ESPN.com’s NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert wrote a blog last Wednesday on broken tackles from this past season. He received his information from Football Outsiders, a website that tracks all kinds of stats, and revealed some pretty interesting numbers on NFC North tackling.
The first stat, percentage of tackles offensive players “broke,” slotted the Packers worst in the league at 3.3 tackles broken out of every 100 attempts. In comparison, the Vikings ranked second (7.6) while the Lions finished 29th (3.8) and the Bears 31st (3.5). The Carolina Panthers led the league with 8.4 percent.
After the Green Bay Packers disposed of the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving day in a 34-12 rout, they were able to sit back and enjoy Sunday’s slate of NFL games. At 7-4, the Packers find themselves in good position to nab one of the two NFC Wildcard spots at the end of the season. They sport a decent conference record at 6-3, better than any Wildcard contenders other than the Eagles (6-2). Still, the Packers were looking for a little extra help this weekend from some of the bottom teams in the NFC. Unfortunately, things did not go as planned. Here’s a look at the Packers’ situation and reviews of how each Wildcard contender did this past weekend.
Green Bay Packers, currently 7-4
The Packers play the Ravens and Steelers over the course of three weekends and, while it looked more difficult at the beginning of the season, both games will be difficult. Both teams sit at 6-5 and are very beatable, especially the Ravens at home and the Packers will most likely need to take one of them to keep their playoff hopes alive.
If they lose one of those games, the good news is it will not count against their conference record, the first tiebreaker in determining the Wildcard spots. They also play two games in which they should be favored against the Seahawks and Bears. To close the season out, they go to Arizona to play the Cardinals. The caveat there is that the Cardinals, who hold a two-game lead on the division, could very well have wrapped up the NFC West by then and will be resting their starters, making for a much easier game.
1. Dallas Cowboys, 7-3 entering Week 12
The Cowboys were sure thankful for whoever scheduled them to play the Raiders on Thanksgiving Day. America’s Team pummeled the Raiders 24-7 and now find themselves in the driver’s seat to win the NFC East at 8-3. Someone has to win the NFC East by rule, but Packers’ fans were hoping that it would be the Cowboys vying for a Wildcard spot due to the head-to-head advantage they hold against them from the Week 10 victory in Lambeau Field.
The Eagles sit at 7-4 and are still very much alive in the NFC East hunt, but instead of worrying about tie-breakers and conference records and such, it would be best if the Cowboys won the rest of their games, including match ups against the New York Giants and Eagles. Their schedule the rest of the way is tougher than their NFC East counterparts, but they should win the East if they win their division games.
2. Philadelphia Eagles, 6-4 entering Week 12
If it weren’t for some 4th quarter heroics from Donovan McNabb, the Eagles would have been looking at a 6-5 record and a 2-game difference in the NFC East. They trailed the Redskins by eight points in the fourth quarter but ended up winning the game in the last two minutes, 27-24. It would have been a huge gain for the Packers if the Eagles had tripped up, but alas they pulled it out.
The Eagles have a better conference record than the Packers because they have played one less game and do not play the Packers head-to-head. They will face Atlanta next weekend who is also fighting for their playoff life as well as the Giants and Cowboys, so chances are the Eagles will either knock out one of the NFC East opponents or be knocked out by one of them.
3. New York Giants, 6-4 entering Week 12
After beginning the year 5-0, the wheels are starting to come off for Eli Manning and the Giants. They missed a golden opportunity to stay tied with Philadelphia and within a game of the Cowboys, but dropped their Thanksgiving Day match up against the Broncos, 26-6. They face the Cowboys next week who they already beat in Dallas, meaning they could have taken possession of first place had they won last week.
However, a win in Dallas would not only keep their playoff hopes alive, but their division hopes alive as well. The next week they play the Eagles, meaning that the next 14 days will all but determine the playoff hopes for the Giants. If they win both, they will be in very good shape to win the division. Lose both and they will probably be on their couches for the second season.
4. Atlanta Falcons, 6-4 entering Week 12
The Falcons were about 30 seconds and one down away from seeing their 2009 playoff chances fade away, but a Roddy White touchdown catch to beat the Bucs 20-17 kept them alive in the hunt. They now sit at 6-5 and are still on the outside looking in, but face the Eagles next week in a matchup that, if won, would let them leapfrog the Eagles in the standings.
After the Eagles, the Falcons play the Saints at home and then do not face a team with a record over .500 the rest of the year. Sounds good for them if they can beat the Eagles, right? Not so fast. Quarterback Matt Ryan and running back Michael Turner both left Sunday’s game with injuries and the offense will go nowhere fast, regardless of who they play, if the two of them can not go. They could sneak in the playoffs with a win over the Eagles, but keep a very close eye on those injuries.
In the wake of the Green Bay Packers’ victory over the Chicago Bears 21-15 in Lambeau Field Sunday night, it has come to my attention that a certain question of loyalty to a city’s teams is a must in today’s sports world. Many angry Bears fans had just watched their aging defense give up a game-winning touchdown in the last 77 seconds, their savior quarterback throw more insults at his wide receivers than he did completions, and their best defensive player in the last 20 years go down for the season with a wrist injury.
That being said, Sunday night and the days following sucked for Bears fans. The season is hardly lost because one game never has and never will make a season for any NFL team, but it sure got harder for the Bears after their debacle against the Packers.
After the game, my naturally excited state of mind prompted me to go on Facebook and talk smack to Bears nation. All of the trash talking was good natured and while some of it got a little out of hand, it was nothing that lasted more than that night. However, there was one argument Bears fans were making against Packers fans that got me upset and wondering why there was an issue at hand.
Being from Illinois and a suburb of Chicago, Bears fans from my hometown chastised my Packers fanhood and called out my friend, who is a fan of all Chicago teams other than the Bears, for not being a true “Chicago fan”. They stated that if a person is from Chicago and does not root for all of his or her sports teams, that person is not a fan at all.
One upset fan even claimed that a person who did this was “less than scum”, which brings me to the heart of my argument. Does a person who comes from a particular city have to root for every team in that particular city, with no exceptions and no questions asked?
The answer is a resounding NO.
When my father was growing up, everyone in his family was a die-hard Chicago Bears fan. Every Sunday, the boys of the house would go to the local church and watch the Bears take on their weekly opponent. But my dad was different. Always one to go against the proverbial grain (if you know my dad, you just laughed at that and nodded your head), he decided to take up a liking for the rivals from the North, the Green Bay Packers.
Born in 1959, his career as a Packers fan got off to a fast start in the mid-60’s, but the 70’s and 80’s made it almost unbearable to watch. But the one thing my dad always said was that his father, my grandpa, told him that once he chose a team, he had to stick with it and not become fair-weathered. So there he was, watching the Packers amount to four winning seasons between 1970 and 1991, winning just one playoff game.
When I was born in 1990, my father molded me into a Packers fan from day one. I had always been a huge sports fan, and football was always my favorite sport, so naturally I wanted to cheer for the Packers. My dad and I would go to games yearly and would always share information on the team at the dinner table, sparking debates that still give my mother headaches today.
Back to the main question of all this: In becoming Packers fans despite living in Illinois basically our whole lives, did my father and I do something wrong or go against our city?
The greatest freedom that we have in out country today is the freedom of speech. We are allowed to choose our leader, speak publicly about issues, and not have to worry if our house will be burnt down in the morning. This may seem like a stretch of an analogy to some, but it really is not. The same goes for sports in that we should be able to decide who we want to root for.
For children our age who watched football growing up, how could you not love to see Brett Favre zip a touchdown to Antonio Freeman on a snowy day in Lambeau Field? The Packers were a fun team to watch and their leader had one of the most lovable personalities in all the game. It became almost impossible to root against Favre, and for some people this meant coming over to the side of cheering for the Packers on a weekly basis.
You don’t choose which sports teams you love. For the most die-hard fans, there is an actual bond between the teams we love and ourselves. Even if we wanted to root for our hometown teams and thought that we HAD an obligation to do so, we just couldn’t. There’s something about the team we chose that we love, and we wouldn’t change that for the world.
Another argument presented during the Facebook face-off Sunday night was that being a “Chicago fan” meant cheering for ALL Chicago teams, and once you cheered for another team, let alone a rival, you could no longer call yourself a Chicago fan.
Since when is there such thing as a Chicago fan or (enter the name of a city here) fan? It’s one thing if you choose to root for all Chicago teams and it just so happens to work out like that, but fan loyalty has nothing to do with where you live. What is the record of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky this season? How about the Chicago Fire? Will either team make the playoffs? Come on now, you’re a “Chicago fan”, aren’t you?
No one chooses where they are born, so the argument of fan loyalty out of the the womb makes little sense. This isn’t a dictatorship of a country where I have the potential to be shot if I wear my Packers jersey out in public. Do I have to be all for Chicago politics just because I reside in Deerfield? Why are sports any different from anything else in Chicago?
Sports are an amazing entertainment for every kind of fan who has ever loved a team. There are few things outside of sports that can ignite so much passion inside of us, make us sit in front of a TV for nine hours straight on a Sunday, and even shell out hundreds of dollars just to get a glimpse of our heroes in person.
Sports can be a getaway from the harsh realities of life, they can create futures for those talented enough to work in the business, and they can bring together a whole city, state, or country. Just ask the Yankees after September 11th or Team USA in the 1980 Olympics.
But above all these things, the best part about sports is that we get to decide on our own who we want to cheer for. We find those sports figures in our life who turn into our heroes who make us want to be the best at what we do, just like they do. We decide what jersey we put on as we imitate our favorite basketball player in the driveway.
Sports are a passion and wherever we find that passion, all that matters is that we back the team we follow, through thick and thin. It isn’t a mortal sin to cheer for the rival and our loyalty isn’t some binding contract that has to match up with our zip code.
NFL Season is upon us for the first time since Strotty’s Blog has come about, so it’s time to make picks. For each week, I will make picks straight up and against the spread. I will keep a running tally of my record so you can see how good (or bad) I am at picking NFL games. So here it goes, my picks for week one.
*NOTE* My spread picks are on the left and the bolded team is the team that I believe will win the game. Obviously if I take a favorite to cover then I expect them to win the game as well.
Steelers -6 vs. Tennessee
Broncos +4 @ Bengals
Texans -4.5 vs. Jets
Vikings -4 @ Browns
Saints -13 vs. Lions
Colts -7 vs. Jaguars
Chiefs +13 @ Ravens
Buccaneers +6 vs. Cowboys
Eagles -2 @ Panthers
Giants -6.5 vs. Redskins
Seahawks -8.5 vs. Rams
Packers -3.5 vs. Bears
Falcons -4 vs. Dolphins
Chargers -9 @ Raiders
Patriots -10.5 vs. Bills
Let me start this off by saying I am a Packers fan and have hated the Bears since the first time I saw Brett Favre play. Let me also start this off by saying I hope to one day work in the field of journalism, and the ability to not be bias is a strength and that is what I plan to do in this blog.
Yesterday, the Chicago Bears acquired quarterback Jay Cutler and fifth round pick from the Denver Broncos in exchange for a first and third round pick in the 2009 draft, a first round pick in the 2010 draft, and quarterback Kyle Orton. Congratulations, Bears fans, and I mean it in all sincerity. It’s been ugly watching the last 21 quarterbacks take snaps from under center since 1990 and you finally have a guy that will do it at an above average rate. Cutler has been very good in his short stint in the NFL and is one of the up-and-coming young quarterbacks in the NFL along with Matt Ryan, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Cassel, and Joe Flacco just to name a few. It is true that Cutler has put up very good numbers in his stay with Denver and has been tagged as “the next gunslinger” in the NFL for his risky throws and such, similar (but not even close) to a Brett Favre, but for the sake of it all I’ll compare him.
I like Jay Cutler as a quarterback and if I had to rank the young quarterbacks that I listed above, it would probably go Rodgers, Ryan, and then Cutler. (By the way, come talk to me if you want to take Ryan over Rodgers. I know he was the stud rookie and all, but his stats were not overpowering and he had arguably the best running back in football last year. I’ll argue Rodgers over him and especially Cutler to the death). But getting back on topic, Cutler is going to succeed wherever he goes and will put up good numbers, but this is where the problem comes in. He’s going to a Chicago Bears team that really is not even close in comparison to the Denver Broncos on offense, which is where I will start.
I admit it’s a little unfair to talk about running backs if you aren’t going to include the offensive line, but I will try to. Everyone knows that Denver is the place fantasy owners stay away from at all costs and it’s because of the running backs. While Denver did not even come close to having a 1000 yard rusher, they averaged 4.8 yards per rush, had three players over 300 yards, two more over 200 yards, and three more over 100. To call them a team that goes running back by committee would be an understatement, and despite Mike Shannahan leaving, a lot of the same personnel remains intact and the zone blocking scheme that has been made famous in Denver will stay this year. They had 15 rushing touchdowns which were tied for 14th in the league, tied with the Bears among others. Don’t forget Ryan Torain either, who played in just two games all year in an injury-plagued year.
The Bears have an excellent running back in Matt Forte, who if it weren’t for Chris Johnson, would have been the most highly talked about rookie running back. After that, the Bears have little to nothing as Kevin Jones and Adrian Peterson were the next highest rushers with 109 and 100 yards. If Forte were to go down it would spell doom for the Bears and they can not afford that. Forte is excellent out of the backfield and was the Bears’ leading receiver last year.
Overall last year, the running backs in Denver are all around better than the running backs in Chicago. Forte is clearly the best back of the bunch, but it is hard to argue with the success that Denver puts out every year and I would give the slight edge to the Broncos.
Last year, Denver touted one of the best receiving duos in the whole league in Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal. With 104 and 91 catches, they were excellent all year and the reason for Denver’s success on offense. Sure, Cutler was probably the reason for a little bit of their success, but don’t think that both of these player’s skill sets were all Cutler. Marshall is an athletic freak at 6’4″ 230 lbs. and Royal is a speedster at 5’10”. Tight end Tony Scheffler caught 40 balls for 645 yards and was a great redzone target, scoring three times on the year. Brandon Stokley had 49 catches in a more than serviceable role as the third receiver.
For the Bears, it gets very ugly in this category. Their leading receivers coming back to the team are Devin Hester, Rashied Davis, and Greg Olsen. Hester has established himself as a deep ball threat, but his lack of focus makes him susceptible to the dropped pass or running wrong routes. He is clearly not a number one receiver and is being asked to do so, something I can not see him performing well in. Davis is under rated but not really starting worthy and will be asked to do a lot. Earl Bennett is a name that is talked about around Cutler because they played together, but he hasn’t done anything since he arrived in Chicago and I don’t know why an old quarterback is suddenly going to make him Superman. Olsen was great last year and had a great connection with Kyle Orton last year that he should use next year to hook up with Cutler.
The Bears are going to need to add a receiver via free agency or the draft or Cutler will not succeed at all. Cutler was able to use Marshall and Royal the same way they used him, and the lack of receivers on this team could make things frustrating. The best bet for the Bears is to go and get Torry Holt. I do not think Plaxico Burress or Marvin Harrison are the answers due to their legal troubles and Harrison being way past his prime, but if they can land someone serviceable it will go a long way for Cutler.
On the other hand, Denver sports one of the best offensive lines in football. Tom Nalen hadn’t missed a start in four years before going down for the year with a biceps injury for an offensive line that had given up just four sacks in the first five games. After Nalen’s injury, the team gave up 28 sacks in what was a completely different atmosphere. One of the other bright spots was Ryan Clady, the left tackle from Boise State who was outstanding as a rookie. Ryan Harris at right tackle is another outstanding tackle and the guards inside of Ben Hamilton and Chris Kuper are the reasons for Denver’s success in the run game.
This is kind of the position that no one is talking about in regards to the trade. Chicago’s line is solid and with the addition of Orlando Pace they are looking better. Still, they lost both of their tackles from last year and second year Chris Williams is an injury concern and far from a certain thing. Also, as Orlando Pace has aged his durability is a question mark, missing 24 games due to injury in the last three years. Kruetz is fine and Roberto Garza is average for a right guard, but the Bears averaged less than four yards per carry on the ground. Whether you want to say it was because of the lack of a passing game or poor offensive line production, facts are facts and this offensive line struggled.
Chicago is trying to improve their offensive line and will sport at least two new faces next year with Pace and Williams. They will need to stay healthy and contribute to make sure Cutler has time in the pocket or he will face a lot of pressure against just four man rushes.
Breaking It All Down
What does this all mean? It means that Jay Cutler is not going to throw for over 4,500 yards with 25 touchdowns. It means that he is going to a team that is not as strong as Denver was, but will undoubtedly produce because of the overall talent that he has. He will need to become more of a leader, something he was criticized for and never really did in Denver and will need to lose the prima donna attitude, something that surely will not fly in Brian Urlacher’s locker room. Jay Cutler: Improvement? Yes. Difference Maker? We’ll see.
The Broncos came out earlier this week and said they are officially shopping Jay Cutler based on the team’s inability to mend the fences that were broken when trade rumors floated around the league earlier last month. Cutler, who has proven to be a very good statistical quarterback despite not winning anything to date, will warrant many looks by teams around the league. It seems this year more than years prior, teams need quarterbacks badly and Cutler could be the answer for both teams rebuilding, as well as those that need that “final piece”. What the trade for Cutler means is that the NFL Draft could be greatly affected depending on what team he goes to.
The team that everyone talks about is the obvious one in the Detroit Lions. Not only do they have a gaping hole at quarterback (Daunte Culpepper currently first on the depth chart) and could use Cutler to jumpstart the offense, but they also hold two first round draft picks (#1 and #20), meaning they have a lot to work with in what they could give up. They also hold the first pick in the second round at #33 which is basically another first round pick to work with. Despite what I have read in some places, I just can not see Detroit parting with the #1 pick regardless of what the package includes that would come with Cutler. It just does not happen and I can’t see that changing this year, especially with such a bad team like Detroit. It doesn’t matter about the money they will have to pay the first overall draft pick, they need to keep it and pick up a franchise player. Yes, Cutler could be considered that franchise piece, but I’m pretty sure Denver thought the primadonna was the face of Denver’s franchise. The guy has attitude problems and one has to think it makes his price tag go down somewhat. Rather, what I could see is the Lions giving up picks #20 and #33 for the rights to Cutler. Based on the NFL draft pick value chart, the total points for the picks is equal to 1430, which would put Cutler somewhere in between the 7th and 8th pick. If the trade goes down and Cutler is traded to the Lions, the need for quarterback would be gone for the Lions and they could focus their attention to an offensive lineman (Jason Smith, Eugene Monroe) or defensive player (Aaron Curry). If that happens, it leaves the possibility that the Rams or Seahawks would take Matt Stafford to replace their aging quarterbacks, leaving the possibility of a Michael Crabtree or Mark Sanchez to fall out of the top ten.
The other fallout would be what Denver ends up doing with their quarterback situation after the trade. Chris Simms would be the penciled in starter, but with picks #12, #20, and #33, the Broncos would surely have the firepower to move back into the top ten and select either Matt Stafford or Mark Sanchez. They would likely have to jump the San Francisco 49er’s who pick 10th, but the pick before them, number nine with the Green Bay Packers, seems a likely spot the the Broncos to end up. Ted Thompson loves to gain extra picks and if he could pick up two first round draft picks, he would take it in a heartbeat. While the numbers don’t add up on the aforementioned draft pick value chart if the Broncos traded picks #12 and #33 for #9, the Broncos NEED to trade up to get a quarterback or hold their breath that both Stafford and Sanchez do not go in the first 11 picks, something I personally can not see happening. The Broncos will have options to get back into the top ten if they trade Cutler, but not every team is neccesarily going to want to trade out of the top ten. There is a reason that the teams picking in the top ten: they have their own needs.
If the Broncos end up trading Cutler to someone other than the Broncos and presumably someone picking past them at #12, then the need becomes that much more important to make sure they trade up and get one of the two quarterbacks in Stafford or Sanchez. Detroit would still have the quarterback problem and take Stafford, who supposedly looked outstanding in his private workout, leaving ten picks between the Broncos and Mark Sanchez. Places that Cutler could be heading include Minnesota, Cleveland (assuming Brady or Anderson would be involved which would cancel this whole blog out), New York Jets or Chicago for short.
Speaking of Cleveland, another point brought up is that Denver might want a young quarterback in return. This could be someone as talented as a Brady Quinn or Donovan McNabb, a tweener like Jason Campbell, or simply a stopgap like Sage Rosenfels. With just two teams, the Lions and Eagles, having multiple first round draft picks, it seems unlikely that the Broncos will get two first rounders, but the other option is that the Broncos could be willing to take picks in next year’s draft which would put teams like Tampa Bay and New York into the equation. For some reason, I can not see the Broncos being satisfied with A) a trade that doesn’t net them a young quarterback, OR, B) less than two first round draft picks. If they are indeed able to pick up a young quarterback and an extra draft pick, this might be the best case scenario as their defense needs a complete makeover.
Whoever winds up with Ms. Cutler will have a very tricky situation on their hands with his attitude problems, but they also get a very good, 26-year-old quarterback that will improve whatever team he goes to. Remember, if the Broncos had any kind of defense last year they would have made the playoffs without question. It could mix up the NFL Draft completely or it could turn out to just be a quarterback swap, but it is compelling either way and something I will keep my eye on until some kind of trigger is pulled.