Head coach Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears watches warm-ups before a preseason game against the Cleveland Browns at Soldier Field on September 1, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois.
Lovie Smith's philosophy when looking at the course of the season is to break the season up into four quarters, and then work to win all four.
That opens the door for some losses, but also pushes the team to end the season around 12-4.
Last season, they ended the regular season at 11-5, pretty close to Smith's goal.
Can they do it again? Let's break it down, quarter by quarter.
First quarter -- Atlanta, at New Orleans, Green Bay and Carolina: This is unquestionably the hardest quarter for the Bears to win. Among those four teams, you have the winners of the last two Super Bowls, the team who won the most games in the NFC and well, Carolina. The defense will face huge tests, and the offense will have to prove themselves quickly. The dangerous thing about such a tough quarter at the beginning of the season is that it can be morale-killing. That can have a ripple effect on the rest of the season.
Second quarter -- At Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay in London, and at Philadelphia: If Detroit doesn't scare you, these words should: Ndamukong Suh. The Lions defense could shut out the Bears, making a once-gimme game a real contest. Minnesota has so many unknown factors that they will likely be jaw-droppingly good, or jaw-droppingly-bad. I'm leaning towards bad. The so-called dream team from Philadelphia has a dizzying array of offensive weapons, and will look for revenge for the thumping the Bears gave them last year.
Third quarter -- Detroit, San Diego, at Oakland, Kansas City: Let's call this the AFC quarter, as the Bears face three foes from the AFL. Oakland, San Diego and Kansas City should be wins. Detroit is a toss-up, but they have a better chance taking this game at home. This will also be the stretch that invites the cruel mistress of hope to return.
Fourth quarter -- At Denver, Seattle, at Green Bay, and at Minnesota: At this point, the Bears are 7-5. To get to the playoffs, they'll need to (probably, depending on how the league shakes out) pull out three wins. Is it possible? Absolutely. The Bears should beat Minnesota and Denver. They can beat Seattle. Green Bay looms large, and to have any confidence heading into the (possible) postseason, they have to put up a good showing at Lambeau.
If my math is correct (and it's probably not), that means the Bears will finish up 10-6. That kind of record is not a guarantee for the postseason. It's also the record the Packers had last season, when they finished the year with a Super Bowl win.