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It’s not easy to get a grasp on Bears season at onset

It’s been a few years since I felt so uncertain about how good the Bears would be days before the start of the season.

Those who have either great memories or enough time on their hands to check might take this opportunity to point out that I picked the Bears to win the Super Bowl two years ago. I did, but with the caveat that in an NFL without a dominant team, they had a real chance. And to this day I maintain that the Bears were playing as well as anyone through the San Diego game, when Jay Cutler hurt his thumb and Packers secret agent Caleb Hanie was allowed to sabotage the season.

With the exception of 2011, the Bears have been pretty much what I thought they’d be annually for a while.

I’ll stop patting myself on the back long enough to say that I’m sharing this because I really don’t know what the 2013 Bears are going to do.

Unpredictability is to be expected when you replace a quality coaching staff such as Lovie Smith’s with a card as wild as Marc Trestman’s. Good defense and special teams are no longer qualities we know the Bears will have, but neither is a mediocre offense.

My first instinct in the wake of the Trestman hire was pessimism; an over-under of about seven wins and the possibility of total disaster.

Where some saw an offensive guru, I saw a guy known for a system (the West Coast) that’s almost outdated. Where some saw a quarterback whisperer, I saw a guy whose supposedly incredible work was done with the likes of Scott Mitchell and Jake Plummer.

Where some saw an experienced NFL assistant who’d earned his shot, I saw a guy who’d bounced around the league before being banished to an assistant job at North Carolina State and the CFL.

And the roster Trestman has to work with is one with some issues.

The defense, built around the aging trio of Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman and concussed tackle Henry Melton, is almost certain to regress.

The offense added talent, but then this is the same team that added Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall in the past few years and still has yet to produce consistently average results.

As we’ve gotten closer to the season, I’ve found reasons for optimism, and they go beyond OMG did you just see Kyle Long level that guy!! The addition of a bona fide professional play-caller and the additions of Martellus Bennett, Jermon Bushrod and Long almost have to make the offense a lot better. J’Marcus Webb and Kellen Davis are memories, with Webb latching on with Minnesota and thus making the NFC North a tiny bit more winnable. I like Mel Tucker, and under him, the Bears could very well remain one of the NFL’s elite defenses, even if they can’t replicate the historical things they did early in 2012.

Taking a step back, there are so many variables in play in each of the three phases that predicting the Bears’ future with any certainty seems impossible.

Everything could click, and this team could win 11 or 12 games. Cutler and the offense could disappoint, the defense’s regression could escalate and the Bears could make a run at double-digit losses.

I’ll make my prediction somewhere in the middle and call this a 9-7 season.

Here are a few other quick thoughts from around the league.

• Seattle and San Francisco are the two best teams in the league. Denver’s defense is vastly overrated, Green Bay has issues almost everywhere but the quarterback position, New England’s got some Bears-like potential for variance (although its ceiling and floor are both higher than Chicago’s) and Houston has a quarterback problem. The Seahawks, 49ers, Broncos, Packers, Patriots and Texans are the only teams I’d define as likely to go to the playoffs.

• The NFC West is the best division in football, but the most interesting one is the AFC North. The Ravens and Steelers are no longer the clear favorites here, and I could see the defending champion Ravens miss the playoffs altogether.

The Bengals are probably the division’s best team, but it’s very close, and even the Browns are a threat in the event Brandon Weeden can give passable quarterback play.

• I’ll take the Seahawks over the Patriots in the Super Bowl, but if Percy Harvin isn’t back and playing like Percy Harvin by the playoffs, I think the 49ers win it all. It’s that close between the top two teams.

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