The 2011 Chicago Bears are not one of the league’s elite teams, even though it’s quickly looking like there is only one elite team in the whole of the NFL. They are also not one of the league’s bottom tier clubs. They are in the middle ground, the nether region, the land of the unknowns. They have been the very portrait of a .500 club. At times terrific, at times dreadful, at times just plain mediocre, these Chicago Bears can go either way.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in a similar boat. Two weeks ago the Bucs lost 48-3 to a San Francisco 49ers team that, while improved, still start Alex Smith at quarterback. And there is one rule I hold for an NFL franchises: you cannot lose by 45 points to a team quarterbacked by Alex Smith. They took their lumps from the vicious Tampa-area media (one old fella outside a barbershop who continually yells “they need Brad Johnson back”) and took care of business against the New Orleans Saints at home. They now lead the NFC South with a 4-2 record.
Now they meet in foggy London town. The Bucs are already there, having flown out first thing Monday. The Bears won’t arrive till Friday – a wise decision by Lovie Smith, if you ask me. The last thing I’d want is my football team spending the week leading up to a pivotal conference game atop a double decker bus, cameras pointed at the Big Ben that doesn’t rape women in tavern toilets. The Bears will arrive Friday, take a day to get the bearings, and go to work Sunday. Business trip. Not vacation.
Everybody wants to assign value to each week’s ballgame. It’s what comes from having six days between Sundays. Must win is the most incorrectly thrown around phrase in the NFL lexicon. Sunday is not a game the Bears must win in any logical sense. They can survive a 3-4 start. But it is a game the Bears need to win if they want to establish themselves as a top half the league-type team. It is a game they need to win if they wish to escape the winter doldrums of the .500 hover. The Bears have an opportunity to wipe away the negatives of the early season and go into the bye at a we all-would-have-signed-for-it-in-August record of 4-3. The have an opportunity to go into the bye as a winning football team. It is not a must win. It is merely winnable.
And good teams win the ones there to be won.