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NFL18 Cherry Picks W12: Pegging the Pretenders In a Contender Poor Playoff Picture

22 Nov

They‘ve gotta’ pick SOMEBODY, right?

The Halls of Fame, the Oscar®, that Mark Twain thing, we can’t make everybody happy with these honors and award shows but we sure can try, right?

And at the end of each NFL regular season the owners hold a playoff to spread the joy, selecting as many post-season participants as they can stuff into that PS bird, satisfying regional interests and keeping those coffers filling fat.

That meant expansion, adding teams (1971 AFL-NFL merger), crafting cute little divisions and then adding the wild card clubs which rarely have any wild about ‘em at all. So far, that means two more playoff participants per Conference.

Those slots must be filled, even if half the clubs are, for most the NFL weekends, just about as likely to stink up the joint as they are to shine bright.

Like most seasons, there are about 6 to 8 teams that have a pretty fair chance of winning their respective Conference (Halas (NFC) / Hunt (AFC) trophy) and then taking the Super Bowl, teams that look sound, front (O) and back (D).

We’ve got a ways to go before the twelve (12) playoff berths are awarded (Please, no cork-popping just yet, fellas (oy vey)), but it’s not too early to sift out the pretenders, those who’ll show their weaker hand and falter before the regular season winds up, while others will pass the mettle-test, in win or loss.

National Football Conference

Serious Contenders: Saints, Rams, Seahawks and Packers

We know New Orleans and Los Angeles have offense, but Saints are near top half in defense (Rams middle), while Hawks and Packers rank respectable on both sides, kinda-sorta.’ Even as their clubs sit around .500 each, I like the experience of Wilson & Rodgers, the latter whose club has a nice remaining slate. GB’s lost three close contests on the road vs top dogs, are better than half the clubs with winning marks and going 5-1 gets ’em into the PS where anything can happen.

Possible pretenders: Chicago, Carolina, Minnesota, Washington

Bears got growl that’s been hibernating since Lovie days and it’s not just Mack. Second-year QB Trubisky, like AFC counterpart Mahomes, has high confidence, though, with fewer weapons at his disposal. But Mitch also has a rabbit-habit which will cost him and his club dearly as quality of competition and game-importance grows. Cats and Vikes O&D ranks are respectable but both compete for 2018’s Fickle Franchise Award (+ Titans, etc.), while Washington’s solid season went down with Alex Smith’s broken leg in W11 action.

American Football Conference

Serious Contenders: New England, Pittsburgh and Houston

Houston (7-3): Texans started slow (0-3) but’ve found their mojo since (6-0), albeit on maybe the NFL’s easiest schedule. Nice win at DC in W11.

Possible Pretenders: Chargers, Colts, Ravens, Titans, Dolphins and Chiefs

Bolts loss at home to 3-6 Denver was telling and their remaining schedule, besides AZ (W12), is a bear. Indy, on the other hand, while a slow start has an easy remainder but probably won‘t gel soon enough to impact. Maybe 2019, if Andy can stay healthy. Baltimore is not better with Flacco floundering. Get him healthy again and back on track and we’ll talk about contending.

And the much touted Chiefs? They get their own separate breakdown.

The last Monday Night Football fiasco makes it clear (Rams 54-51 KC), the NFL, all four major American sports, for that matter, are now just about offense. Kids and the Jr.-media, especially the sabrheads who voted Mets’ deGrom NL-CY last week, just adore score. We adults like it too but, if unbridled, it makes us nervous because we understand that old adage, ‘what goes around, comes around’ or ‘careful what ya’ wish for, you just may get it.’

Defense, football, was born in a much more brutal time when boxing was big. Bad still happens today, of course. Selfishness, greed, dishonesty and cowardice abound, but your average fan, player and coach, are just not built that way, not like Chuck Bednarik and Lawrence Taylor. They loved to stick, to punish.

Today’s team must score early, often and be comeback capable. No pouting when your D miscues. Your offense must pull on their big-boy pants, get back out there and put another TD on the board, not settling for FGs. It’s a fair measure that the club with higher Super Bowl potential is the one that’s scoring proficient and at least defense capable, rather than the other way around (top D, so-so O).

The Chiefs clearly have offense, scoring well against some of the better Ds in early going (PIT, DEN, JAX, LAC). Keep in mind that those same teams will, as season progresses, figure better the habits of a newcomer like Mahomes which were unfamiliar in earlier weeks of play.

But KC’s own defense is atrocious, even when you adjust for the MNF disaster, which will haunt them in this final regular stretch and the playoffs where the level of competition is more clear and certain.

Kansas City is on their bye this Thanksgiving week to lick wounds and afford Reid & Co. time to figure a new plan. And don’t count on it. Andy is one of NFL’s senior gurus and made a Super Bowl with the Eagles, but defense has never been his stronger suit. The HC must delegate duties (DC), but it all starts at the top.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 12

Falcons @ NO: 11.22 NBC 8:20pE: A-Birds
Jaguars @ Bills: 11.25 CBS 1:00: Jacksonville
Hawks @ Carolina (GOTD): Fox 1:00: Seattle
New York @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Dolphins @ Indianapolis: CBS 4:25: Colts
Pittsburgh @ Denver: CBS 4:25: Steelers
GreenBay @ Minnesota: NBC 8:20: Vikings
Titans @ Houston: 11.26 Disney 8:15: Tenn

Record: 40 – 38

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; D.Welniak-A.Reid, wc, J.Beall, 12.31.17, KCTV5; cherries, Hispalois, wc, 7.2.12, Caceres-Spain; Jim-Marshall, TCG, 1970
Posted: 11.22 @ 5:07pE; Copyright © 2018


NFL18 Cherry Picks W3: Are the Raiders Trending Tank?

23 Sep

Team dynamic: It’s a special kind of animal.

Some would call it a fickle beast. Fiddle with it too much or test it when the mood feels right and it may bite you back.

Before NFL18 kicked-off with defending champ Philly hosting National bird-rival and co-contender Atlanta on what may be one of the few anticipated match-ups to play on the long and widely-disfavored Thursday Night Football schedule (Eagles won), Raiders new, returning head honcho, Jon ‘I’m Older Than I Look’ Gruden (8.17.63) and Las Raiders braintrust did something considered by most in the junior-media to be unthinkable in trading 2016 AP-Defensive POY, Khalil Mack to Chicago for two, 1R draft picks.

Exactly what caused the rift in Raidersland may never be fully detailed by the relevant parties, even after their respective books hit the market. We can pretty easily surmise it involved personality-clash, money or parts of both. Money molds minds and minds can mint money.

It’s also safe to write that Gruden, aka, Chuckie, is putting his stamp on this team to shape it to his liking as any coach with wherewithal will do, whether the package delivers to destination Super Bowl or not. And in doing so, the message is loud and clear: Either you get on board or you get off at the next stop.

And Gruden’s got the credentials to demand as much, having taken his two prior clubs, the Raiders (98-01) and Bucs (02-08), to five (5) playoff spots collectively and having won the two of the NFL‘s three most coveted trophies: The Halas (NFC title TB-02) and the Lombardi (Super Bowl champion 03) (Hunt AFC).

— — —

It’s not uncommon, when a star like Mack is moved, that on a weaker team, a malaise suddenly sets in and all prior hopeful expectations tumble fast.

The Silver and Black (If Vegas folk add gold to the Raiders motif, they won’t be the Raiders anymore) looked unexpectedly malaisful in their season opening loss at home versus the Rams (LA 33-13), followed by an equally uninspired Week 2 result, a 19-20 loss at Denver to make it a losing streak (0-2).

And how has the former Raider been faring with the Monsters of Midway?

In Chicago’s opener at Lambeau Field, Khalil Mack is a tale of two halves: In the first, he played like an All-Pro by intercepting Rodgers for a touchdown, forcing a fumble, getting a sack and two tackles. In the 2d, the Mack-Attack had little impact when it counted most, allowing a hobbled Rodgers to carve ‘em up like an early, furry turkey in snatching victory from the Bears toothless jaw of defeat (GB 24-23). Was there any doubt Aaron would pull it off?

In Week 2 hosting Seattle, no dramatics in this one but the 27 yr old Florida native made four solos, another sackaroo (2) and a forced-fumble (2).

Mack’s had some good quarters in his two Bears outings but has not sustained a high level of play, falling short of deserving the exaggerated praise the pro-player junior media heap upon their reading public to his favor and Gruden’s disfavor.

I’m of that school of thought that believes the sporting gods created Mr. Linebacker primarily to tackle and approved of his evolution in disrupting rudimentary pass lanes that Walter Camp may have envisioned in 1905. He was not designed for frequent sacking and one-on-one pass defense.

Your typical linebacker in a 3-man set has too much territory to cover to be pursuing glory stats and ephemeral highs gotten from turfing opposing QBs. The well-timed red-dog can stop a drive cold, but work it too often and your defense turns loosey-goosey, one that a wily QB will slice n’ dice like a ripe tomato.

If Mack does not increase his weekly tackle totals, his teammates will have to cover his lessened load and the sacks will fall far short of returning the Bears’ D to its former monster state. But then, maybe it’s just that sort of revised job description which fueled the fall-out in Oakland.

— — —

Coaches must find a balance in their style between bossy and brainy (listening).

Players, too must work a balance between individualism and conformity. BOTH are suppose to put team first, if they truly seek titledom above all else.

But no player, nor guru can ‘possess’ his / her team, emotionally speaking, not unless they’ve attained such lofty heights of success that their balancing act has earned a more subjective scaling: Belichick, Brady, Ray Lewis, Bill Russell, the names are known. And even those giants must subjugate to some degree, their need to lead, to control in order to achieve that productive team end. The days of the dictator like Lombardi, Bryant, Jordan, Knight, they’re gone for good. One exception: LeBron James. He does WHATEVER he wants.

NFL Cherry Picks Week 3

Saints @ Atlanta: 9.23 Fox 1:00pE: Falcons
Packers @ Washington: Fox 1:00: Redskins
Indianapolis @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Eagles
Buffalo @ Minnesota: CBS 1:00: Vikings
Oakland @ Dolphins: CBS 1:00: Miami
Broncos @ Baltimore: CBS 1:00: Ravens
Cincinnati @ Carolina: CBS 1:00: Bengals
Tennessee @ Jacksonville: CBS 1:00: Titans
San Francisco @ Kansas City: Fox 1:00: 49ers
LA Chargers @ LA Rams: CBS 4:05: Rams
Cowboys @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
New England @ Detroit: NBC 8:20: Patriots
Pittsburgh @ Tampa: 9.24 Disney 8:15: Steelers

2017-18 record: 83 – 63 (7- 4)

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: Raiders-wordmark, wc.cca; KhalilMack, wc.cca, 2013, J.Beall; JonGruden, wc, 2003, TokyoDome, M3C-J.Woods, USNavy; cherries, wc, Hispalois, Caceres, Spain, 2012; WillieWood, TCG, 1970
Post: 9.23.18 @ 12:34p, edit 9.24 (LJ); Copyright © 2018

NFL17 Cherry Picks W17: Like Unique Gifts & Good Men, A Franchise QB Is ‘Hard to Find’

27 Dec

Ever wonder why a quarterback’s never been drafted U.S. President?

They’re popular enough, the well-decorated variety, anyway.

Most signal-callers possess a pretty good leadership ability. Most of ‘em, not all (See; JohnnyManziel and ColinKaepernick).

Nearly all of ’em can audiblize at the line, i.e. think on their feet. That would prove helpful with the testy press-corps.

I don’t know how ‘threading-the-needle’ would help as Chief Executive but you’ve gotta’ figure it would have to come in handy somewhere.

There’ve been a few close calls.

There was Jack Kemp, former championship Buffalo Bills’ QB (64-65 AFL) and 1996 VP candidate on the Bob Dole ticket.

President John Kennedy and clan were known to engage in a spontaneous touch football before and during his White House tenure (1961-63).

Ronald Reagan, 40th US President, portrayed an early-era quarterback, known then as a single-wing tailback, as the legendary George Gipp in the 1940 bio-pic, Knute Rockne All-American, co-starring Milwaukee native Pat O’Brien as the equally tragic and successful Notre Dame head coach.

But never has there been an ex-college or professional gridiron field-general to call signals from the Oval Office on Pennyslvania Avenue.

It’s true, the game itself has only been around less than half as long as the nation (1776), and then highly-prized less than one quarter of that time (1910 >).

With the popularity QBs enjoy throughout North America (+ CFL) and World NFL (London / Mexico), a starship lift-off in junior high and on up to the pros, a cheer resonating louder than that heard by most politicians and even war-heroes (post-WW2), you’d think a gridiorn field-general would’ve connected for an Electoral College touchdown at some point these past 100 or so years.

You’d think.

But I suppose when you endure enough heavy hits in the pocket, for those QBs with poise, you’d be kinda’ crazy to venture forth into the pressure-packed position of President to suffer even more “slings and arrows.”

Be that as it may, ever since MickeyMantle, BillRussell, CassiusClay and BobbyOrr retired, the quarterback has reigned supreme in much of NorthAmerica’s non-soccer sports world. There’s no doubt on that point.

Which all leads to this troubling observation on an unsettling state of affairs in World NFL: We’re running out of professional grade quarterbacks, making it even less likely one will ever man, or woman, the Oval Office.

TomBrady, BigBen and DrewBrees won’t play forever, even as they’ve been giving good imitations of such capability in their long and illustrious careers.

Flash-QB’s the culprit, and the collegiate coach-lite mentality that leans heavy on the modern-day single-wing tailback. As long as the RIF-challenged signal-caller keeps running and winning Heismans & NCAA championships (Young, Tebow, Manziel, Newton, Winston, Watson), the pro-prepped, poise-under-pressure pocket passer (PPPUPPP) will be a rare NFL commodity.

And the social sins of greed and arrogance are only making the matter worse.

The Elway Effect: John, on fatherly advice, refused to report to Baltimore after the Colts made him the first selection in the 1983 NFL draft. UCLA’s Josh Rosen seems to be following the same gameplan. Maybe good for him, not for football and its fans.

So where does that leave the Cleveland Browns and Chicago Bears of the National, teams that seem to forever be trying to fill their field-general void?

The quick answer, based on our obsession with guys under center who must lead their offense that scores-at-will in what’s come to be known as a quarterback league, is a revolving-door of QB experimentation. Pick the best one available and hope your coordinators can inspire bravery in the pocket and hobble his rabbit habit.

Better answer: Defense. Build a 60-minute crew that can tackle, front to back, and then settle for a capable signal-caller who won’t be expected to carry the offense but merely protect the ball and execute the game plan with a certain courage and savvy. Simple, eh? Oy vey.

Cherry Picks Week 17

Packers @ Detroit: 12.31 Fox 1:00: Lions
Texans @ Indianapolis: CBS 1:00: Texans
Redskins @ NewYork: Fox 1:00: Giants
Cowboys @ Philadelphia: Fox 1:00: Dallas
Jacksonville @ Titans: CBS 4:25: Jaguars
Buffalo @ Dolphins: CBS 4:25: Miami
Raiders @ LosAngeles: CBS 4:25: Oakland
Cardinals @ Seattle: Fox 4:25: Seahawks
SanFrancisco @ LosAngeles: Fox 4:25: LAR
Panthers @ Atlanta: Fox 4:25: Falcons
Kansas City @ Broncos: CBS 4:25: Chiefs
New Orleans @ Buccaneers: Fox 4:25: Saints

Record: 71 – 52 (Won’t include W16 MIN @ GB)

NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: NFL-symbol, wikiproject, 2011; J.Garoppolo, wc.cca, CaseyMcNeil, 12.17.17; C.Wentz, 9.10.17, K.Allison, wc, Hanover-MD; Cherries-cloth, 2011, picdrome, wc; JimMarshall, ToppsChewingGum, 1970
Posted: 12.27.17 @ 3:47pE; Copyright © 2017