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Week 16 Thoughts from Around the NFL

| December 28th, 2021


All that remains for the 2021 Chicago Bears are the decision on Ryan Pace and the firing of Matt Nagy. Dissecting these individual games just seems like a pointless enterprise. So, after a few days of watching the rest of the league, here are some thoughts on those games, and perhaps some lessons the Bears can learn (but not really).

  • Justin Herbert’s numbers don’t reflect how bad he was Sunday in Houston. And that’s not an uncommon occurrence this season. He’s had 5-6 flat out poor performances and it’s a reminder that becoming a great QB in this league takes time and even immense talents like this face road blocks.
    • Side note: Lovie Smith coached a brilliant game against the Chargers.
  • Josh Allen was as good against New England as a QB can be and if his receivers caught the football consistently the Bills would have won by 30. Buffalo is going win their final two games and be a team to reckon with in the tournament.
  • Nobody compiles more hollow statistics than Kirk Cousins. And Justin Jefferson has had enough, questioning just about every aspect of the organization postgame. The Vikings should listen to him because he’s one of the best players in the league and his statements are the statements of leaders.
  • How are the Rams not worried about the Matthew Stafford Experiment? Stafford’s season-long numbers are solid but he’s now prone to these blowup games where he looks like a third stringer. Does anybody trust him to win multiple playoff games?
  • The Giants are under the spell of Joe Judge and, while I understand their reluctance to fire another coach, they are making a mistake by not doing it. His postgame press conferences have been the most embarrassing I can remember, continually claiming progress that no one on earth by he can see. Judge was handpicked for this gig by Bill Belichick, but Belichick has proven an inability to produce the kind of coaching tree that many legendary coaches produce. The Giants are lucky Mike Francesa no longer has the country’s most prominent sports radio platform.
  • The initial three frontrunners for the Jags head coaching gig – Doug Pederson, Jim Caldwell, Byron Leftwich – are the right guys. And while it might not be conventional, the team should have each meet with Trevor Lawrence before making the decision. That relationship could define the franchise for the next decade and Lawrence knows more about offensive football than the team’s owners.
  • I am not a Bill Simmons guy (generally) but his Monday “Guess the Lines” podcasts with Cousin Sal have been excellent this year. Kyle Shanahan’s record, Michele Tafoya’s sabbatical, Kyle Murray as the new Mr. October, the Vegas Raiders as Michael Myers, etc. It’s also a nice way to recap an NFL Sunday if you’re not interested in the excruciating (and frankly, boring) detail of Robert Mays and The Athletic pod.
    • On the latter podcast, I just don’t understand the approach. It is Monday morning. At that stage, most of us have watched MAYBE three games. When Mays and Nate Tice are breaking down specific plays in Bengals/Ravens, I have no frame of reference. Thus, the discussion isn’t interesting. People want the specific details when it comes to the teams they follow. Do they want that across the league? I sure don’t.

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Bears Fall to 4-9 at Lambeau.

| December 13th, 2021


Late night. More to come later today.

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Bears at Packers Game Preview: On the Rodgers Legacy in GB, Sondheim at the Cinema, Another Loss?!?

| December 10th, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

And the game has significantly more juice with Justin Fields in the starting lineup. The idea of Nick Foles starting at Lambeau Field, in primetime, had some Henry Burris vs. Tampa (2002) vibes.


On Rodgers.

This could be the last time the Bears see Aaron Rodgers in a Green Bay Packers uniform. And it is very difficult to contextualize his tenure with the team. So here are a bunch of thoughts.

  • My biggest disappointment is the Bears never fielded a quarterback to go toe-to-toe with him. For all the talk of his “owning” the Bears, look at the opposing quarterbacks he owned. (I own a 2005 Chevy Cavalier with 206k miles on it. I don’t brag about it.) Jay Cutler was his best opposition, and nobody puts Cutler and Rodgers in the same sentence, unless that sentence starts, “If I were to rank quarterbacks by how much I didn’t want to be trapped in an elevator with them, it would go Cutler, Rodgers…”
  • There’s an odd symmetry between the regular season careers of Rodgers and Tom Brady, as both dominated weak divisions for the entire careers. But the symmetry ends there. Rodgers’ stats don’t fall in almost any important category in the postseason, except one. He is 135-65-1 in the regular season and 11-9 in the postseason, reaching only one Super Bowl. But is he really to blame for that?
    • His numbers do plummet in the NFC title game. He is 1-4. His TD/INT is 9/8. His rating is 83.7, a good 20 points lower than his regular season and non-title game ratings. If there is a fly in the ointment of his career, it is those games.
  • People have tried to assign logic to Rodgers’ desires to leave Green Bay, questioning why he’d want to abandon one of the better rosters in the league. But you can’t apply logic to people as thin-skinned and temperamental as Rodgers. If something the organization did offended him, it is unlikely he’ll ever move on from it. (This is a guy who cut off his entire family over a woman and she was like five women ago.) Rodgers is still on the Packers in 2021 because GB knew they had a title-contending roster this season and they also knew that wouldn’t be true with Jordan Love.

Sondheim at the Cinema

Once again, I’ll be writing more extensively about Sondheim this off-season when content is harder to come by, but I am using these game previews to simply share his work. Sondheim was a cinephile to an intense extent (I know the feeling). He and Anthony Perkins co-wrote the excellent film The Last of Sheila, which you can rent on Amazon or anywhere else you do those things. Here are some other contribution to the world of movies.

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Stavisky (1974)

Sondheim wrote the absolutely lovely score for this underrated Alain Resnais picture.

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Reds (1981)

Sondheim provided the song “Goodbye for Now” for Warren Beatty’s score. It’s a gorgeous melody that stands out dramatically in the film.

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Dick Tracy (1990)

Sondheim won the Academy Award for “Sooner or Later” but I actually think “Back in Business” is the better song. However, I don’t know a Sondheim junkie that doesn’t consider Mandy Patinkin and Madonna’s gorgeous duet of “What Can You Lose” their favorite musical passage in the film.

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Thoughts on Falling to 3-3 After Another Loss to the Green Bay Packers

| October 18th, 2021


It wasn’t a particularly unique affair. The Bears have lost this game to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers plenty of times. If you need additional details beyond which is provided below, search the archives and find all the recaps of those games.

  • Justin Fields continues to show signs, and that’s all you are asking for each week from a rookie quarterback. The touchdown drive he led in the fourth quarter, that could easily have been derailed by a nonsense holding penalty on Sam Mustipher, was a thing of beauty.
    • The Bears have to open up this offense for Fields moving forward and that should start Sunday against Tampa. The Bucs have a terrible secondary but are impossible to run against.
    • The clock still has to speed up for Fields. Sunday, his “run clock” was there. When he saw the space, he took it. But he’s still struggling to recognize how fast these pass rushers are. He ain’t playing Rutgers anymore. Once he starts to feel it, and it’ll be soon, he’ll stop taking unnecessary sacks.
  • The refs were not to blame for this Bears loss. But they were dreadful.
    • Has an offsides ever been missed before? There are officials literally staring down the line of scrimmage pre-snap.
    • The hold on Mustipher and pass interference on Jaylon Johnson were both nonsense.
    • I still don’t understand the OPI on Green Bay, or how that touchdown catch was originally ruled incomplete. Neither were close calls.
    • Why was Justin Fields’ timeout attempt rejected? I have never seen that before.
  • Aaron Rodgers was the best player on the field. Again. And it’s not surprising when the best player on the field wins, especially when that player is a quarterback. That’s the goal for the Justin Fields Chicago Bears. They have to get there.

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Week Six Game Preview, Volume II: Why Not, Thoughts on Not Drinking (Again), Bears Take Division Lead?

| October 15th, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

And this young 2021 campaign has been building to the Packers, and Justin Fields, at Soldier Field. If the Bears win, the fan march back into the city will look like this:

(I realize those who drive to Soldier Field have never experienced this walk but it is truly one of the most unique, remarkable things about the experience. Win or lose, it’s always amazing.)


Why Not?

So often, these Packers games can be approached with a sense of resignation. Everything feels like it has to go right for the Bears to beat Aaron Rodgers. Khalil Mack wrecks the game. Lose. Defense holds Rodgers to 10 points. Still lose. It is obvious the Bears will be out-gunned at quarterback when these teams play but too often they have felt outplayed at the 21 other positions, and out-maneuvered on the sideline. Honestly, it hasn’t been a fair fight.

This fight is fair. The Packers are not the Packers. They struggle to run the ball. They are a bit one-trick on the outside, with Davante Adams pulling away from the field when it comes to targets. And injuries to Za’Darius Smith and Jaire Alexander have rendered what was an ascending defense to the realm of gettable. (Kevin King may also be out this week.) They are still the best team in the NFC North, and overwhelming favorites to win this division, but they also could have easily lost to both the Niners and Bengals. What would we be saying about this team if they were 2-3 right now?

Why not now, Bears? Why not roll this two-game winning streak into Soldier Field and beat your oldest rival? Why not ride the crowd energy created by this young quarterback to a franchise-invigorating victory? Why not make the statement that, “Hey, we might not have the weapons or corners of the best teams in the league but we’re coming and coming soon”?

This is likely to be Rodgers’ last game in Soldier Field as the Packers quarterback. Why not make his swan song a dirge?


Stats of the Week

  • Hinted at this yesterday but the Bears and Packers are oddly close in a lot of defensive statistical rankings. They are 8th/6th in yards allowed, 12th/10th in passing yards allowed, 14th/16th in opposing passer rating and 12th/11th in rushing yards allowed. The big defensive gaps are sacks (18-10 Bears) and points allowed (20 Bears, 24.4 Packers).
  • The Packers blitz on 25.7% of opponent drop backs; the league’s 14th highest rate. The Bears blitz on 15.7%; only three teams blitz less. For a game that will come down to pressuring the quarterback, these numbers seem pertinent.
  • First downs.
    • The Bears have 38 first downs on the ground. (8th in the league) The Packers have 25. (23rd in league)
    • The Packers have 67 first downs through the air. (11th in league) The Bears are dead last with 35. They simply have to get more creative in short yardage.

Thoughts on Not Drinking

Years ago I wrote a longform piece about taking time off the drink, titled Diary of a Boozer (Off the Booze). You can visit the link for the post HERE or download the PDF right HERE. For someone who drinks a lot, taking an extended break from it can feel like an earth-shattering experience.

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Week Six Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Packers

| October 14th, 2021

Edited. Original photograph by Mike Dinovo, USA TODAY Sports.


The Bears are trying to do something uncommon in the NFL. They are trying to win games while developing a rookie quarterback. That is not to say other franchises who have brought along a rookie QB didn’t want to win each Sunday. (The Jags and Jets are DESPERATE for victories.) But the Bears believe they have a playoff-caliber roster around Justin Fields – due mostly to this roster making the playoffs last season – and have now entrusted the kid to help them get to the tournament.

If the Bears beat the Packers at home on Sunday, their odds to play meaningful football in January will take a massive jump. (And selfishly, I want the Bears playing a playoff game when I celebrate my 40th birthday the weekend of the 15th in Atlantic City.)

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What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • This is a difficult stretch coming but if there is a bag of tricks, this is the week to empty it. The Bears have been predictable on early downs and even more predictable in short-yardage situations. That has to change this week. Why?
    • The Packers rank right with the Bears in every meaningful defensive category, with the exception of points per game, where the Bears currently sit 7th and the Packers 19th, a four-point difference. This is a good Green Bay defense but injuries – especially to elite corner Jaire Alexander – leave them more vulnerable.
    • The Bears sit alone in the basement of offensive rankings. They are 20 yards below the next worst team in yards per game, Miami, and 200(!!!!) below the Ravens, who rank first. Their conservative strategy has worked against Jared Goff and Derek Carr. It won’t work against Aaron Rodgers.
    • A win gives them a nice pressure cushion. Beating the Packers, getting to 4-2, and taking first place, would allow them to play their next four (Bucs, Niners, Steelers, Ravens) at 2-2, or even 1-3, and still maintain a level of excitement for this season. 5-5 may not sound like much but 5-5 with a rookie quarterback is reason for serious optimism.
  • Take what’s underneath. One of the things Joe Burrow did so well against Green Bay was understand the value of getting five yards on 3rd and 4. Instead of waiting for plays to develop downfield in those situations, he got the ball out quickly and moved the chains. This is still a developing element of Fields’ game and it will hopefully be a major coaching point during the week. (If this is a 6-8 catch game for Damien Williams, the Bears are being productive offensively.)
  • On two fourth downs in the second half, the Bengals ran a simple QB draw with Burrow and got the first down both times.  These were both called and they both worked because of the pace of execution. This is a game where Fields can be more deliberate with his runs. If he drops back and it’s there, take it. Avoid unnecessary contact. Slide. But keeping those chains moving, and keeping the defense rested, are essential Sunday. Fields’ legs may be the key to doing both.

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What Must the Bears Do on Defense:

  • Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams have the most symbiotic quarterback/receiver relationship in the league, and that relationship appears telepathic the nearer they get the end zone. This is the week to stick 33 on 17. Let Jaylon Johnson follow Adams around the field and take your chances with Randall Cobb, Robert Tonyan, Aaron Lazard, etc. If Adams beats Johnson consistently, live with that result. There’s no better option on the roster.

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Training Camp Diary: Miller Out, Rodgers Retiring?

| July 26th, 2021


Anthony Miller Traded to Texans

Late Saturday night, the boys over at NFL Network broke the story that Miller, the talented and temperamental wide receiver, would be leaving Chicago for the worst franchise in professional sports. My initial response was being slightly ticked that I wasted an hour writing Friday’s column, wherein I deemed Miller the “player to watch” on offense this summer. But after a bit of time, a new reaction emerged: why?

Yes, I’m sure there are folks out there, those who worship at the altar of the almighty draft capital, arguing that swapping late-round picks is tremendous value the Bears simply could not pass up. But there is a camp of pragmatists who abide by another maxim: you don’t quit on talent.

What is the cost of bringing Miller to camp this week? If he’s a pain in the ass, or a detriment to the organization, surely the late-round swap is still available from Houston (or another organization). It’s not like the additional week of work is going to turn Tyrod Taylor-to-Miller into the new Peyton Manning-to-Marvin Harrison. The potential upside was not necessarily that Miller “figure it out” but that he simply learned to exist as role player and became a productive member of the offense.

This is the Chicago Bears we’re talking about. And while optimism is at an all-time high due to the arrival of Justin Fields, this is still a group that has been desperate for playmakers. That’s why Ryan Pace brought in Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd. That’s why Damien Williams was added to the running backs room and Khalil Herbert was drafted late. The Bears need as many playmaking options as humanly possible. And they just shipped a potential one south.

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ATM: Rodgers Question Lingers Over NFC North

| July 13th, 2021

“I never said I’m unhappy with my boss,” Aaron Rodgers replied to a jab made by Tom Brady in a video that was released last week. The video was mocking a game of Jeopardy between the two star quarterbacks, Rodgers the 2020 NFL MVP and Brady the Super Bowl winner. The answer was “He’s an NBA owner, a self-taught guitarist and has guest-starred on both The Office and Game of Thrones” to which Brady added “He’s unhappy with his boss and has no options. Who is Aaron Rodgers?”

But Rodgers had the response ready and it seems to be a safe bet that he’s going to use that line again.

Rodgers has said a lot since the end of the 2020 season that would lead one to believe he wanted some sort of commitment from the Green Bay Packers. He didn’t get it and the day of the NFL Draft there were reports that he wouldn’t play for the team again. But, as Rodgers was quick to say: he never said that.

As training camp nears, the question of “will he” or “won’t he” lingers over the entire league, especially the NFC North, where Rodgers playing could have a very direct impact on what kind of season the Bears have.

Should Rodgers play, we’re probably penciling the Bears in for two losses. If he doesn’t, two wins or a split at worst. That one game could be the difference between the Bears making the playoffs or missing out. With seven teams making the cut, it isn’t hard to see how the Bears could once again be in contention for that final spot.

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Wednesday Lynx Package (7/7/21)

| July 7th, 2021


Camp is still weeks away and with it comes the anticipation of analyzing every single throw from Justin Fields and Andy Dalton for days and days and days.


Updated NFC North odds:

Green Bay remains the favorite at -121, which could only be the number if DraftKings believed Rodgers will end up playing for the Packers. Minnesota and Chicago – +225 and +350 respectively – are sitting at pretty good numbers. Detroit is +2000 and those odds are still too low.

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