There's no doubt Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts are feeling some pressure for their debut this afternoon. The Chicago Bears will feel more.
Think about it. If the Bears win, where are the Colts? As long as they don't get bludgeoned, the Colts are in the same place they were to start the day: Rebuilding for the future.
But if the Colts win, where are the Bears? They would be in heavy explaining mode. After all, the Bears can't start a season with Super Bowl aspirations and lose to a team with essentially an expansion-franchise roster.
When it comes to pressure, there's more on the Bears for the 1 p.m. kickoff today at Soldier Field, Chicago.
Colts coach Chuck Pagano expects his team to have butterflies and nerves, from the coaching staff down to the last rookie on the team. But they also have a looseness that comes with having little to lose at this point in the team's progression.
“As a team, we just want to go out there and play well, play Colts football and prove some people wrong,” Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne said. “This is a great opportunity against a great opponent to do that.”
Are the Bears truly a “great opponent”? I'd say yes. I'd say they're among the Top 10 teams in the NFL on paper, and that translates to being a Super Bowl contender. If you're in the Top 10, you're in contention.
The Bears were on a nice roll last season before quarterback Jay Cutler went down with an injury. He's back healthy and he's added an old favorite receiver in Brandon Marshall, a promising rookie in Alshon Jeffery and the always threatening Devin Hester. That's in addition to an already solid offensive unit anchored by running back Matt Forte and a fairly veteran offensive line.
Chicago has an offense with strengths at every position. Cutler remains underrated. Consider this: He ranks fourth all-time on the Bears' list of touchdown passes with 63 (in 41 games). That's four behind Jim McMahon and five behind Billy Wade. By season's end, the only Bears quarterback who'll be ahead of Cutler in TD passes will be Sid Luckman (137 in 128 games).
The Colts must deal with Cutler and the Bears offense with a revamped defense. Some familiar faces are on the scene (Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis, Antoine Bethea, Jerraud Powers), but it's a 3-4 rather than a 4-3 emphasis with several new starters.
The Bears have a new offensive coordinator in Mike Tice, so they have some, if not as much, mystery to their offense, too.
“We play some teams this year where we know exactly what they're going to do defensively, and they know exactly what we're going to do offensively,” Cutler said. “So to go against a team with a new coordinator, new head coach, it's a little bit of an educated guess.”
As for the Bears defense, some wonder if it's aging. The catalyst, linebacker Brian Urlacher, is coming back from injury. Yet Chicago is expected to start nearly an identical lineup to the one that played defense most of last season.
You know that Julius Peppers and Lance Briggs are itching to get some licks in on Luck, give him a rookie orientation he'll remember.
Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians expects the Bears to present a lot of looks, schemes and approaches over the course of the game.
“They've got a really good blitz package, especially with those two big linebackers coming up the middle and I'm sure we'll see a lot of that stuff,” Arians said. “It's not just going to be one thing. It's not the blitz packages that we've seen in the past few weeks.”
Luck and the Colts handled the preseason pressure pretty well. But it was preseason pressure. Now they face a different kind of heat – facing one of the expected elite teams in the NFL this season.
It's time to see how the Colts handle regular-season pressure.
That goes double for the Bears, incidentally.