NFL Playoff Preview
As I write this, I am listening to America's worst sports radio talk show host, Erik Kuselias. He's subbing for Dan Patrick this afternoon. While Dan can be a bit banal, repetitive, boring, and has a remarkable ability to never express an actual opinion, he is at least the functional equivalent of background music. It's nice to put him on my headphones because he is in no way distracting.
Kuselias, on the other hand, is loud, obnoxious, and almost every opinion that he expresses is wrong. He also inexplicably hates Chicago.
I think that a lot of fans across the country think that some major media figure hates their team, and that most of these fans are just imagining it. People like to feel like underdogs, as if everyone is against them.
But Kuselias really does hate Chicago sports. How do I know?
1. I also hate Chicago sports teams. I am a Packer fan. Should (God forbid) the Bears win the Super Bowl, my life will be miserable for at least a month.
2. Even though I hate Chicago sports teams due to the natural rivalry between Wisconsin and Chicago (Note: Some may take issue with my comparing of a city to a state, but this is entirely accurate. Wisconsin fandom (especially Packer fandom) is a statewide phenomenon. As far as southern Illinois is concerned, however, it may as well be a different state.) I am more fair in my treatment of Chicago sports than is Kuselias.
He just stated that he thought that there are 5 teams capable of winning the Super Bowl, and the Bears were not among them. The Panthers, on the other hand, were. I have seen both teams play, and there is no possible way that anyone can believe that the Panthers have any shot at the Super Bowl. Their defense is OK, but last weekend it looked to me like the Giants just fell apart. The Panthers are OK, not great. The have one good WR, an average and turnover prone QB, and a RB who can look great, but who disappears for long stretches. The Bears can and will shut all of this down.
The Bear defense is much, much better than the Carolina defense. It just is. Sure they don't have much of an offense, but it's not as anemic as people make it out to be. It was, when Kyle Orton was still at the helm, but just the threat of a pass opens things up for Thomas Jones, who played a truly heroic season as the team's only offensive threat.
When you look up and down the Bears season it looks like a few people managed to put up some points on them, but if you look at the stats, it's just not true. The Bengals put up 24 on them because Orton threw 5 interceptions. 5! Bobby Wade also lost a fumble in that game, and the Bengals only scored 24.
Cleveland put up 20 in a game that saw Orton, Mark Bradley, and Cedric Benson all lose fumbles, and in which Cleveland staged a freakish rally in the last 3 minutes after the Bear defense had spent basically the whole game on the field.
Only Pitt managed to mount an offense without the help of the Chicago offense, and they were aided by a blizzard that basically neutralized speed on defense.
Take out those games, and the Bear defense gave up the following: 9, 6, 3, 6, 13, 17, 9, 3 (in the "wind bowl" against Carolina), 10, 7, 3, and 17. That's it. They never gave up over 17 points unless their offense suffered around 6 turnovers. (I'm not counting their week 17 loss to the Vikings in which they rested their starters.) The defense basically didn't have any let-downs.
The Panthers gave up 27 to Miami. They gave up 29 to a truly sorry Green Bay team. They gave up 24 to the Cowboys. They gave up 23 to the Saints. Did they shut some teams down? Sure. But the Bears shut everyone down.
I hope that the Panthers win, but I don't see it. They do have one thing in their favor.
It's nearly 60 degrees right now in Chicago, and it may not be that cold this weekend (the forecast right now is for temps in the low 40s). But the thing is, it hasn't really mattered for the Bears this year. In fact, weather actually hurt them on at least two occasions (against Pitt and Washington), although it did lead directly to their win over Carolina.
Kuselias spent all summer ripping the White Sox, and transitioned effortlessly into football season. If the Bears do go on to win the Super Bowl, I' blaming him.
When you are looking for potential champions, you should look for the teams that are the best at something. The Bears have the best defense in football and they are definitely a threat. I think that they roll over Carolina on Sunday and Delhomme throws at least 2 picks.
Washington would normally be a bad matchup for Seattle, sporting a great defense in its own right, but they're beat up, they have to fly across the country, and Seattle is good enough to take advantage of the situation. Brunell looks like the Brunell of last year, and if the Redskins can't pass, they are not going to win. A Seattle/Chicago matchup appears imminent, which is good, because Seattle has the best chance to stop the Bears.
What about the AFC? I'm very tempted to pick against Indy, but I'm also smart enough not to. I have this theory that in the playoffs, refs let defenses beat up receivers and therefore, Indy is doomed, but they won't be doomed until next weekend. Pitt has a chance. They seem to be putting it together at just the right time, and I don't expect a repeat of the last matchup where Big Ben was just returning from injury, but Indy is going to be tough for any team, and with a bye, Pitt probably doesn't have enough.
Denver is going to beat New England. I know that the New Enlgand story is nice, but they don't quite have it anymore. Denver has improved just enough and New England has declined just enough that Denver is finally going to get over the hump. They're better on defense and they can grind it out. Usually, that is the Patriots model for playoff success (people forget how instrumental Antowain Smith and Corey Dillon have been), and now the Broncos are set up better for it.
At the very least, the games should be better this weekend. There were some real Turd Fergusons last weekend and it can only improve.
Finally, I would like to mention that it is sort of nice to have a hated rival. Normally, when you're team fails to make the playoffs your interest declines significantly, but since I really want the Bears to lose I actually have something to watch. Here's hoping that the Panthers prove me wrong.