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Bears-Colts preview and predictions

Just how long will Brian Urlacher play after missing almost all training camp?  |  AP

Just how long will Brian Urlacher play after missing almost all of training camp? | AP

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PREDICTIONS

RICK MORRISSEY: Bears, 24-17

RICK TELANDER: Bears, 24-14

DAN McGRATH: Bears, 34-20

SEAN JENSEN: Bears, 31-13

JOE COWLEY: Bears, 31-13

MARK POTASH: Bears, 27-10

Updated: September 8, 2012 6:10PM



GAME 1

COLTS AT BEARS

Time: Noon Sunday at Soldier Field

TV: Ch. 2 (Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf)

Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM

Line: Bears by 10 (43 1/2 total)

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

Despite the emphasis on the ‘‘explosive’’ passing game, the Bears should be able to establish the run against a Colts rushing defense ranked 25th in the NFL last season. Pro Bowl RB Matt Forte looked fast in training camp but didn’t do much in the preseason (14 carries, 55 yards, 3.9 avg.) behind a work-in-progress offensive line. Then again, Forte’s preseason numbers last year were just as modest (21-81, 3.9) and Forte gained 68 yards on 16 carries in the opener vs. the Falcons. Michael Bush should provide a boost in short-yardage and goal-line situations.

Key matchup

With Freeney operating as a virtual LB in a 3-4 defense, the Bears don’t have much to go on in the form of tape, so the challenge will not only be for Webb to contain Freeney, but even more so for the Bears’ defense to provide help.

In the air

With Pro Bowlers Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis still coming off the edge in a “hybrid” 3-4 defense, the Colts will present a challenge for tackles Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb and offensive coordinator Mike Tice’s promise to use protection schemes to provide them help when needed. Bears WR Brandon Marshall had 21 receptions for 200 yards and 2 TDs against the Colts in 2009. Jerraud Powers is still starting, but the Colts acquired CB Vontae Davis, who went up against Marshall with the Dolphins last year. TEs could be a test of just how explosive the Bears’ offense might be in 2012.

WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

RB Donald Brown (134-645, 4.8, 5 TDs in 2011) is just dangerous enough to gash a Bears defense that prides itself on stopping the run but has been victimized by low-profile backs in the past. Still, this should be a Bears advantage — and a key to containing QB Andrew Luck — with good run stoppers across the line against a Colts line that wasn’t very good last year and lost its best player in center Jeff Saturday. Bears second-year DT Stephen Paea, expected to make a big jump this season, is coming off an ankle injury but is expected to be in the rotation with Henry Melton and Matt Toeaina.

Key matchup

Urlacher is 34 and playing on a bum knee, but his 12 years of experience should be a big advantage against a rookie QB playing in his first NFL game. But how long will Urlacher play after missing most of training camp?

In the air

Rookie Andrew Luck is considered by many to be one of the finest QB prospects to come into the league in years — in a class with Peyton Manning. Luck flashed that potential in the preseason (3 TDs, 2 INTs, 89.3) and appears capable of adjusting to ‘‘game speed’’ pretty quickly. The Bears generally don’t stray from their no-frills defensive scheme, but don’t be surprised to see them throw a few wrinkles at Luck in an attempt to force him into mistakes. Bears CBs Tim Jennings and Kelvin Hayden played with Colts and know top receiver Reggie Wayne and others well.

X-FACTOR

With the other pieces in place, the Bears’ offensive line holds the key to Mike Tice’s offense taking the expected quantum leap. The preseason was neither alarming nor promising. All eyes will be on J’Marcus Webb trying to establish himself at LT, and on RT Gabe Carimi testing his surgically repaired knee in a real game for the first time since Game 2 in 2011. Against a defensive front in transition, the Bears’ line can make this game a blowout or an unsettling taffy pull.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears are replacing six of their top seven tacklers on special teams, including Pro Bowler Corey Graham, but Dave Toub usually finds a way. Robbie Gould is the fifth-most accurate FG kicker in NFL history. Rookie Ryan Quigley, expected to punt for Adam Podlesh (hip flexor), has a big leg but lacks Podlesh’s ability to place the ball that the Bears prefer. Devin Hester will return kickoffs and punts. That’s a big advantage, but with new personnel, all bets are off.



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