in mind was that the Giants were in the playoffs and winning a Super Bowl, not through their excellence, but by virtue of jaw-dropping incompetence and largesse on the parts of a significant portion of the NFL.
The Dallas Cowboys should have given the Giants a fifth consecutive loss in their first 2011 game with New York. Tony Romos pass to a stunningly open Miles Austin was beyond a disaster and the Giants had no real role in forcing that abomination pass.
The Giants were in the Super Bowl because a San Francisco 49ers punt returner loses two balls, one simply by being stupid enough to have it bounce off his knee.
And do you realize how many truly bad plays the New England Patriots had to deliver for the Giants to escape with a four-point victory?
Those things happen every year and as many games are lost as are won. But the Giants of 2011 are not a particularly high standard. Frankly, if the Bears are the Giants of 2012, meaning they are 9-7 and backing into the postseason, the Fire-Lovie-Smith calls will be deafening long before the wild-card round of the playoffs.
The Chicago Bears have a really good problem in their backfield. Both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen will demand touches in 2018 and are each starting-quality running backs. Howard is the more traditional first and second-down back while Cohen offers top-tier playmaking ability.
The duo is so talented that they were recently ranked the fourth-best backfield in the NFL.
The Chicago Bears' Jordan Howard has emerged as one of the NFL's top rushers. He finished his rookie season with 1,313 yards, second-most in the NFL. Last season, he rushed for 1,122 yards and 4.1 yards per carry even though Chicago had the league's least threatening passing attack (175.7 yards per game).
Howard isn't the only standout back on the roster, though. Tarik Cohen is a supremely talented runner and receiver and a perfect complement to Howard. Last season, he amassed 370 rushing yards, 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards.
The Bears' backfield was behind only the Rams, Saints and Chiefs.
Howard set Chicago's rookie rushing record with 1,313 yards in 2016 and became the first Bears running back to start his career with back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons. He should be the Bears' primary back, but coach Matt Nagy expressed genuine excitement over Cohen's skill set which suggests he plans on getting him the ball quite a bit this season.
Regardless of how the touches play out, the Bears will present opposing defenses with one of the most challenging ground games in the NFL.
Tarik Cohen's rookie season with the Chicago Bears was an impressive blend of running, receiving and special teams play. He quickly became a household name. The combination of his diminutive frame and oversized personality made him a fan favorite, especially when he started gaining yards in chunks.
In fact, of all running backs with a minimum of 80 carries last season, Cohen had the highest percentage of runs that went for 15 or more yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
Cohen will have a big role in new coach Matt Nagy's offense this season because of everything he offers a play-caller. He's a weapon as a receiver out of the backfield and can chew up yards on the ground like any traditional running back. He's a hold-your-breath talent who can turn a bad play into a touchdown in the blink of an eye.
Cohen had 370 rushing yards, 353 receiving yards and three offensive touchdowns in what can be described as a limited role last year. John Fox and Dowell Loggains didn't seem to ever figure out how to best use Cohen's skill set. That should be no issue for Nagy and Mark Helfrich, the team's new offensive coordinator, who both bring a creative offensive approach to Chicago.
Jordan Howard will be the starter and will do most of the heavy lifting. But Cohen is going to have a much bigger role than he had as a rookie, and that should result in more big plays and points on the board.