By: Dave Baker
As the NFL regular season nears the halfway point, only one thing is certain: this is anyone’s year. The general theme of 2012 appears to be “talented, but flawed.” The Atlanta Falcons are undefeated, but haven’t done much to convince anyone they’re more than just The Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time. Houston looked tough beating up on a Ray Lewis-less Ravens team this past Sunday, but without star middle linebacker and Jersey jerk off Brian Cushing, a defensive meltdown like the one against Green Bay seems more like a guarantee than a cautionary tale for the Texans. And that trend continues throughout the league. This team has a resurgent pass rush but no secondary (insert New England Patriots here). This team has an explosive offense but lacks stability in the run game (insert Green Bay here). This team has an elite defense, but is quarterbacked by Alex Smith. You get the idea.
With the football world still searching for a team to crown at midseason, consider, just for a moment the Chicago Bears. At 5-1, they haven’t exactly proven themselves. They may not be the best team in the NFC; they may not even the best team in their division. The Bears are, however, the most complete team in the National Football League. They have the quarterback in Jay Cutler. Cutler more than likely tops the list of biggest douches in sports, and his play is hardly a masterpiece, but Cutler is tough, 1980s Black-and-Blue Division tough. Over the last three seasons, Cutler’s done the one thing good quarterbacks are expected do, and that’s put his team in position to win games. Rip his stat lines and sideline demeanor all you want. The fact is that the Chicago Bears are a better team with Jay Cutler under center. While the Brandon Marshall-Jay Cutler Show seems to be hitting its midseason stride, the running back tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush is controlling the tempo of games, winning the field position battle, and spearheading an emerging offense in the Windy City. Defense, though, is the talk of this town. That principle held true in 1985 and it holds true now. So far, Brian Urlacher and this cast of veteran defenders are more than living up to their reputation as a gritty, smash-mouth unit by utterly victimizing opposing offenses. They’ve generated 20 takeaways and converted five of them into touchdowns. Maybe the first seven weeks were a fluke for the Bears. Maybe an easy schedule is allowing them to hide glaring mistakes and games like the beat down in Dallas or the romp in Jacksonville will be ancient history by the time Houston comes to town in November. Or maybe the Bears are doing exactly what all good teams do against weaker opponents: winning. While the collective gaze of the football world falls on what golden boys like Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees do next, these Bears are happy to slip under the radar and grind out the season, overlooked and underrated. Something tells me they won’t go unnoticed for very much longer.
Games America won’t be watching but you should still give a shit about
Thursday, 10/25 8:20 ET
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Minnesota Vikings
Something weird is happening in Minneapolis. The Minnesota Vikings, yes those Vikings, are 5-2, and sitting at second place in the NFC North, one game behind the Chicago Bears and one up on the Green Bay Packers. A vastly improved defensive unit has already amassed 22 sacks on the season, and LB Chad Greenway is beating opposing quarterbacks like they stole something. Lord Have Mercy Percy is also making a serious bid for MVP. He catches balls, and he returns kicks to the house. Shoot, this boy fills the Gatorade cooler, walks Leslie Frazier’s dog, and paints his back porch. The Bucs can barely win at home, and playing in the Metrodome isn’t going to be pleasant. On a side note, why Tampa Bay doesn’t rock those creamsicle-orange jerseys every week is beyond me. There’s nothing wrong with a little old school, and if the Bucs are going to suck this year too, they might as well look good.
Prediction: Vikings 17 Bucs 7
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets
Sunday is a big day for the Joe Philbin regime. After losing to the Jets on a botched attempt to ice kicker Nick Folk, the young guns of the Miami Dolphins come in to New Meadowlands with a chance to secure second place in the AFC East. Joe Philbin’s plan to turn the Dolphins into Green Bay Packers South is nearing phase two, which involves the entire team living on cots in the Dolphin’s practice bubble. Old Vince Lombardi pregame speeches will blare through the PA system on repeat, and phrases like “STRENGHT IN UNITY. UNITY THROUGH DISCPLINE” and “BLOOD. HONOR. MARINO.” have replaced all team logos and bulletin boards. We tried to get Philbin to shed some light on his controversial approach, but he just mumbled something about the “Jew media” and skulked off. I’d say only Tebow can save us, but with each passing week it becomes clearer and clearer that Rex Ryan will continue to criminally underutilize him.
Prediction: Dolphins 21 Jets 20
San Diego Chargers @ Cleveland Browns
You know what, I’m beginning to think that Brandon Weeden might not suck all that much. He’s showed steady improvement from week to week, and despite throwing to one of the worst receiving corps in the league, Weeden and rookie running back Trent Richardson have this Browns’ offense showing signs of life. Unfortunately for the Dawg Pound, the neck injury sustained by LB Scott Fujita has sidelined him for the season, and may have ended his career. I don’t care who it is; nobody wants to see an athlete go out like that. As for the San Diego Chargers, the Philip Rivers story appears to be spiraling into a goddamn Greek tragedy. Playing the Browns should provide a little self-esteem boost. For this week, at least.
Prediction: Chargers 23 Browns 16
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
It’s official: the AFC South is the new NFC West.
Prediction: Colts 31 Titans 24
New England Patriots @ St. Louis Rams
The Rams are either consummate overachievers or a sneaky good team. Either way, I’m going to enjoy watching Courtland Finnegan rattle the Patriots’ receivers. If Tom Brady thought Seahawks CB Richard Sherman was a dick, then the antics of a Hall of Fame cocksucker like Finnegan are going to incite a riot at Foxboro. The Minutemen in the back of the end zone have been instructed by Robert Kraft to fire a volley onto the field at the first sight of trouble. That should momentarily alleviate the situation, but they can only load two shots in a minute. The Mythbusters team is currently figuring out if musket balls can penetrate NFL helmets – they’re not optimistic.
Prediction: Patriots 26 Rams 17
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Green Bay Packers
Do I really need to discuss the Jacksonville Jaguars? Rodger Goodell, please abuse your authority for good. Move the Jags to Los Angeles and hit Blaine Gabbert with a lifetime ban from football. It’s nothing personal Blaine. I just hate your haircut and the way you play football. The Montreal Allouettes need a QB, and I’m sure you could kill it with French Canadian chicks. Search your feelings Blaine; you know this to be true. And Chad Henne, how terrible are you that you need you can’t beat out Blaine Gabbert for a starting job? Maybe when the Jags move to LA you can sell Beamers in the Valley and decorate your shoebox office with old Henne jerseys. On weekends, you can do low budget commercials where you throw fake touchdowns to your bosses’ kid and say corny shit like, “we go to the end zone and back for our customers.” I’m sure some casual alcoholism and an overpriced jet ski will be involved too. Sounds kinda wonderful, Chad.
Prediction: Packers 41 Jags 6
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles
Dirty Birds vs. Philly Birds. The Greatest Regular Season Team of All Time will have their way with the Eagles. And after Matt Ryan torches Philly’s defense, he’ll go funnel beers with Andy Reid’s daughter at a Temple University frat house, finger blast the shit out of her in the backseat of his Escalade, and never FaceTime her again.
Prediction: Falcons 28 Eagles 24
Seattle Seahawks @ Detroit Lions
The Lions’ season is circling oblivion. At 2-4, they are only a few losses away from falling out of playoff contention by week 10. After watching the Matthew Stafford-Megatron revolution blitzkrieg the NFL during a record-setting playoff run in 2011, they can’t get even put points on the board in 2012. Detroit does matchup well against an equally physical Seattle Seahawks team. Last Thursday night, the Seahawks narrowly lost to the Niners in a game that more resembled a prison fight than a football game. Expect much of the same in Motown this Sunday.
Prediction: Seahawks 10 Lions 7
Carolina Panthers @ Chicago Bears
Mr. Sophomore Slump’s cell phone has been blowing up at three AM every night this week. Using the Bane voice app, the person on the other end eerily asks, “Do you believe in monsters, Mr. Newton?” A fed up and scared shitless Cam Newton desperately cries, “Why are you torturing me?” The Bane voice merely replies, “Because you haven’t suffered enough yet, Mr. Newton. Only when you lay battered and bruised on the hallowed ground of Soldier Field, your spirit broken and your team down 41-3, will you have my permission to be replaced by Derek Anderson.” Interestingly enough, change of name papers have reached the desk of a Chicago probate judge, requesting that Bears LB Brian Urlacher be allowed to change his name to Bane Urlacher. No connection has been made between Urlacher and Cam Newton’s tormentor.
Prediction: Bears 41 Panthers 13
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs
This game is the NFL equivalent of a bum fight – two desperate franchises starving for a win and some decent publicity. Methinks everyone will just kind of shrug when they hear the results of this game. (Note to self: spend all of next week casually dropping “methinks” into every conversation and gage people’s reactions.)
Prediction: Raiders 24 Chiefs 17
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are terrible; the New York Football Giants aren’t. Need I say more?
Prediction: Giants 35 Cowboys 14
New Orleans Saints @ Denver Broncos
After weathering a hellacious first-half schedule, Peyton Manning and the Broncos are looking forward to putting some distance between themselves and the rest of the AFC South by running through teams like the Saints, Bengals, and Panthers. Hopefully John Elway will start talking to Peyton Manning again. He’s been monumentally disappointed in Peyton’s 3-3 start, so much so that he spent all of dinner last Saturday with John Fox awkwardly texting Tim Tebow under the table.
“Let it go, John. You didn’t wanna be with him, remember?” Fox said.
“I know. We’re just friends. Friends text,” Elway shot back.
“But do they, John? Do they really?”
Prediction: Broncos 27 Saints 24
San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals
As the quarterback carousel continues to spin in Arizona, a matchup with one of the biggest bullies in the NFL is hardly an ideal situation for a Cardinals team that has suddenly found itself backed into a corner. Some guy named LaRod Stephens-Howling holds down the Arizona backfield, and John Skelton is more qualified to be poet-laureate of Great Britain than he is an NFL quarterback. A 2008 Super Bowl run aside, Larry Fitzgerald’s talents are slowly going to waste in the desert. He’s consistently put up strong numbers and managed to keep his name in the conversation of best receivers in the game. But in the end, we’ll look back at on Fitzy’s career and say he was one of the best to play his position, a statement that will quickly be followed up with a heavy a sigh and “what could have been. Imagine if he had a good quarterback?”
Prediction: 49ers 16 Cardinals 9