Before the season, these final four games for Chicago (vs. NE, @ MIN, vs. NYJ, @ GB) looked totally unwinnable. I’m still convinced they will lose all of them.
Now, before I explain why, this is my out if they don’t: Jay Cutler is a great quarterback and he is capable of the amazing games necessary to win these games. I got in trouble on Twitter when I said I thought he was better than Drew Brees. I stand behind that. We’re seeing Cutler flourish in the Martz offense, but he was already taller, more mobile, and with a stronger arm than Drew Brees. It was just for fun discussion as the only empirical proof would be to see them at the same ages, playing in the same offenses with the same coaches and players.
The New England Patriots do enough on defense to allow Tom Brady to propel them to unbreakable leads. The offense pinballed to 31-14 vs. Indianapolis, 38-23 vs. Buffalo, 29-10 @PIT, because they got enough stops and turnovers. The special teams were a factor along with the defense to get them to 20-7 @ MIA and 31-3 vs. CIN. They are similar to the Ravens and Bears defenses in that they give up yardage but are able to prevent points.
The Patriots offense is a quick-strike, up-tempo, diverse attack that have 5 playmakers on the field at all times. Brady is operating at such a high level that he hasn’t thrown an interception since week 6. The offense’s bread and butter is now throws to their rookie tight ends. Teams have difficulty stopping these guys, and the Bears will need to have extra DB’s on the field for them. Belichick and Brady have been working together on offensive schemes for ten seasons now – hitting stratospheric numbers throughout that span – and Brady showed on Monday that he has the ability to audible at the line of scrimmage. The Bears Tampa 2 allows their corners to match-up one-on-one, with the safeties lining up way back. The Patriots have efficient route runners in Welker and Branch who can get open in a hurry. Both them and Woodhead will be difficult to cover as the Bears may not have much of a drop-off between #1 and #2 corners, but I hate to see what Brady will do to nickel back Zack Bowman and anyone after that. In the end, even on a bad field – on a windy, cold day -, Brady’s accuracy will be the victorious factor.
I think the Bears – who’ve caught breaks with top quarterbacks and defenders being injured along with breaks involving bounces and officiating – caught another one by the Metrodome being closed. That said, the re-match features a Vikings team that is much improved, has Sidney Rice back and has a fired-up Adrian Peterson.
Next, the Bears host the New York Jets. Now, I admit. While the Vikings and Patriots are playing exactly as well as I thought they would be, the Bears are playing better than I thought they would (THEY AREN’T WHO I THOUGHT THEY WERE). Additionally, the Jets aren’t looking like the team that played smart, tough football for 10 quarters in the playoffs before Peyton Manning figured out their defense. They aren’t quite the force I thought they would be.
That being said, the Jets are still the superior team in coaching and in personnel. The Bears have – with the help of an Asante Samuel injury, a crucial red zone mistake by Vick, a record number of Green Bay penalties, and an illegal block in the back on a Hester return – already beaten two teams with superior coaching and personnel. It’s hard to do that twice in a season. It’s even harder to do it three times.
Now, the Jets have shown they can bounce back. After they lost 9-0 off the bye, they pulled together a streak of three straight 23+ point-401+ yard-22+ first down offensive games. They cleaned up on Thanksgiving after that, stomping the Bengals after a slow start, 26-10. They can easily get back on track from Monday’s loss with Rex Ryan leading them. I can’t help but think they pose match-up problems and finally get a pass rush going in their game against Chicago.
And, finally, I think Green Bay is a much better team than when Chicago first faced them. They are #1 in point differential. They have a +9 TO diff. Before going out with an injury to Detroit, Aaron Rodgers was 1 TD behind Tom Brady. I pray for a speedy recovery for one of my favorite players.
So, is Rod Marinelli’s defense that much better than last year? Do Peppers and a healthy Urlacher make that much of a difference that they can replicate what they’ve done against awful offenses, and do it to Mark Sanchez, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Adrian Peterson (last two on the road), especially when they struggled against Hasselbeck and Vick?
It’s tough to evaluate the Marinelli difference considering many of the same secondary players are there who gave up huge games to Palmer, Warner, Rodgers and Favre last year. Chris Harris is decent in run defense and in the red zone, but he isn’t enough of an upgrade in a Cover 2. The Bears will need another off-season to improve their protection and pass defense. I believe the Bears will go as far as Cutler takes them and that he is, by far, there most important player. It is simply the roughest schedule stretch I’ve seen in a long time.
Chris writes for Buccaneers Gab.