- Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears beat reporter
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While the groundwork for every NFL campaign is primarily laid in the offseason, championships are never won in May.
But organizations need to set lofty goals. Have you ever heard of an NFL team striving for mediocrity?
So while a part of me wants to cringe when I read Lions defensive tackle Nick Fairley quoted in the Detroit News saying that his team is "going to the Super Bowl”, or watch a video of Detroit running back Reggie Bush tell reporters that he signed with the Lions "to win championships," the reality is that every NFL player should feel that way about the prospects of his respective club this time of the year.
Even Bears general manager Phil Emery has commented on several occasions over the past couple months that his grand vision includes the Bears "winning multiple championships.”
That rhetoric is par for the course, especially for teams that have undergone massive offseason changes (the Bears) or franchises that are expected to undergo massive changes in the future unless they make the playoffs in 2013 (the Lions).
Do I think the Bears or Lions are real contenders to win a Super Bowl this year?
The Lions have made the postseason just one time (2011) in the last 13 years and the Bears haven't won a Super Bowl since the 1985 regular season.
The goal of simply qualifying for the playoffs looks to be more reasonable. Because as the Baltimore Ravens reminded us all again last year -- the most important part is just getting into the postseason. Once you're in, crazy things can and do happen.
So the real question is: Have the Lions passed up the Bears in the offseason?
That's tough to say for sure with the regular season still over three months away.
Let's start with what we know -- both teams desperately need to make the playoffs in 2013.
The Bears and Emery need to justify their decision to fire Lovie Smith (three division titles in nine years) after a ten-win season and hire a first-time NFL head coach in Marc Trestman, who had spent the last several years in the CFL.
The Lions probably need a berth in the postseason to save the job of head coach Jim Schwartz, who despite taking Detroit to the playoffs two years ago, is only 22-43 overall since 2009.
We also shouldn't leave the Minnesota Vikings out of the NFC North equation, but there is something unsettling about Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman's reluctance to reward head coach Leslie Frazier with a long-term contract extension. However, the Vikings did load up in the draft with three first-round picks, and when Adrian Peterson carries the football, anything is possible.
But let's keep the focus on Chicago and Detroit.
While the Bears are undergoing radical change with Trestman at the helm, and there is absolutely no way of knowing how it will work out until the season actually arrives, there is still adequate talent on the roster leftover from the Smith regime, not to mention a couple key pieces the club picked up in the offseason.
With former Pro-Bowlers Julius Peppers, Lane Briggs, Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings spearheading the defense, the Bears figure to be competitive within the division if, and it's always a big if, the offense improves dramatically from last season. If Trestman and quarterback Jay Cutler can remain on the same page, the Bears should be in good shape, given all the resources Cutler has to work with on that side of the ball -- Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Michael Bush, Martellus Bennett, an improved offensive line, etc.
But the Lions look much better on paper.
The addition of Bush could be huge, considering how badly Detroit lacked a proven threat in the backfield last year. And the secondary is expected to improve after the Lions re-signed cornerback Chris Houston, picked up safety Glover Quin in free agency and drafted cornerback Darius Slay in the second round out of Mississippi State.
Getting rid of troubled wideout Titus Young was essential for the Lions, now if they properly evaluated first-round choice defensive end Ziggy Ansah and can pair him with tackles Fairley and Ndamukong Suh, Detroit could be in business. It also goes without saying that quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Calvin Johnson need to stay healthy, but the arrow for the Lions appears to be pointing up after a disastrous 4-12 season.
But going from four wins to 10 wins is a big jump. The Lions went 6-10 in 2010 before their breakout 10-6 mark in 2011. Can Detroit top that by improving by six games in 2013?
On the other hand, it's worth pointing out again the Bears won 10 games last season. How far are they expected to fall? Remember, the veteran core of the team never failed to win fewer than seven games in a season for Smith, with the exception of his first year, and hit the 10-win plateau four separate times. This group knows how to win football games.
The same cannot be said for Detroit, no matter how much talent is on their roster.
Unless the new coaching staff turns out to be an absolute disaster, which fair or unfair cannot be ruled out, I give the Bears a slight edge to reach the postseason just based on the history of their personnel.
It all boils down to trust.
While the groundwork for every NFL campaign is primarily laid in the offseason, championships are never won in May. But organizations need to set lofty goals.