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Thoughts From Around the NFC North

| March 22nd, 2022

The odds above are from DraftKings Sportsbook.


Green Bay Packers

  • The story of the Green Bay off-season is Aaron Rodgers. The second he decided to return to the club, he cemented their frontrunner status for not only the NFC North but for the NFC, generally. (They run side-by-side with Brady’s Bucs.) Barring injury to the signal caller, the Packers will be in the 2022 postseason.
  • Has any draft pick caused more organizational turmoil than the Jordan Love pick? Sure, it alienated one of the greatest (and emotionally fragile) quarterbacks in the history of the sport. But also, the kid clearly can’t play. If he could, the Packers wouldn’t be doing advanced calisthenics to contort around Rodgers’ emotions. If the team viewed Love as capable, they could have dealt Rodgers for multiple first-round picks, replenishing Love’s supporting cast, and likely still maintaining their contender status.
    • Stacey Dales and I had a rather contentious Twitter exchange when the Packers took Love. She “reported” Rodgers was fully onboard with the selection. But of course, he wasn’t. People like Rodgers – and I’m sure you know a few – harbor everything. They stew with every perceived slight. They don’t use it for motivation; they use to be upset. Still awaiting the formal apology from Dales.
  • Rodgers has a history of making the weapons around him better but that’ll be put to the test in 2022. The Packers will likely address wide receiver in the draft but until they do, this is the weakest collection of outside targets they’ve rostered in quite some time, with Allen Lazard as their top current option for next season.
  • And don’t count me among those criticizing Green Bay for dealing Davante Adams. They got a first and second-round pick and now don’t have to pay him $30M a season. There is no reason to believe Adams will replicate his Rodgers production with Derek Carr. Rodgers aggressively fed Adams, with the most accurate arm in the league.
  • Green Bay’s defense was solid in all the standard categories and mediocre in the advanced metrics like DVOA. But their special teams sabotaged them in 2021. Pat O’Donnell is not a game changer. Rich Bisaccia, while a great leader, is not a game changer. The Packers need to strengthen the bottom of their roster – the core of specials – and that will need to happen over the closing days of free agency/draft season.

Minnesota Vikings

  • Kirk Cousins is still the quarterback. Thus, the team has a definitive ceiling. But we should all marvel at what he’s achieved in the sport. Warren Sharp put it in one Tweet: “Kirk Cousins has a 59-59-2 record as an NFL quarterback, performs slightly above average, and has made $231,669,486 in his career.”
  • Minnesota has a new head coach but as long as they stay committed to Kirk, they are in win now mode. This became even more clear when the Vikings were unable to trade Danielle Hunter prior to his $18M bonus becoming guaranteed on Sunday. (This is why Ryan Poles traded Khalil Mack THIS off-season. When you’re trying to retool a roster, you have to clear payroll when it’s possible. There’s no guarantee that Mack would have had the same value a year from now and Poles couldn’t take that chance.)
  • The off-season approach taken by the Vikings is receiving harsh, and I believe appropriate, criticism from their media.
    • From Ben Goessling: “This week, the Vikings opted not to follow through on the considerations they’d had, however briefly, about a hard reset, instead making moves to keep veterans on their roster while clearing enough cap space to sign several free agents and perhaps satisfy the Wilf family’s stated expectation the Vikings be “super-competitive” 8in 2022.”
    • From Chip Scoggins: “The team’s salary cap quagmire has created dueling agendas that make ownership’s win-now objective a tug-of-war with reality.”
    • From Mark Craig: “The Packers are the team to beat in 2022. The Bears and Lions are eyeballing 2023. And your new Vikings regime has stuck itself somewhere in between as a team still giving full chase to the distant Packers in 2022 while staring down the probability of falling short and finding itself a year behind the rebuilds in Chicago and Detroit in 2023.”

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Bears at Lions Thanksgiving Game Preview, Vol. III: Predictions!

| November 24th, 2021


There are only two possible outcomes for this game.

Outcome #1. The Bears win and nobody cares. (Maybe some young players flash and that will be exciting, but honestly, who cares?)

Outcome #2. The Bears lose and it becomes impossible for Matt Nagy to coach the team for the remainder of 2021. (Honestly, I’m not sure Nagy or Pace will still be employed Friday if this is the result Thursday. When I floated the scenario to someone in the building they responded with the simple, “Buckle up.”)

Three predictions:

  • David Montgomery has 24 carries for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns.
  • Robert Quinn adds another 1.5 sacks to his ledger, bringing his total to 11.5 on the season.
  • Matt Nagy avoids a midseason firing with an ugly win in front a national audience. And he will hear about it loudly from the Soldier Field faithful on December 3.

Chicago Bears 20, Detroit Lions 16

 

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Bears at Lions Thanksgiving Game Preview, Vol. II: Game Thoughts, Pearson Recipe & Various Nonsense!

| November 23rd, 2021


Four Thoughts on the Actual Football Game

  • Detroit is the second-worst run defense in the league, allowing north of 140 yards per game. Hard to imagine David Montgomery not dominating behind a terrific run-blocking offensive line.
    • Projection: 24 carries, 147 yards, 2 touchdowns.
  • The Lions have the worst collection of offensive talent in the league. And they are only scoring 1/3 of a point less per game than the Bears. (The Lions are outgaining the Bears, which is a particularly sad notion.)
  • T.J. Hockenson had a bit of a comeback game against Cleveland, with eight targets and six receptions. It won’t take long in Detroit’s tape study to see what Mark Andrews did to the Bears Sunday, and increasing Hockenson’s role from the first meeting. (4/42)
  • Largest stat disparity of the season: Bears have 31 sacks to tie for the league lead. Lions have 15, one clear of the Falcons in the basement.

Rick Pearson’s Jazzed-Up Green Bean Casserole Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 packages (16 ounces each) frozen cut green beans, thawed
  • 2 cans (10-3/4 ounces each) condensed cream of mushroom soup, undiluted
  • 1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained
  • 1 cup 2% milk
  • 6 bacon strips, cooked and crumbled
  • 1 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 ounces process cheese (Velveeta), cubed
  • 1 can (2.8 ounces) French-fried onions

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Bears at Lions Thanksgiving Game Preview, Vol. I: Establishing QB Tiers for Christmas Movies

| November 22nd, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears.

But I’m not even sure what it is I’m liking this week. If Justin Fields doesn’t play, there is nothing to be gained on Thursday. But it’s Thanksgiving. And it’s football. And we’ll all be watching…I think.


Thoughts on A Quick Turnaround in 2022

Robert Quinn, the team’s MVP in 2021, and Khalil Mack, the team’s best player, are returning in 2022. Roquan Smith is the best ILB in the sport, Jaylon Johnson is a top corner, and the Bears have shown a propensity for finding talent at the interior DL positions. They need corners, but they’ll have off-season assets to acquire them.

While many malign the offensive line, the group is having a decent 2021, especially as a mauling/run-blocking unit. If Teven Jenkins solidifies the left tackle spot, the pass protection should be dramatically improved as well. If you believe Fields will only get better – and I do – the Bears need to concentrate their efforts on adding weapons, weapons, weapon on the outside. Again, the assets are there to do so.

(And for you schedule junkies, the Bears have two road games in the Meadowlands next season, against certainly still-bad Giants and Jets teams.)

But it will all come down to the coaching hire. Terrific quarterback play can cover for bad coaching (Aaron Rodgers won Mike McCarthy a Super Bowl) on the offensive side of the ball, but the Bears currently suffer from a lack of leadership. There is no commitment to the game day plan because there doesn’t seem to be anything resembling a game day plan. They don’t need to hire an offensive mind, or a defensive mind. There are plenty of coaches out there that can call plays. Find the guy who stands in the front of the room and inspires his players to perform at their best.

They find that guy, they win ten games in 2022.


Christmas Movie Quarterbacking Tiers

Every year, from Thanksgiving to Christmas, I gorge on Christmas movies, usually updating my viewing experiences on the Twitter feed. This year, I decided to tier the films, with a little note added when explanation was required, and with a little football flair. This is a solid guide to season for you and your family. In each category, the films are listed in no particular order.

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The Prospects (Thanksgiving)

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Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Home for the Holidays

Mouse on the Mayflower

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The Elite QBs 

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These are the top shelf Christmas movies, and I’ll be watching most of them at least twice over the next month.

Home Alone

Elf

The Muppet Christmas Carol

Scrooge (Albert Finney)

A Very Murray Christmas

Scrooged

Miracle on 34th Street (original)

The Ref

Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas

Love Actually

The Night Before

Bad Santa

The Year Without Santa Claus (1974)

The Santa Clause

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation

Klaus

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What the Next Six Days Will Tell Us About the 2021 Chicago Bears Moving Forward

| November 19th, 2021


There are three possible outcomes for the Chicago Bears over the next six days. (I’m ruling out ties, which I may come to regret by the end of next week.) Each outcome brings with it a very specific emotional trajectory for the remainder of the 2021 season.

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Outcome #1 – The Sweep

Emotional Outcome: JUICE!

If the Bears win their next two games, they move to 5-6 and put a significant amount of juice into the remainder of the regular season. The six seed in the NFC is a 5-4, quarterback-less Saints team. The seven seed just made Cam Newton their starter.

The juice would start at Soldier Field, on December 5th, against the Arizona Cardinals. Justin vs. Kyler. A fired up building on the lakefront. Christmas only 20 days away!

It is highly unlikely Matt Nagy can still earn his way back onto the sideline for 2022, but the only way that conversation can start is by winning these next two, while Justin Fields progresses.

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Outcome #2 – The Shutout

Emotional Outcome: MAKE IT STOP.

The McCaskey family is opposed to firing coaches in-season, with Marc Trestman pushing them as close to the line as they’d ever come. That year, what prevented them from making the move was their desire to clean house – removing Trestman and GM Phil Emery – and they thought it best to make both moves once the season ended.

But if the Bears fall to 3-8, including a loss on Thanksgiving to an awful and untalented Lions team, the outcry may be too great to ignore. Nagy will have lost the fans, and the locker room. With a new, two-week, regular season interview period open for head coaches, ownership may see no reason to leave Nagy in the job for a meaningless month.

And that’s all the remainder of the schedule would be: meaningless. The results would not matter, not even artificially. All that would matter is a few highlights from Fields and the development of young talent like Darnell Mooney, Cole Kmet, Larry Borom and – hopefully – Teven Jenkins. December and early January become de facto preseason games.

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Outcome #3 – The Split

Emotional Outcome: EH.

Isn’t this what every fan expects? Be relevant, or be terrible. The problem with the Bears under Nagy – since the end of the 2018 season – is they’ve been neither.

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Week Four Game Preview, Volume II: Nagy Rebound Effect, Trib’s Pearson on Arlington Heights & Trying to Predict the Unpredictable

| October 1st, 2021


Why Do I Like the Chicago Bears This Week?

I always like the Chicago Bears. 

And I’ll say this about the 2021 Bears…they’re interesting! The coach might be nuts. The quarterbacks may stage a mutiny. The GM may be in witness protection.

Who the hell knows what football team is going to show up on Sunday?


The Nagy Rebound Effect

The first major hiccup of the Matt Nagy era in Chicago was the 2019 opener. The Bears were lifeless on offense against the Green Bay Packers, the quarterback was horrible, and the team lost 10-3 at home. How did they rebound from that effort? They won their next three games, two on the road, by a combined score of 62-35.

The next significant hiccup (light term) of the Nagy era came at the tail end of a six-game losing streak in 2020. After being blown out by the Packers at Lambeau, the Bears collapsed against the Detroit Lions to fall to 5-7. Many, including this space, called for Nagy’s firing. How did the team rebound? They won their next three games, scored a million points, and found themselves in the postseason. (You can bring up the opponents here if you like but the results are the results.)

Like it or not, the Bears have rebounded from the shakiest moments of Nagy’s tenure. And one can argue there has been no shakier moment than Sunday in Cleveland. Will they rebound again?


Arlington Heights: Three Questions with the Tribune’s Rick Pearson

Rick Pearson is one of the country’s finest political journalists. He is also one of my favorite people on the earth. Follow him on Twitter – @Rap30

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DBB: You suggested in your Tweet there’d be no interest in using city money to keep the Bears in Chicago proper. So if George and Ted went to the city and said, “We need X amount for renovations and improvements and we’ll stay three more decades” does the city see no value in making that happen? Or is the money just not there?

RP: Those TV establishing shots of Soldier Field on a warm spring day over Lake Michigan look very enticing and perfect for a post card. But the state and city have a heavy postage due bill. If George and Ted came to the city and state and listed their desired improvements, they would be listened to. But the only real answer for the team in the way the modern-day NFL operates is a new stadium. Soldier Field has been renovated as far as it can be without being torn down—an unlikely situation for a historic war memorial even though its 2006 renovation stripped it of its national landmark status. The stadium’s historic colonnades prevent the sidelines from being widened to add new seats to the smallest gridiron in the league.  Neither the state nor city has the money or the appetite for a new multi-billion dollar stadium—either in Chicago or in Arlington Heights. More than $430 million in debt is outstanding on the renovation that created the current Soldier Field, paid largely through hotel taxes, and the agency that issued the bonds is at junk-bond credit status.

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DBB: Nobody builds these new buildings without taxpayer money. That conversation is coming. How will it be received? Do you think it can be avoided?

RP: As I said, there is very little appetite for public financing for a brand new stadium. In fact, there’s resentment that the Bears would likely leave before the latest bonds have been paid off, coinciding with the team’s lease through 2033. A new stadium in Arlington Heights would get minimal public funding for things like roads and sewer, similar to what the privately owned United Center got on the West Side. But Arlington Heights and its 326 acres provide the Bears with several funding opportunities. They can link up with a private developer to create retail and even residential opportunities. The NFL has a loan program for new stadiums and the Bears, as a founding member of the league, would likely get favorable terms. In addition, a domed stadium also would provide new year-round opportunities for revenue. And the team wouldn’t have to split some of its revenues with the Chicago Park District, its current leaseholder, and would be able to sell naming rights. Then add the prospect of a sportsbook on game days, which is something the Bears clearly want and haven’t been able to get.

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DBB: What do you think it will mean to the city – specifically that area of the city – to lose the Bears to the burbs?

RP: The South Loop, where Soldier Field is located, is among the fastest growing areas of the city and can withstand the loss of 10 or so events. Soldier Field would still exist for Chicago Fire soccer, admittedly less of a draw than the Bears, as well as a home for international soccer matches which, when Mexico plays, have filled the stadium. Soldier Field also would continue to be a place for major outdoor concerts. The team’s fan base is strong in the suburbs and while traffic to Arlington Heights might get bad, it was always worse trying to get to and park at Soldier Field on game days. And hey, regardless of a move to the suburbs, they’ll always be the Chicago Bears—and the eyes of all Chicagoland will be on them every time they play.


Stats of the Week

  • The Lions have played the Niners, Packers and Ravens in this early stretch of the season and they are gaining 162 yards per game more than the Bears. (Sunday, of course, swayed these numbers against the Bears but Sunday did, in fact, count.) When you look at these two offensive rosters, that seems inconceivable.

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Week Four Game Preview, Volume I: How the Bears Beat the Lions

| September 30th, 2021


Let’s be honest. If the Bears play offense this Sunday the way they played it last Sunday, they have zero chance to beat any team in the league. Not the Texans. Not the Jags. Not the Jets. No one. So the points being made below are being made under the assumption the coach will actually install a logical, professional game plan and the offensive linemen won’t all play their worst game at the same time. (At the time of posting this, it is believed Bill Lazor is calling plays.)

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VDM. (Victory Difficulty Meter)

39.7%

This is the “easiest” game on the Bears schedule. But after Sunday, it’s impossible to call any game on their schedule “easy”. The Bears opened as 6-point favorites in this contest. The line is now under 3 at most books.

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What Must the Bears Do on Offense:

  • Don’t assume the run game will be there. Yes, the Lions are allowing 114+ yards per game on the ground but they have faced the Niners, Packers and Ravens – three of the best rushing offenses in the league. Run defense is about intensity. It’s about want to. And you only have to watch the Lions defense (under Aaron Glenn) for five minutes to realize they have both of those things in abundance.
  • Take advantage of an aggressive pass rush. The Lions saw the tape of Bears/Browns and they’re salivating at the thought of facing this coach and offensive line. They’re going to be aggressive Sunday and the Bears need to counter that aggression with a combination of (a) screens/short passes and (b) a quarterback ready to accelerate up the field for big gains.
  • Opposing passer rating against the Lions is 123.2 and one needs only watch tape of their game vs. Baltimore to understand why. Yes, the game ended on a Justin Tucker 66-yard field goal but it had no business being anywhere near that close. Hollywood Brown dropped 100 yards of passes and two easy touchdowns. (These are not questionable drops. These are Brown, by himself, at the end zone, letting footballs go through his fingers.) It should have been at least 27-0 at the half. If Nagy (and Lazor) can’t scheme open receivers against this secondary, they’ll never be able to do it.

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What Must the Bears Do on Defense:

  • Be disciplined. Misdirection and play action are the hallmarks of this offense. The Lions can’t just line up, run plays and beat their opponent. They don’t have the talent for that. They need to keep defenses off-balance and these are their primarily tools to do so.

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ATM: Bears Aren’t Good Yet, But That Doesn’t Matter

| September 15th, 2020


The Bears came away with a road divisional win in Week One.

Whether or not they’re a good football right now is irrelevant.

The team struggled on both sides of the ball for much of Sunday’s game, offering some trademarks of bad teams. Thankfully for Matt Nagy and company, the Lions specialize in those trademarks.

But the Bears still showed enough potential to lead us to believe they could, one day, even soon, be a good team.

Defense.

Playoff hopes were based on having a dominant defense. Not the kind of unit that allows 4.8 yards per carry and barely sniffs Matthew Stafford all day, despite a backup right tackle. Not the unit that allowed Danny Amendola and T.J. Hockenson to dominate the middle of the field. (One shudders to think what the passing attack would’ve looked like had Kenny Golladay played.)

They must find a way to be better against the run. Perhaps that answer can come in free agency with Marcell Dareus and Snacks Harrison seemingly available — although the latter may choose to sit out 2020.

The pass rush answers are internal. Khalil Mack will recover from a knee ailment that landed him on the injury report. Robert Quinn will return within the next two weeks. (If not the club would have put him on IR.) Mario Edwards can also give them a boost on passing downs when he’s up to speed.

Offense.

Offensively, it was more of the same for the Bears in that their quarterback spent most of the game looking completely incompetent. Whether he was spinning in the pocket, somehow over-throwing a 6’7” tight end, or missing open targets down the field, Mitch Trubisky looked like the quarterback of last year.

The hope, obviously, is that Trubisky’s slow start was a matter of rust; the residue of having to split reps in training camp. We’ll see. If Trubisky can’t play better than he did for most of Sunday, Nick Foles will be on the field before October.

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ATM: North Might Be Tighter, But Bears Are Still Best

| June 4th, 2019

There is little question that at least a couple of other teams in the NFC North are better than they were a year ago, but the Bears were so much better than the field it doesn’t seem likely the gap isn’t still significant. In addition to having four more wins than any other NFC North team last year, the Bears outscored their divisional opponents 153-109. That’s a differential of 44 points, meaning a +7.3 point average in divisional contests.

While the Lions and Packers made significant additions via free agency and, presumably, through the draft, they were so far behind the top two teams. The Lions were outscored by the other three teams 131-118, while the Packers were outscored 162-110. In fact, the Packers needed late field goals to avoid three double-digit losses and were handled by the Lions, twice.

Of course, the 2018 Bears were a great example of going worst-to-first, losing every divisional game in 2017, with most of them not being particularly close. But the Bears spent most of the 2017 season with a rookie quarterback and made more significant roster additions than any of the NFC North teams,

Here’s a quick look at the division.


Minnesota Vikings

Best Addition: Irv Smith Jr. The Vikings have some really good offensive players, but they reminded me of the 2014 Bears, who were basically playing 10-on-11 offensively without a decent second tight end or third receiver. Smith gives them another weapon, who should allow them to play big and run the ball.

Biggest Loss: Sheldon Richardson. Playing on a one-year deal, Richardson was second on the team with 20.5 combined quarterback hits and sacks last year.

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Bears Whack Lions, Move to 6-3

| November 12th, 2018

AP Photo (Edited) / Nam Y. Huh


It felt way closer than it ever was, this Bears v. Lions game. And there was one reason for that. Rapid fire is coming!

  • Cody Parkey doinking four kicks – two field goals and two extra points – was one of the craziest things I’ve ever seen in football. And while it is somewhat funny in a game the Bears dominated, the team must know there is ZERO chance Parkey can make a big kick in a big spot down the stretch. Didn’t cost them Sunday. It will cost them down the road.

  • Tweet above should be alarming to fans. The Bears should have kickers in this week. Nagy doesn’t do anybody on this roster any favors with blind loyalty. Parkey has been terrible. Why would you not look to improve the position?
  • Mitch Trubisky spent the week hearing he wasn’t the answer at quarterback. Then he delivered a masterpiece. What’s the criticism going to be now? It’s only the Lions? The same Lions that held Tom Brady to 133 yards? Trubisky’s numbers don’t lie. He’s going to be a top quarterback.
  • Anthony Miller has to know you can’t swat the football out of bounds. Oh, and he’s gonna be really good.

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