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Thoughts From Around the NFL After Week One

| September 16th, 2020


Normally, these kinds of thoughts would be relegated to the Twitter feed once the season begins but this season is unique. With no good camp reporting anywhere, and no preseason fake games to look at it, the last five days were the first opportunity to see these 32 teams in any realistic way. So having caught at least condensed game versions of every team, some thoughts.


NFC North.

A week ago, these were the odds to win the NFC North: Vikings +160, Packers +180, Bears +380, Lions +550.

Today, these are the odds: Packers +110, Vikings +260, Bears +300, Lions +900.

These odds didn’t move because of the lunacy of Bears/Lions. They moved because Aaron Rodgers was the best player in the league Week One and the Vikings defense didn’t look like they’d practiced this summer.  (The gap closure between the Vikings and Bears is sizable for one week.) Pay no attention to the final score of the game (43-34). The Packers led 30-10 going into the fourth quarter and called off the dogs. Oh, and they scored two more touchdowns without the dogs. If Rodgers needed 60 Sunday, he could have gotten it.


NFC East.

The story in this division was a tale of two lines. Washington has a terrific collection of DL talent but it’s clear Carson Wentz and the Eagles won’t survive with their makeshift OL. Wentz was a sitting duck, sacked 8 times, and flustered throughout.

Sometimes coaches get enamored with this “next man up” bullshit and that’s clearly what happened with Doug Pederson. “Next man up” is fun to say but teams don’t have the economic freedom to create the depth necessary to execute it. The Eagles don’t have good players on their OL right now and their scheme relies upon having one of the best lines in the game. They need to embrace what’s actually happening, and change the scheme.

(The Cowboys changed coaches and looked exactly the same.)

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How the Bears Stack Up in the NFC North: Offense

| June 3rd, 2020


It could be argued that no NFC North team improved as much as the Chicago Bears this off-season. Whether they can reclaim their spot on top of the NFC North is still a major question.

Starting today with the offense, here is how the Bears stack up with the rest of the division.


Quarterback

1. Minnesota

2. Green Bay

3. Detroit

4. Chicago

Analysis: It is impossible to rank Chicago’s quarterback — whether it be Trubisky or Foles — ahead of the others in the NFC North.

The big knock on Cousins has been his performance in big games, but he seemed to disprove that last year with a road playoff win over New Orleans. Rodgers is coming off of one of the worst seasons of his career and is 36 years old. He hasn’t sniffed his career passer rating of 102.4 in three years and has finished with passer ratings below 98 in four of the last five years. (While many have blamed his relative lack of production on a poor supporting cast, Green Bay’s front office clearly doesn’t agree as the only position they invested a major asset into this off-season was quarterback.) And despite Detroit’s constant attempts to ruin him, Stafford is right there with the other two, although a back injury makes him a bit of a question mark heading into the 2020 season.

Bears don’t have quarterbacks of this caliber.


Running Back

1. Minnesota

2. Green Bay

3. Chicago

4. Detroit

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Wildcard Weekend Gambling Guide!

| January 3rd, 2020

Four games. I’ll give you a bet for each. (All odds courtesy of DraftKing Sportsbook.)


Saturday 3:35 PM Central

Bills at Texans (-2.5)

Over/Under 44

My heart is all-in for the boys from 716 but Josh Allen, facing a good pass rush, on the road, terrifies me. Look for Allen to use his legs a bunch in this one but I still don’t see Buffalo producing enough offense. If this line were a point higher, I’d go the other way. Begrudging Bet: Houston -2.5. 


Saturday 7:15 PM Central

Titans at Patriots (-5)

Over/Under 44

Bill Belichick will go into this game with a one-track mind. If the Patriots stop Derrick Henry, they win. But Henry has quietly become the best back in football and New England struggles upfront against these bruising-type runners. I don’t know if Tennessee wins this game but I like them to keep it close. Bet: Tennessee +5.


Sunday 12:05 PM Central

Vikings at Saints (-8)

Over/Under 50

I thought the Saints were in the best team in football in 2017. They lost in the playoffs on a ridiculous play.

I thought the Saints were the best team in football in 2018. They lost in the playoffs on a ridiculous call.

I think the Saints are the best team in football in 2019. They’re not losing to Kirk Cousins. Bet: New Orleans -8.

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Rival Roundup: The Bears Are Good, But Must Be Better to Win the NFC North

| October 11th, 2019


We’re just over a quarter of the way through the 2019 season, and the bye week makes it the perfect time to assess where the Bears stand, both as an individual unit and in relation to the rest of the NFC North.

Rivals:

Green Bay Packers

Right now the Packers are the top team in the NFC North. They’re currently 4-1, and 2-0 in the division. Most likely they beat the Lions on Monday and become 3-0, which would be a boon to their playoff hopes. They also have the second easiest remaining schedule in the division.

Both the defense and run game have improved for the Packers, and much of the tension that hung in the air during the end of Mike McCarthy’s tenure seems to have dissipated under LaFleur (despite initial reports that he and Rodgers were clashing). Rodgers isn’t putting up his usual numbers quite yet, but as long as they’re winning, he seems perfectly content with that.

It’s early and a lot can still happen, but it’s quite possible that Week 15 in Green Bay could hold even more significance than usual in the Bears-Packers storied rivalry.

Detroit Lions

The thing about the Lions is, they’re actually kind of good. They’re also still the Lions.

They could very easily be 4-0 right now instead of 2-1-1. They blew a significant fourth quarter lead against the Arizona Cardinals in their season opener that ended in a tie, and they kept pace with Mahomes and the Chiefs right up until the very end of their Week 4 matchup.

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Bears Dismantle Vikings, Prove Themselves Title Contenders

| September 30th, 2019


Normally this space, at this time, features what I call “rapid fire”. Because I insist on having new content by the time Chicago wakes up, which I arbitrarily deem to take place at 5 AM CT, “rapid fire” lets me pile a bunch of random thoughts, with absolutely zero structure, onto the blog. I don’t promote it on Twitter. I’m not particularly proud of it. It’s basically twelve or thirteen bullet-pointed Tweets. It’s not filler. But it’s close.

Yesterday’s performance by the Chicago Bears requires more than a mailed-in Monday. Because yesterday’s performance by the Chicago Bears was about a championship caliber team delivering a championship caliber performance in the face of adversity. Their defensive battery – Akiem Hicks and Roquan Smith – were not on the field. Their young quarterback was out for the game (and seemingly far longer) before most of the Soldier Field faithful got to their seats. They had every excuse Sunday to lose. And instead they did what we have come to expect in this new Matt Nagy era: they dominated their opponent.

It’d be easy to write about Khalil Mack today. He’s the most explosive defensive player in a Bears uniform in my lifetime. (Did the Raiders trade him to the Bears…on purpose?)

It’d be even easier to write about the The Two Nicks, Williams and Kwiatkoski. These supposed depth pieces looked like All Pros.

It’d be even easier than that to write about Chase Daniel, a journeyman backup many fans wanted cut this summer because he failed to develop rapport with Tanner Gentry in fake games. Yesterday he recorded a 101.4 passer rating against one of the league’s best defenses. (And yes, this was slightly higher than Aaron Rodgers fared a few weeks back.) Did he have to do much? No. Did he do exactly enough? Yes.

[Check out Peter King’s excellent post-game conversation with Daniel HERE.]

Many thought the Minnesota Vikings would win yesterday and assert themselves in the NFC North. Even those who picked the Bears had a difficult time seeing the contest as anything but a tight one. There were five individuals picking this game in the Sun-Times sports section. Three had the game 13-10. One had the game 15-12. One had a shootout at 21-20. Five picks with an average differential of 2.6 points.

The game was decided by ten and it didn’t feel anywhere near that close.

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Vikings at Bears Game Preview, Volume II: The Football Stuff (Mostly)

| September 27th, 2019


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

And they can’t drop two home division games and expect to win the NFC North.


Trite, Boring Thoughts on the Vikings

  • Dalvin Cook has been the best running back in the sport through three weeks, averaging a staggering 6.6 yards per attempt on 66 carries. Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison have built Minnesota’s offense around the run game and subsequently taken the pressure off Kirk Cousins. They are a team built to play with the lead.
    • But the Bears are allowing 68.7 yards a game on the ground. So something’s gotta give.
  • Cousins has only thrown 63 passes this season. That’s by far the lowest total in the league, 22 fewer than the 31st ranked 49ers. That’s 40 fewer passes than the Bears have attempted this season! When Cousins had to pass – against the Packers – he completed 43.8% of his passes to a rating of 52.9. This is a bad, bad match-up for the Vikings quarterback.
  • A few players who jumped off Vikings tape:
    • Rookie Irv Smith Jr. is working out of the slot and adds a terrific dimension to their receiving corps as a high-percentage throw/catch guy.
    • Eric Wilson was all over the field against the Raiders, registering 11 tackles and 2 sacks. (He started in place of Anthony Barr.) Wilson is one of those defenders the OL must account for at the snap.

Tweet of the Week

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Vikings at Bears Game Preview, Volume I: The Game Poem

| September 26th, 2019

“Home”


I remember the shotgun.

Loaded, leaned up against his rocking chair,

smatterings of his faded blood on the porch planks he laid

with haggard hands so many years before.

He wore a wide-brimmed Akubra, tilted forward to cover his eyes.

Not a cowboy hat. Or a Stetson. An Akubra.

He sipped from a cold can.

He waited.

When they drove by, they drove by slowly.

He laid the can on the porch,

raised the shotgun to his lap,

and showed them his eyes.

This was his home.

And he would protect it.

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Playoffs Aside, 2018 Regular Season Established Bears as NFC North’s Best Team

| December 31st, 2018


The 2018 Chicago Bears played six games against the NFC North this season. The same number they always play. But these six were different.

Yes, the Bears were 5-1, with a point differential of +44. Yes, they were 3-0 at home, with a point differential of +24. But it was more than the numbers that told the story of these Bears. It was how and when they handled each opponent. Let’s look at them.

  • Green Bay Game I set the tone for the entire season. The Bears left Lambeau on the opening Sunday night knowing they should have won, knowing Kyle Fuller should have caught the game-clinching interception, knowing they were the better team. Matt Nagy didn’t let that game bring his team down. He used it as inspiration. It worked.
  • Detroit Game I was a bloodbath. The 12-point victory didn’t represent how lopsided the ballgame was. But the result was still important because the Bears had been struggling with the Lions for the last several seasons. No longer.
  • Minnesota Game I was the biggest regular season game at Soldier Field in a decade. In primetime the Bears had to prove they were the favorite to win the division. And from a hotel room in Paris, in the middle of the night, I silently watched them do just that.

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