Bears about to enter great unknown

Does second-year Bears coach Marc Trestman have the pieces in place for a playoff contender? AP Photo/Stephen Brashear

Typical of the Information Overload Age we live in, when it comes to the Chicago Bears as the regular season opens next week, we know everything and we know nothing.

From free agency through training camp, the Bears' offseason was covered with a fervor reserved for a presidential primary race. But the end result remains constant, like all previous seasons. We have ideas, based on knowledge, intuition and past experiences, on what to expect when the regular season begins, but with so many variables, oracles are few and far between.

Of course, that is exactly how the NFL likes it. It's why this sport crushes its competition. That's why the Bears are the undisputed kings of the Chicago sports landscape.

Yes, even over Jackie Robinson West.

The Bears provide weeklong drama, and we're all hooked. It's why tens of thousands of Chicago households will watch a meaningless fourth preseason game against the Cleveland Browns on Thursday night.

Every year, football fans talk themselves into believing their team is a Super Bowl contender. In Chicago, it is always "Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs" visions of a 14-2 season.

This season is no different.

On one hand, there's cause for real optimism with new Sports Illustrated (regional) cover boy Jay Cutler, looking like a scruffy Patrick Bateman, as the ringleader of a respectable if, dare I say it, dangerous offense.

With another year in Marc Trestman's system and arguably the best receiving duo in the league in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Cutler's unit could truly be one of the best in the NFL.

That's the reason Trestman was hired out of near-obscurity in the first place. With this offense, the Bears should win, what, 11 games? 12?

But on that other hand, dear lord, there are the defense and special teams. Last year's defense was abysmal, and the special teams made us pine for the Dave Toub era. While a renewed pass rush will save the defense from the franchise infamy it caused last year, I'm not optimistic it will be good enough to make this team a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

More likely, defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is going to be the scapegoat for this group and the focus of another draft will be on defense.

Does the promise of the offense outweigh the concerns of the defense?

What the Bears have now is the recipe for a 9-7 season. A freaky game gets you to 10-6. A blown coverage gets you 8-8. This is all part of the fun.

However, as for harbingers, preseason or not, last week's performance in Seattle was proof positive that two of the three phases give legitimate reasons for concern. Sloppy and slow is no way to win football games, son.

Even without defensive end Jared Allen, who sat with a minor shoulder injury, the front four got some rush.

That was the target area during free agency and the draft after injuries and ineffectiveness decimated last year's front four, and general manager Phil Emery deserves proper credit for addressing it and improving it.

The pass rush is key to any defense, and maybe this group, once the lights really go on, will make the guys behind them look good.

But the truth remains that the rest of the defense, even the veteran leftovers from the Lovie Smith regime, are old or suspect until proved otherwise.

The Seahawks are the reigning Super Bowl champions for a reason, but they looked to be on another level from the Bears. You don't game plan or scheme for a preseason game, so the results are generally meaningless and misleading. But the mistakes show there might be some physical deficiencies in a defensive group that will make double-digit wins a serious challenge.

If your optimism prevails over your skepticism, the 34-6 losing outcome in the Northwest was just a preseason game. I'm very skeptical the defense and special teams magically click into place.

Cutler is really going to need to wing it to win some of these games. And, hey, nothing bad has ever happened with Cutler letting it fly on a regular basis, right?

But it's a week-to-week league with nothing guaranteed but high TV ratings. If the Bears can cobble together enough good weeks, then you will see why people think this is a playoff team.

The good news is the Bears open at home Sept. 7 against the Buffalo Bills, who plan to start EJ Manuel at quarterback. I know what you're thinking. He's no Alex Van Pelt. That's a nice way to get this defense some confidence.

The Bears will have a good shot to start the season with a win, but things get real after that with a Sunday night game in San Francisco. That has freak-out game written all over it.

But then again, we're talking about the NFL. I know everything and I know nothing.