Tag:Jay Cutler
Posted on: January 16, 2011 11:25 pm
Edited on: January 16, 2011 11:30 pm
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Packers-Bears sets the stage for epic NFC finale

Posted by Will Brinson



Unfortunately for NFL fans, the NFC divisional round games weren't entirely compelling -- Green Bay pantsed Atlanta on Saturday and the Bears beat the Seahawks 35-24 Sunday in a game that seemed to last approximately 43 hours and, cliche aside, wasn't nearly as compelling as the scoreboard might indicate.

Fortunately for FOX executives, people still love football, and ratings probably weren't bad. Also fortunate for them: the Bears and Packers will meet in Chicago for the NFC Championship, and likely provide an unbelievably compelling matchup.

You see, despite being bitter division rivals who play twice a season, Green Bay and Chicago aren't exactly familiar postseason foes. Back in 1941, the Bears beat the Packers 33-14 in their only playoff meeting ever.

Obviously, the stakes -- a chance to play in the Super Bowl -- couldn't possibly be higher and the lack of postseason history only escalates what should be a pretty stout matchup.

The Packers, oddly enough, are favored by three points for a game that will be played in Chicago -- that probably has as much to do with their obliteration of Atlanta and current hot streak that Green Bay's riding. Chicago just doesn't get as much credit for whipping their opponent because that opponent happened to be the clearly overmatched Seahawks.



However, nothing from this season (the teams split the series with the Packers outscoring the Bears 27-23 and Chicago playing its starters through the fourth quarter in Week 17 despite clinching the second seed already) or previous seasons (the all-time series is tied 92-83-6) should give the world any reason to think this won't be one of the most compelling championship games in recent history.

Neither team has a whole lot of historical trepidation hanging around their respective franchise (like, say, the Cubs or something), but both Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers still have "something to prove" in the minds of many. Making it to a Super Bowl would at least move the rhetoric about their careers to the debate involving the finality of the "big game."

And while Cutler's prone to make mistakes, there's no question when he's on, he's REALLY on -- as Clark Judge wrote earlier, the "Good Jay" is ridiculously good -- and the same goes for Rodgers, who put in one of the all-time great playoff performances against Atlanta on Saturday.

Both defenses clearly bring an elite level of play, which means there's no reason to think the first postseason matchup between these rivals in over 70 years will end in anything other than an exciting finale.

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Posted on: January 13, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2011 8:31 pm
 

Bears vs. Seahawks: 7-Point Divisional Preview

Posted by Andy Benoit



CBSSports.com's patented and award-winning 7-point preview gets you ready for each and every playoff game. As an added bonus, check out our playoff podcast preview:



1. Seattle Seahawks (No. 4, NFC, 8-9) @ Chicago Bears (No. 2, NFC, 11-5)

Arguably the most unlikely second-round playoff team in NFL history goes on the road (like it should have had to do in the wild card round) to face a storied franchise that filled up the bottom half of everybody’s NFC North preseason rankings.

No taking potshots at the Seahawks this week (aside from that little “going on the road” one…which not even the most fiery Seattleites can, deep down, disagree with); Pete Carroll’s men played too well against the Saints to be mocked.

Besides, Seattle beat Chicago at Soldier Field back in Week 6. It was Marshawn Lynch’s Seahawk debut, and his club became, at the time, just the second team to rush for more than 85 yards against Chicago’s reinvigorated defense. (Lynch wound up with 44 of Seattle’s 111 rushing yards; his former Cal teammate, Justin Forsett, had 67). Regardless of what happens from here on out, Lynch will forever be remembered for his earth-rumbling 67-yard run against the Saints.

He’ll need similar tenacity Sunday. The Bears held opponents to an NFC-best 90.1 yards rushing per game during the regular season. Forsett’s quickness won’t be as viable on the sloppy Soldier Field surface; the Seahawks will need to call upon their new hero.

2. PLAYOFFS?! Watchability Ranking



The Seahawks bring a David factor to this equation, but it’s not like the 11-win Bears are a big bad Goliath.

3. Key Matchup to Watch: Earl Thomas/Lofa Tatupu vs. Bears Passing Offense

After tearing him apart in the regular season, the Saints were eager to pick on rookie safety Earl Thomas Saturday. But the first-round pick from Texas responded admirably, finishing second on the team with eight tackles. Thomas showcased blazing speed on many of those tackles – including one where he crossed the field to hunt down Reggie Bush.

That speed will be crucial against Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, Chicago’s two playmaking receivers. Though a slapdash offensive line has compelled Mike Martz to call fewer seven-step-drop passes in 2010, you can bet the Bears will still look to stretch the field a time or two. The Seahawks gave up an NFC-high 60 passes of 20 yards or more during the regular season. They also allowed 11 passes of 40-plus yards (tied for fourth most in football). Some of those passes were due to Thomas’ misreads.

Thomas is obviously more experienced than when the Bears last saw him, but given how vulnerable Seattle’s corners are to downfield patterns (knee injuries have cost Marcus Trufant a half-step; No. 2 corner Kelly Jennings struggles with his outside change-of-direction technique at times) Martz and Jay Cutler will be tempted to showcase their big-play prowess on a high-stakes stage.

As far as Tatupu goes, his speed and instincts are key to Seattle’s short-area pass defense. The Bears completed 51 passes to running back Matt Forte this season (tied with Knox for the team lead). Seattle may want to consider shadowing Forte with their veteran Pro Bowl middle linebacker.

4. Potentially Relevant Video

Pete Carroll should make his special teams unit watch this video 10 times a day the rest of this week.



5. The Seahawks will win if ...

They get another spectacular performance from Matt Hasselbeck and take advantage of Chicago’s issues with recognizing pass blocking assignments (that is if the Bears haven’t corrected these issues over the past two weeks).

6. The Bears will win if ...

They simply break even with Seattle in the “mistakes” category and can take advantage of the favorable mismatches for their defensive line.

7. Prediction: Bears 24, Seahawks 17

Posted on: December 27, 2010 1:18 am
Edited on: December 27, 2010 1:19 am
 

10 stories worth your attention Week 16

Posted by Andy Benoit

1. The NFC’s new most dangerous team?

It took a little over three hours for the Green Bay Packers to become the favorites in the running for this year’s “Wild-Card team that nobody wants to face” moniker. Their 45-17 dismantling of the New York Giants was a showcase of explosion, bA. Rodgers (US Presswire)oth offensively and defensively. Aaron Rodgers completed passes of 36, 26 and 24 yards to Greg Jennings. He lasered an 80-yard catch-and-run score to Jordy Nelson (safety Deon Grant’s lack of burst helped the play) and later found the lanky slot receiver for a 38-yarder. Rodgers also found Donald Driver for a 33-yarder against cornerback Terrell Thomas, who was targeted all afternoon.

The Packers did not run particularly well. Brandon Jackson managed just 39 yards on 18 attempts; the rest of the team combined for a more-respectable 80 yards on 17 attempts. However, perhaps building off their rushing success from last Sunday at New England, the Packer offense at least showed balance early on, running on 10 of its first 20 plays and having 18 rush attempts vs. 23 pass attempts at halftime. (By the way, in what was perhaps the emptiest quote of the year, Mike McCarthy told FOX sideline reporter Pam Oliver at halftime that he’d like his team to have better run/pass balance in the second half).

At the end of the day, Rodgers sealed the NFC Offensive Player of the Week award with 404 yards and four touchdowns. Numbers half that good would have gotten a win considering Green Bay’s defense forced five turnovers. FORCED is the operative word here; Ahmad Bradshaw’s fumble was bad, but the story of that play was Charles Woodson getting in the backfield and punching the ball out. And Woodson’s punch out wasn’t as fierce as the one Clay Matthews had on Brandon Jacobs two possessions later.

Aside from a few uncharacteristic deep coverage blunders in man-to-man by cornerback Tramon Williams, Dom Capers’ unit was excellent. Injuries have left the Pack D with a few deficiencies this season, but as the ’09 Saints showed, personnel deficiencies can be masked with big plays generated by an aggressive, complex scheme.



2. A Giant meltdown unfolding?

The New York papers on Monday aren’t going to characterize Sunday’s game as a “Packers win” – they’ll characterize it as a “Giants loss”. And that will be accurate. The Giants were as sloppy as the Packers were great. Eli Manning tossed four interceptions, bringing his league-leading total to 24 on the season. If interceptions weren’t automatically credited to the quarterback but, instead, charged to culpable players the same way errors are charged in baseball, Manning’s pick total would be somewhere around 15 this season. No passer has been shafted by his receivers in the turnovers department quite like Manning this season. And it’s not just the tipped balls; improper route running as a result of bad reads have become a specialty with this group (Hakeem Nicks illustrated this on more than one occasion Sunday).
A. Bradshaw (US Presswire)
The Giants have also struggled to run the ball these past two weeks. You can’t help but wonder if the re-insertion of Shaun O’Hara at center is to blame. O’Hara is one of the best veteran blockers in the game, but the Giants found a rhythm when he was hurt and guard Rich Seubert was filling-in in the middle. That rhythm has been nonexistent in the two weeks since O’Hara returned.

Also non-existent is New York’s pass-rush – at least on paper. Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck were able to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers, but only once did that pressure result in a sack. Rodgers’ mobility and natural playmaking prowess took over this game. A week ago, it was Michael Vick’s mobility and natural playmaking prowess taking over. Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has concocted two good gameplans the past two weeks, but given the breakdowns from his defense, it’s possible he’s now questioning whether his back seven is talented enough to handle the heavy doses of man coverage.

The New York media is going to turn all of these issues into a “Tom Coughlin hot seat” discussion, which is understandable but nevertheless silly. The Giants’ problems have not been schematic or strategic, they’ve been mental. And those mental problems have not been continuous like the problems we saw in Dallas or are currently seeing in San Francisco. Rather, the mental mistakes have just been of the spectacular variety. The Giants are fine for nine plays, but on the 10th, they’ll make the grand blunder. It’s easy for a columnist to chalk this up to Coughlin losing the team, but players don’t do things like fumble, miss tackles against amazing offensive athletes or punt the ball to the wrong spot because they’ve stopped listening to their coach. Coaching changes come about when teams stop playing hard. If anything, the Giants are playing too hard and pressing. Nevertheless, this rationale will hold little water in the Big Apple this week, as Coughlin’s seat is warming with his team now needings serious outside help just to reach the postseason.



3. As for that other New York squad…

No playoff worries for the Jets – they’re in. They have David Garrard to thank. The Jaguars quarterback gave the Redskins excellent field position with his overthrown interception to Carlos Rogers in the first quarter, leading to a Rex Grossman one-yard touchdown pass. Then, in overtime, Garrard did it again, only this time he went with an underthrow to complete the pick (cornerback Kevin Barnes as the lucky recipient). Barnes’ interception set up Graham Gano’s third successful overtime field goal on the season, which dropped the Jaguars to 8-7 and eliminated them as New York’s only chaser the AFC Wild Card race.

So the Jets are in despite losing 38-34 at Chicago. Not an ideal clinching scenario, of course. Perhaps there is reason to worry about the Jet defense. After all, Jay Cutler had three touchdown passes of 25-plus yards…in the third quarter alone. And Matt Forte needed just 13 carries to become the first player in 21 games to rush for 100 yards against Rex Ryan’s D* (Forte finished with 113 yards on 19 carries). The Jets got no pass-rush Sunday and looked totally unaccustomed to the concept of tackling players in frigid temperatures. But, as you’ll read about in Story 4, there was one factor that could tag a legitimate asterisk on this aspersion of the defense.
D. Keller (US Presswire)
The rest of Story 3 pertains to a Jets offense that posted 27 points (Dwight Lowery’s interception return provided the other seven). In short, it was spectacular. Pretty much everything that was predicted in my Week 16 Key Matchup feature proved to be 180 degrees wrong. Shonn Greene managed 70 yards on 12 carries (by the way, don’t be surprised if Greene once again becomes the featured back in the postseason; LaDainian Tomlinson, who has been a somewhat listless ballcarrier the past two months, had just 28 yards on 13 carries Sunday). Mark Sanchez completed 24/37 by throwing consistently over the middle of the field. His favorite target was Dustin Keller (seven catches, 79 yards).

Credit Brian Schottenheimer for devising one of the shrewdest offensive gameplans we’ve seen this season. Schottenheimer used a host of presnap gyrations and postsnap misdirections to get the speedy Bears linebackers flowing away from the play and to enabled Sanchez to make simple reads and short, comfortable throws. Even most of the plays in which Sanchez went downfield and hit his second or third target were a result of brilliant design (the one that comes to mind is Santonio Holmes’ 23-yard touchdown in which safety Danieal Manning was forced to abandon his deep zone and pick up Keller’s drag route over the middle).

Last Sunday, the Jets got their first offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving. This Sunday, they got their first passing touchdown since Thanksgiving. Even in a losing effort, they’ve all but run out of statistical droughts just in time for the playoffs.
*It was believed that Rashard Mendenhall had 100 yards rushing against the Jets last week. However, the powers that be went back a day after the game and ruled that Mendenhall actually had 99 yards.




4. Soldier Field Quagmire

Here’s a prediction: in an upcoming postseason game the Bears will give up a bunch of big plays and lose at home to a team they’ll believe they were better than. They’ll come away realizing that the atrocious field conditions at Soldier Field will always do what they did in Week 16 against the Jets: create an enormous advantage for the offense. On a sloppy field, pass-rushers can’t get enough traction to fire off the ball (this is part of the reason New York’s athletic but inexperienced right tackle Wayne Hunter singlehandedly shutout Julius Peppers) and defensive backs can’t recover quickly enough to handle a receiver’s double move.

Realizing that they’re still a defensive team even though Jay Cutler has blossomed in Mike Martz’s well-crafted and well-taught system, the Bears will look to ensure that a sloppy field never costs them another Super Bowl run again. Thus, in 2011, out with the mud and sand painted to look like grass and in with the ultra-consistent field turf.

You might be thinking that the Bears should actually enjoy their sloppy field. After all, the field is the same for both teams, and at least the Bears, unlike their opponents, are familiar with it. That’s a valid concept, but in this case, the conditions are so extreme that no team can render an advantage. Only offensive players benefit, and even they would like a more reliable playing surface. This is why the Bear players have been vociferously griping about the field conditions this season.

Of course, the Bears don’t necessarily have to risk learning a tough lesson in the playoffs here. They can install FieldTurf tomorrow if they want. The Patriots did that in the middle of the ’06 season. And the Cowboys replaced their Astroturf with FieldTurf in the middle of the ’02 season.



5. Chargers make us kick ourselves
P. Rivers (US Presswire)
Have you ever found yourself counting on a close friend to come through big for you but doubting that they actually will? Perhaps you are working on an important project together. Or maybe you need the close friend to give you a ride to the airport. Or loan you something of necessity. Or just be a sidekick at a special event. Anyway, as the big moment draws nearer, you have a feeling that your close friend is not going to come through. But because they’re a close friend and because they’ve come through before, you ignore your intuition.

Then, sure enough, when the moment comes, your close friend doesn’t come through and you’re left wondering why you didn’t act when you thought you saw it coming.

This is what watching the 2010 San Diego Chargers has been like. We figured the Chargers would win the AFC West because they always win the AFC West. When they stumbled out of the gates with a 2-5 record, we started to worry. When they rebounded but then suffered an ugly loss to the Raiders a few weeks ago, we got nervous but ultimately assumed everything was still cool.

Then, sure enough, on Sunday, the perennial AFC West champs went to Cincinnati and got pummeled by a Bengals team that, as it turns out, is probably better without its divisive star receivers. The loss dropped San Diego to 8-7 and officially out of the postseason. The team that we worried would let us down but assumed would somehow not let us down wound up letting us down.

It’s shocking that it was THIS Charger team that finally fell short in the end. Yes, the bumbling special teams put the club in a 2-5 hole. And yes, injuries and holdouts pocked the offense. But it’s still an offense that ranks second in total yards. Oh, and by the way, the defense ranks FIRST in total yards. In any year, it would be unusual for a No. 2 offense or a No. 1 defense to miss the postseason. For a No. 2 offense and a No. 1 defense to be of the same team AND miss the postseason? Unbelievable.



6. A head coaching career headed to the Singletary – errr, cemetery

In a small (and rare) victory for justice in the NFC West, the Cardinals beat the Cowboys on an improbable finish Christmas night (as meaningless games go, that one was as entertaining as it gets). The Cardinals’ win makes it possible for the 49ers to finish last in football’s worst division (Arizona just needs to beat San Fran next week).
M. Singletary (US Presswire)
No team deserves a basement finish more than San Francisco. Mike Singletary has been a lame duck since virtually Halloween – and the players have known it. Twice this season Singletary has questioned a quarterback on the sideline only to have the quarterback shout back in his face: Alex Smith in the Sunday night loss against Philadelphia and Troy Smith most recently in the 25-17 loss at St. Louis.
Not long after shouting at Singletary, Troy was benched for Alex. Alex will be remembered this game for showing horrendous pocket awareness on the final fourth quarter drive low-lighted by his second down sack and Ted Ginn’s inexplicable failure to get out of bounds after converting a fourth down in the waning seconds.

It’s not fair to criticize either Smith for shouting at their head coach because we don’t know what was being said. But it IS fair to ask: Can you imagine Belichick/Cowher/Tomlin/Dungy/Parce
lls etc. having a quarterback shout in their face? Sure, it’s a competitive, emotional game. But you just don’t see head coaches get shouted at by quarterbacks. Even when Rich Gannon and Jon Gruden would bicker, all that was was bickering. The Smiths and Singletary haven’t been merely bickering. Neither Smith has a reputation for being an insubordinate guy (though some believe Alex Smith helped run Mike Nolan out of town). On the surface, it looks like not all the Niner players, and not these quarterbacks in particular, truly respect the head coach.

It might not matter, as Singletary is out now. Jed York will likely hire a GM before he hires a new head coach. Too bad Bruce Allen is already locked up in Washington; Allen’s presence wouldn’t hurt San Francisco’s chances at coaxing Jon Gruden back to the Bay Area.
Whoever the new GM is, he’d better have an eye for quarterbacks. That seems to be all the 49ers are truly missing. San Francisco’s defensive front seven is borderline outstanding (just ask the Rams, who managed 60 yards on 28 rushing attempts Sunday). There are playmakers at all the offensive skill positions. And, though the offensive line has struggled, it’s a unit that features two first-round rookies (left guard Mike Iupati and right tackle Anthony Davis).



7. The all-important meaningless games

A side effect that had to be unforeseen when the NFL decided to schedule only divisional matchups for Week 17 is the bizarre scenario of teams still chasing playoff berths but having a meaningless game in Week 16. The Colts and Seahawks both experienced this Sunday. Because the Jaguars lost early to the Redskins, the Colts did not technically need to win at Oakland. All that matters is that they beat the Titans next week. For the Seahawks, the same situation played out at Tampa Bay because of the Niners’ loss to the Rams.

The Seahawks played like a team that fully understood this scenario. The Bucs did whatever they wanted against them. Josh Freeman tossed five touchdowns, which matched the number of incompletions he had on 26 pass attempts. LeGarrette Blount racked up 164 yards on 18 carries. Tampa’s defense held Seattle to 179 yards. Seattle scored only eight points after Matt Hasselbeck left with a non-contact hip injury. The 38-15 loss means the Seahawks’ average D. Rhodes (US Presswire)margin of defeat this season is an astonishing 21 points. The closest of their nine losses was 15 points (Week 11 vs. the Saints).

The Colts, on the other hand, played like a team that had no idea it was partaking in a meaningless game. For starters, they did not roll over and put Curtis Painter on the field. They did, however, put Dominic Rhodes on the field, but only because they think the veteran journeyman might end up being their featured back in the playoffs. Joseph Addai returned after missing eight weeks with a neck injury. The first-round pick of ’06 was brought along fairly slowly, finishing the game with 45 yards on 12 carries.

For the past two months, another former first-round pick, Donald Brown, has been filling in for Addai. However, the Colts brass may finally be admitting what they’ve likely been grumbling all along: Brown lacks the necessary quickness and vision to be a quality NFL back. Brown got only six carries against the Raiders; Rhodes got 17. But wait! Brown was coming off a career-best 129 yards rushing against the Jaguars! He was snatched off the waiver wires in all my fantasy leagues! He’s a young first-rounder! No way the Colts would choose Rhodes over him!

But that seems to be the case. The reality is the NFL is not a gaping-holes league. What Brown did against Jacksonville was a product of Jacksonville’s poor linebacking and safety play. Rhodes has better shiftiness and awareness than Brown. Rhodes’ return to relevance may end up saving the Colts. Indy rushed for 191 yards against the Raiders. If they can muster even a modest threat running the ball, they’ll be a tough out.



8. A higher power in Denver

Tim Tebow’s second NFL start was a Testament – err, testament to the value of mobility for a young quarterback. John Madden always said that it’s important a young passer be able to move because, inevitably, a young passer is going to panic under duress and be inclined to flee the pocket. Tebow did not show a whole lot of panic facing Houston, owner of the league’s worst pass defense (if not worst defense overall….did you know the Texans have now set an all-time NFL record by allowing 24 points in 14 games this season?).

The first-round rookie threw for 308 yards, completing 16/29 passes. Tebow also scrambled for 27 yards on 10 runs, including his game-winning six-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter.

Brandon Lloyd was responsible for 111 of Tebow’s yards. Most enchanting was Lloyd’s spectacular 41-yarder in which he elevated to show off his otherworldly suppleness.

Bronco fans were happy with Tebow, but Panther fans were thrilled. Denver’s win locked up the No. 1 pick in the 2011 Draft for the lowly Panthers.



9. Business as usual for Baltimore

Ray Lewis vowed that the Ravens would not let Peyton Hillis run over them again. (Hillis rushed for 144 yards against this club in his Week 3 NFL coming out party.) There isn’t a soul alive who didn’t believe all week that Lewis was good for his word here. Which is why there isn’t a soul alive who is the least bit surprised with Baltimore’s matter-of-fact 20-10 win at Cleveland.

Ed Reed had a pair of interceptions in this game (Colt McCoy struggled with accuracy and had too many balls hang up in the air); the Ravens are now 10-0 when Reed has a multi-pick game. Some might say Reed was on fire Sunday. I’d love to, except doing so would, at this point, be a sorry, obvious joke given what happened with Reed’s jacket on the sideline late in the fourth quarter.



10. Quick Hits

**Santonio Holmes vowed to the CBS broadcast crew earlier in the week that he’d never wears sleeves during a game because sleeves caused him to fumble once at Ohio State. Then Holmes wore sleeves against the Bears. And, sure enough, he fumbled early in the first half.

**Hard to believe that the upper bowl at Arrowhead Stadium was only half full fJ. Flacco (US Presswire)or the Chiefs division-clinching win against the Titans. The Chiefs, remember, sold out a record 156 straight games from December 1990 through December 2009.

**I have heard from a few people recently about the outstanding play of Bills NT Kyle Williams. I’ll have to watch the film closer after the season, but on a surface level glance, I have trouble believing any members of the league’s worst run defense is playing very well. Every time I looked over at the Patriots-Bills game Sunday, BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead were picking up five yards on runs that should have gone for one or two. It’s been that way all season with the Bills.

**Despite being a game manager his first two seasons as a pro, on Sunday Joe Flacco became just the sixth player in NFL history to throw for 10,000 yards in his first three years.

**Aaron Rodgers debuted his new, safer helmet against the Giants. My question is if the NFL is so concerned about concussions, why aren’t more players, whether they’ve had a concussion or not, being forced to make this helmet switch?

**The Raiders-Colts final score (31-26) was only close because the Raiders got an opening kickoff touchdown return from Jacoby Ford and 59-yard and 54-yard field goals from Sebastian Janikowski.

**The Chargers ought to be worried about first-round rookie Ryan Mathews. Besides being injury prone and inconsistent, the Fresno State product has been downright inexplosive. Mathews’ 24-yard touchdown scamper against the Bengals marked his longest run on the season.

**Will Brinson and I reviewed all of the major Week 16 stories in the CBSSports.com Football Podcast Sunday night. Click here to check it out.


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Posted on: December 15, 2010 12:18 am
 

Top Ten With a Twist: Super Bowl contenders

New England has to be considered a Super Bowl contender (US Presswire). Posted by Josh Katzowitz

It’s getting to be about that time.

The time when we really can crack down on the best teams in the NFL and really figure out which squads are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Preseason favorites (like, ahem, the Jets) have begun to show cracks in the foundation, while other teams – in this case, it’s just one team, really – have begun pulling away.

Three weeks left in the regular season, so we should have a pretty good indication of which team is going to do what once it makes the playoffs (if it, in fact, makes the playoffs at all). Without further ado, here’s your guide to which squad will be spending February in Dallas.

10. Jaguars: Why they will: Why the hell not? I mean, they won’t really. But RB Maurice Jones-Drew is fun to watch, and QB David Garrard has played great football lately. Jacksonville is just a fun underdog to watch. Why they won’t: I’m not even sure they’re good enough to get to the playoffs.

9. Chargers: Why they will: QB Philip Rivers is still having a fantastic season and is still an MVP candidate. Plus, San Diego is the No. 1 defense in the NFL (you can look it up!). Why they won’t: They simply haven’t played well for most of this season. Losses that look like this: 27-20 to the Seahawks; 35-27 and 28-13 to the Raiders; 20-17 to the Rams.

8. Bears: Why they will: They’ve surpassed many people’s expectations for the season while dragging coach Lovie Smith off the hot seat, so why can’t the surprises continue? I mean, if Jay Cutler can play fairly well on a consistent basis, anything can happen. Why they won’t: The offense isn’t good enough, and the defense isn’t good enough to overcome one of (statistically) the worst offenses in the league.

7. Ravens: Why they will: They’ve got plenty of talent at the WR position, and much of the time, QB Joe Flacco can even get his receivers the ball. Plus, there’s always Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis. Why they won’t: Did you see the way the defense collapsed Monday vs. the Texans? That’s unlike the Baltimore defense we’re accustomed to seeing every season. That secondary struggles, as well.

The duo of B. Jacobs and A. Bradshaw has been big for New York this year (US Presswire). 6. Giants: Why they will: The Giants offense, though beat up in the WR corps, still picks up the yards. Once they figured out their roles, the running back duo of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw has been outstanding. Why they won’t: For one, Eli Manning doesn’t have very many healthy receivers. For two, the team won’t stop turning the ball over to its opponents.

5. Eagles: Why they will: Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson can lead this team anywhere. The proof lies in the league-leading 402 yards of offense Philadelphia produces per game. Why they won’t: Some injuries on defense – CB Asante Samuel, LB Stewart Bradley and DE Brandon Graham – certainly don’t help. Plus, it seems like Vick would have to play perfect all the way through, doesn’t it?

4. Steelers: Why they will: The Steelers played well without QB Ben Roethlisberger, and now with him in there – even though he’s less than 100 percent – they’re nearly unbeatable. Plus, you know, Troy Polamalu. They don’t win ‘em pretty, but they win ‘em anyway. Why they won’t: The offensive line isn’t very good. Like, not very good at all.

3. Saints: Why they will: New Orleans has played progressively better as the season has neared its end. Even if the Saints can’t catch the Falcons in the NFC South, the wild card should be there for the taking, and hopefully for them, they would catch one of the NFC West teams on the road. Why they won’t: They’re not as good as they were last year.

2. Falcons: Why they will: They have the quarterback, they have the running back, they have the receivers, they have the TE and they have the coaching (and a pretty decent defense). There’s a lot to like about this Atlanta squad. Why they won’t: Not a ton of guys on the team have been on teams that have made deep playoff runs. Unlike, say, the New Orleans Saints.

1. Patriots: Why they will: It’s obvious. Rewatch their last two games – destructions of the Jets and the Bears. Why they won’t: Can Tom Brady really keep up this unbelievable pace? Isn’t the young – and, at times, ineffective – secondary eventually going to get the team in trouble? Especially if the Patriots face somebody like Philip Rivers or Drew Brees?

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Posted on: December 10, 2010 7:02 pm
 

Soldier Field turf criticized and then defended

The Soldier Field turf after the 2007 NFC championship game (Getty).

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

It’s no surprise that the Soldier Field turf is continuously called one of the worst playing surfaces in the NFL. In player polls, the Chicago stadium’s natural-grass field is usually cited as … well … pretty crappy. Even by Bears players themselves.

If you want one example, look at the photo above. This was taken after the 2007 NFL conference championship game.


Now that Chicago QB Jay Cutler has criticized the playing surface, Soldier Field – well, not the actual stadium, but one person who helps run it – has defended itself, saying the field is actually one of the BEST in the NFL.

Said Cutler this week, via the Chicago Tribune:

"We probably have one of the worst fields in the league at this point. (Cutler hears) a lot of stuff (from opposing players) after the game and during pre-game about what cleats to wear ... exactly how torn up (Soldier Field) is. There's usually a (high school) game the day before. It's a shame."

Responded Soldier Field GM Tim LeFevour: "It's unfortunate. You hate to hear comments like that because there's a strong commitment by the city, the Chicago Park District, the management here at Soldier Field to keep this as one of the best fields in the NFL."

LeFevour also said the stadium is not allowed to host any kind of game five days prior to a Bears contest, though as the Tribune writes, “in the case of this year's Prep Bowl, an annual high school game between the Public League and Catholic League champs that was played the Friday before the Nov. 28 Bears-Eagles game, the Bears approved of the event, the Park District said.”

The city has talked to the Bears about possibly getting a synthetic turf installed and getting rid of the natural grass – which apparently is re-sodded three times a year so the team doesn’t play more than four games on any one turf – but so far, the club isn’t inclined to do so.

And the fact is the natural grass is the reason why it’s so tough to keep the field in pristine condition (see also: Heinz Field in Pittsburgh). Until the Bears decide to install some kind of artificial turf, the complaint about Soldier Field as one of the worst fields to play on will continue.

Unless you’re talking to LeFevour, of course.

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Category: NFL
Posted on: December 9, 2010 3:32 pm
Edited on: December 10, 2010 1:28 pm
 

Key Matchup Week 14: Belichick vs. Martz

Posted by Andy Benoit

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B. Belichick (US Presswire)Bill Belichick has faced Mike Martz before. You may recall Super Bowl XXXVI. Belichick’s revolutionary defensive gameplan that afternoon centered around beating up on Martz’s finesse-based Ram offense.

Now the offensive coordinator of the Bears, Martz is operating out of the same playbook, though he’s reading from different chapters. He has seemingly let go of his rigid insistence on throwing the ball every down. Entering Week 14, the Bears rank a respectable 16th in rushing attempts per game (26.7).

It’s no coincidence that the Bears’ five best rushing performances this season – with the exception of the 218-yard outburst against Carolina – have all come during their current five-game winning streak. But none of those five wins have come directly from running the ball. In fact, the Bears have not had over 135 yards rushing in any of those five games. Heading into Sunday, Chicago ranks 22nd in run offense.

So why has the run been so important? Because it’s what gives the Bears balance. We hear all the time that teams need to have balance in order to win. That’s not true. Teams with a superstar quarterback and electrifying receivers can win without balance (just look at the ’09 Colts, ’08 Cardinals or ’07 Patriots). But teams with modest talent DO need balance.

The Bears have modest talent at best. Jay Cutler has a superstar arm, but he’s somewhat limited in pre-snap reads, and he can be erratic in post-snap decision-making. Chicago’s receivers are fast but raw. And, above all else, the Bears offensive line is a makeshift group.

Many have cited the line’s personnel changes (Frank Omiyale to left tackle; J’Marcus Webb to right tackle; Chris Williams to guard) as the reason for the offense’s turnaround. But that’s like citing the toppings as the reason frozen pizzatastes better than pizza that’s been burned black.

The Bears offensive line has improved because on 26.7 plays per game this season those five blockers get to fire out of their stance and play downhill. Early in the year, Chicago linemen were asked to drop into pass protection every play and shield defenders long enough for Cutler to complete a seven-step drop. Not only were the Bears blockers not good enough to do that, but the frequent pass protection assignments robbed them of their edge. Pass protection forced blockers to be reactionary; run-blocking enables them to be proactive. By getting to be proactive on more plays, the Bears offensive linemen naturally play with more all-around confidence. When forced to play reactionary, we’ve seen this group struggle to communicate and recognize assignments.

M. Martz (US Presswire)Though Chicago isn’t a great running team, don’t be surprised if Belichick’s gameplan this week centers around forcing the Bears to throw. Yes, New England’s young defense ranks 31st against the pass and is tied for 24th in sacks. But it also ranks second in interceptions (18 on the season). And Belichick may believe that he can get clean pass-rushers in the backfield simply by confusing Chicago’s line.

Cutler isn’t turning the ball over like he was last year (he has just 10 interceptions on the season). But do you really think, deep down, he’s lost his gunslinger’s mentality? What about Martz?

When the stakes are high and the pressure is on, human beings have a natural tendency to fall back on what they know best. With this being a prove-it game flexed for national television purposes, Cutler and Martz could feel the pressure. If they do, their egos will tell them to put on a show.

Belichick would welcome that. Whatever makes the Bears one-dimensional and easier for his young defenders to figure out. Belichick has playmakers in the secondary who can exploit aerial aggression (namely rookie corner Devin McCourty, who is sensational outside the numbers, and safety Brandon Meriweather). Don’t be shocked if Belichick surprises everyone by betting on his young defensive backs and daring the Bears to throw.

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Posted on: December 8, 2010 4:41 pm
 

Suh fined $15K for 'ridiculous' hit on Cutler

Posted by Will Brinson

Ndamukong Suh's hit on Jay Cutler Sunday generated a lot of controversy, as some folks (Jerry Angelo, Bears fans) believed he wasn't punished enough, while others (Jim Schwartz, Lions fans) thought the 15-yard flag thrown for the hit was excessive.

Opinions are also pretty varying on the $15,000 the NFL fined him on Wednesday.

"I'm not surprised by that one," Cutler said Wednesday.

Suh's agent, on the other hand, called the fine "ridiculous" and stated that his client plans to appeal.

It's not usual that the league will reverse a fine like this, but in Suh's case he might have a chance, considering that replays showed he pushed Cutler in the back, and not in the head, the play for which he was flagged by Ed Hochuli.

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Posted on: December 7, 2010 4:30 pm
 

Hot Routes 12.7.10: Rex says, "Look at me!"



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Yahoo! Sports columnist Dan Wetzel writes that New England coach Bill Belichick gloated over the 45-3 win by his team against the Jets by expressing almost no emotion afterward. Writes Wetzel, “For Rex Ryan, the only thing more frustrating than getting humiliated by Belichick on the field is the fact Belichick hardly dignifies the rivalry off of it. Ryan can’t make any more noise than he already does. He can’t beg any harder for attention from Belichick. He can’t declare war any clearer. He’s done everything he can to make this personal – coach v. coach. … And yet all he gets from Belichick is the outward exuberance of a preseason win.”

CBS Sports’ own Mike Freeman writes about a heated argument that occurred on the Jets sideline after they fell behind 17-0.

Lawrence Taylor is asking for a dismissal in his rape case, because his lawyers say police did not have a warrant when they arrested him in his hotel room.

The Denver Post’s Mark Kiszla says any coach considering the Broncos job has to be a fool. He also calls former coach Josh McDaniels a scapegoat.

Bears C Olin Kreutz wasn’t especially upset with Ndamukong Suh’s hit on Chicago QB Jay Cutler last Sunday. Kreutz said he didn’t think it was a dirty play.

Ravens LT Michael Oher tweeted during a game, got caught and took a $5,000 fine. He’s not sure if he’ll appeal it.

At least one McDaniels brother will keep his job in Denver.

Packers DE Cullen Jenkins aggravated a strained calf last Sunday, and coach Mike McCarthy said Monday that Jenkins will be out for next week’s game vs. the Lions. He could be out even longer than that.

The Colts have re-signed RB Dominic Rhodes. Most recently, Rhodes played in the UFL. Considering three Indianapolis RBs – Joseph Addai, Mike Hart and Donald Brown – are banged up, Rhodes might find some immediate playing time.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com