The NFL has turned everything into a television program. And who can blame them? The NFL Draft now does better ratings than almost every other sporting contest AND the damn Academy Awards. (How in the hell did that happen?)
The schedule release does not have the same ratings appeal for two reasons: (1) every local beat leaks the schedule as the day goes on and (2) we consume the schedule in one shot, in about 30 seconds, and then sort of move on.
Three things I’ll be watching with the release tonight at 8 PM ET.
With a seventeen-game schedule, most teams will be hoping their bye lands as close to the middle of the season as possible. A Week 4 or Week 5 bye leaves a long stretch of uninterrupted football (barring wildcard weekend off) in order to get to the Super Bowl.
But for the Chicago Bears the bye is entirely about one thing: Justin Fields. If the Bears stick with their current plan, and give Andy Dalton the opener, the bye will be every fan’s target to get Fields on the field. A few questions should be asked.
4-0 last week.
Don’t act like you’re not impressed.
Two more bets for Championship Sunday, as we try and go into the Super Bowl on a bona fide heater. (As always, betting odds come from DraftKings Sportsbook & Casino.)
Sunday 2:05 PM CT – Buccaneers @ Packers
Aaron Rodgers over 2.5 touchdown passes: +145
Tampa Bay allowed the fewest rushing touchdowns in the sport this season, limiting their opponents to only ten over their first 17 games. So if you expect the Packers to score touchdowns – and I certainly do – you either need to pick his targets accurately or pick his total. The latter seems more appealing and the odds suggest that. (You really wanna lay +115 odds on Robert Tonyan? I don’t.)
Yes, it’s going to be cold but Rodgers has thrown more than two touchdowns in six of last eight games and this does not feel like a low-scoring affair.
Sunday 5:40 PM CT – Bills @ Chiefs
(Note: There are far fewer prop bets available for this contest due to Patrick Mahomes’ concussion/neck/foot issues. He’s going to play, but in what shape will he be?)
Josh Allen to score a touchdown: +135
Allen looked shaky against Baltimore’s high-pressure approach last week and he should expect more of the same from Steve Spagnuolo’s unit this week. But Allen is a gamer and this feel like an evening where he’ll need to leave EVERYTHING on the field if the Bills are going to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since January 30, 1994. Brian Daboll doesn’t hesitate to call Allen’s number inside the red zone and it could be the perfect remedy to beat an ill-timed Spags blitz.
“It’s All About the Quarterback”
How good do you think Allen Lazard would be on other teams? Robert Tonyan? Marquez Valdes-Scantling? The answer is simple. They’d be irrelevant.
How many teams could lose their starting left tackle – a star at the position – and not miss a beat? The answer is simple. Not many.
Fans of teams that don’t have a quarterback whine about the offensive line. Fans of teams that don’t have a quarterback criticize the front office for a lack of playmakers on the outside.
Fans of teams with quarterbacks, great quarterbacks, don’t get the opportunity to complain about those issues because the quarterback covers them. The quarterback reads the defense, gets into the right protections, and gets the ball out fast when necessary. The quarterback makes the weapons outside better by getting them the football whenever a mismatch presents itself.
The Packers lucked into Aaron Rodgers, and they were in the position to let him sit on the bench for three seasons and develop. This year, in drafting Jordan Love, they risked not being improved in 2020 because they know it’s more important to have a great quarterback when Rodgers is done (if that ever happens) than another solid piece in the secondary for this coming season.
It’s all about the quarterback.
Josh Allen was not only one of the least accurate passers in the league his first two seasons, he was one of the least accurate passers in the history of the league his first two seasons.
Saturday 3:35 PM CT – Rams @ Packers
Aaron Rodgers to score a touchdown: +550
There’s logic here.
The Packers are going to move the ball. They’re going to get the ball into the red zone. And then they’ll have two major issues when it comes to scoring: Aaron Donald disrupting the run game and Jalen Ramsey taking Davante Adams away. Rodgers’ improvisational skills will be on full display when he takes the ball over the goal line.
Saturday 7:15 PM CT – Ravens @ Bills
Total points even: +106
Five of the the last eight Bills games have ended in even points. So if you’re getting plus odds on that bet, you have to take it. This game was looking like a low-scorer when the forecast called for a snow storm at kickoff but now that forecast has changed and it’s just going to be a typical, cold, blustery Buffalo evening.
We are about to find out if this Chicago Bears run is real. That’s exactly how it should be.
Ted Phillips and George McCaskey have spent their entire lives as football bosses trying to catch up to the Green Bay Packers. Trying to prove they belong on the same field. Trying to make it a rivalry game once again. They remember Week 17 in 2010, when a pitiful performance by the Bears allowed the Packers to get into the playoffs and start a Super Bowl run that included winning the NFC Championship Game on Soldier Field.
The biggest problem with the run the Bears are on is we don’t have a clue what it means. Blowing out the Texans and Jaguars is nice, but the loss to Detroit was ugly and playing close with Minnesota wasn’t great either. The Bears have established they are not a bad team. But are they a good one?
Their QB still makes too many mistakes. Sunday was the third time he has thrown an interception in the end zone in five games and was also the third time he has fumbled in Bears territory. (This time, he was lucky enough to recover it himself.) But most quarterbacks are flawed. You can live with the flaws as long as they come up big in the big moments. This is Mitch Trubisky’s chance to do just that.
A good performance by Trubisky in a win would seem to cement him as the team’s quarterback in 2021. His play during the current winning streak hasn’t been stellar, but it’s been good enough to suggest that he’s better than the other options for 2021.
The Bears didn’t just lose to the Green Bay Packers Sunday night. The Bears were thoroughly embarrassed in primetime, in front of the whole of the football world, with the franchise’s matriarch in the building. The Bears suffered the kind of loss folks remember years later. Remember where they were. Remember what they felt.
I felt nothing. Not before the game. Not during. Not after.
Was the defense bad? Of course it was. This was one of the worst defensive performances since Trestman and Tucker bussed out of town. But some of the best defenses in the league spent Sunday on their backs. Did you see what Tennessee did to Indianapolis? What Kansas City did to Tampa? Matt LaFleur and Aaron Rodgers ran circles around Chuck Pagano and his unit. But even if this was the best defense in the sport, the team would have no shot.
Because the bigger issue remains. Every single one of us watching that game knew the Bears were incapable of competing once the Packers got into the high-20s. This is the historic, fundamental flaw of this organization. As soon as the scoring starts to resemble NFL 2020 and NFL 1971, the Bears don’t stand a chance.
And the GM should pay with his job.
In last week’s game preview, I gently suggested this game would represent “rock bottom”. What I didn’t expect was for the broadcast crew of Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy to talk about this team’s offense like they were actually working their way through the twelve steps. Those two men, who have seen a lot of football, knew what they were looking at: an offense incapable of competing consistently at the professional level. An offense that, if the defense has a bad game, was totally incapable of holding their end of the bargain.
And in the third quarter, that Bears defense quit.
And while I may understand the reason they weren’t able to maintain a high level of focus, there is never a time when quitting should be tolerated. To this point, the head coach has been able to cling to two factors when arguing to stay in his position: the win/loss record and the fact that his team doesn’t quit. The latter no longer exists.
The head coach should pay with his job.
Where do we go from here? Where we have gone many times previously. A friend of mine, someone who knows what is happening at Halas Hall, texted me in the fourth quarter. “The team quit…it’s over…no chance this isn’t blown up.” There will soon be new leadership for the Chicago Bears.
The modern game is about the quarterback, and about points. The Bears have failed historically in both departments.