Though the Indianapolis Colts got a lengthy look at what life would be like without Peyton Manning last season, they have to be feeling a whole lot better about their quarterback situation with Andrew Luck under center.
Luck makes his highly anticipated debut Sunday at Soldier Field as the Colts take on a Bears team hoping to have eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher available.
Selected No. 1 overall in the draft after an outstanding career at Stanford, Luck - arguably the most NFL-ready rookie quarterback since Manning in 1998 - has some big shoes to fill.
For the first time in 15 years, Manning will be wearing a different uniform. The Colts decided to let the four-time MVP go after he missed the entire 2011 season due to a series of neck operations, releasing Manning in March following a storied career in Indianapolis.
"I know that if I woke up every morning trying to compare myself to Peyton, I think I would go crazy. It's impossible," Luck told the Colts' official website.
"I realize that, so I am going to go out there and do the best I can. I'm going to put my best forward, and if one day I can be mentioned alongside Peyton in quarterback lore, it would be a football dream come true. Until then I will try to do my best and not get worried about the comparisons."
With Manning now in Denver, Luck will do his best to get the Colts back on track. Indianapolis went 2-14 last season to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2001, but Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, Adam Vinatieri and Reggie Wayne are still around to help ease Luck's transition.
In addition to handing the keys to a rookie QB, the Colts are also welcoming a new coach. Indianapolis fired Jim Caldwell after three seasons and hired Chuck Pagano, who spent last season at Baltimore's defensive coordinator.
"I don't think anybody is viewing it as a rebuilding season," Luck said. "There are great players on this team. Guys that have made the playoffs for X amount of years in a row, and then maybe missed out last year, so I know they are hungry. I just hope that I can help them achieve that goal."
While some of the uncertainty surrounding Indianapolis stems from Luck's lack of experience, the veteran-laden Bears are dealing with their fair share of issues.
Chicago, though, hopes to have solved one of its biggest problems by acquiring Marshall from Miami, giving Cutler a legitimate No. 1 receiver for the first time since he joined the Bears in 2009. Cutler and Marshall proved to be one of the league's more dynamic duos during their time in Denver - then-QB coach Jeremy Bates is now doing the same job in Chicago - and appear primed for another big season.
"We did some good stuff when we were in Denver," Cutler told the Bears' official website. "We were young. (Coaches) Mike Shanahan and Jeremy Bates were very good about putting us in situations for us to be successful, being very safe and at the same time trying to be explosive."
Cutler should also benefit from Alshon Jeffery's presence. The 6-foot-3 receiver was taken in the second round of the draft.
"We've got some guys that can play football on the outside. There's no doubt about that," Cutler added. "Hopefully, it's going to make my job easier just being able to get them the ball and let them work."
Bears fans will be getting their first look at Cutler since he suffered a season-ending broken right thumb while trying to make a tackle following an interception against San Diego in Week 11. Chicago improved to 7-3 after winning that game but finished 8-8 following dismal displays from Caleb Hanie and Josh McCown.
While Chicago appears to be in much better shape with Jason Campbell now backing up Cutler, much of the team's success could hinge on how Urlacher's left knee holds up. He was injured during the final game of 2011 and underwent arthroscopic surgery in mid-August.
After missing most of the preseason, though, Urlacher practiced Monday for the first time since July 31 and appears to have a good chance of playing Sunday.
In addition to Urlacher's status, the offensive line remains a question mark. Chicago was tied for 27th in the league with 49 sacks allowed last season, a total Mike Tice knows needs to come down.
"I have trouble sleeping at night until I know that our quarterback is protected," said Tice, who replaces Mike Martz as offensive coordinator.
The line will also need to come up big for Matt Forte, who enters this season fresh off signing a four-year, $31.5 million contract. Forte ranked third in the league with an average of 123.9 scrimmage yards last year but missed the team's last four games with a sprained ligament in his right knee.
Though Forte is likely to see the majority of the carries, recently signed Michael Bush should also get plenty of work.
Sunday marks the second meeting between Chicago and Indianapolis since the Colts defeated the Bears 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI. Chicago won 29-13 at Indianapolis on Sept. 7, 2008, behind 123 rushing yards and a touchdown from Forte.
- Indianapolis Colts
- Peyton Manning
- Andrew Luck
- Brian Urlacher
- Chicago Bears