Bears on the move in Power Rankings

The Brandon Marshall-Jay Cutler connection is creating high expectations. AP Photo/Jim Prisching

Despite Chicago's 1-5 finish to end 2011 with a disappointing 8-8 record, the voters took it easy on the Bears in a special edition of ESPN.com's Power Rankings.

Based on some of the moves made in the offseason and what's transpired around the rest of the NFL, the Bears sit at No. 10 in the Rankings with two NFC North foes -- Green Bay and Detroit -- ahead at No. 3 and No. 7, respectively.

Team president Ted Phillips said the team needed to close the talent gap in the division, and it appears the Bears are trending that way with the moves such as the acquisition of receiver Brandon Marshall, and backup running back Michael Bush. But it's clear the team needs to make more strides in the coming weeks through free agency and the NFL Draft in April.

ESPN.com's Week 18 rankings -- the last installment of the series before Friday -- placed the Bears in the 20th spot, which marked a two-spot jump from No. 22 in the Week 17 rankings. So Chicago's moves paired with other occurrences, such as Bountygate, the Giants winning the Super Bowl and Oakland's regime change have vaulted the Bears 10 spots from the last edition of the rankings. The Saints and Raiders, meanwhile, took the biggest tumble, falling nine spots apiece to No.11 and No. 26, respectively.

ESPN NFL insider John Clayton mentioned, “The Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall combo will be hard for defenses to stop,” while adding that the Minnesota Vikings -- last in the rankings among NFC North teams at No. 31 -- "officially are in rebuilding mode.”

Surely, after the NFL Draft the rankings could change. But it appears NFL observers consider the Bears to be off to a good start for what will be perhaps Lovie Smith's most pivotal season as the team's head coach.