The Electric Commentary

Thursday, January 12, 2006

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 (in the Wind Bowl), 3, 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 San Francisco.

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.

7 Comments:

  • Well said. You're definitely right that the officials let defensive backs mug the receivers when the playoffs start. This lays out the case. So Indianapolis could be in trouble, although this year I wouldn't be surprised if the league issued a special reminder to the officials that pass interference and illegal contact rules don't disappear just because the stakes get higher.

    You wrote, "When you are looking for potential champions, you should look for the teams that are the best at something." That's a really interesting thought. Is there anything specific that makes you say that, or has it just been your observation from years as a sports fan?

    As far as Erik Kuselias, I've never understood why so many sports talk radio hosts have some kind of shtick where they hate a certain town or something. It's not funny. There are a few guys who do sports talk radio who try to follow the Bob Costas model of actually having something intelligent to say, but it's sad how rare those guys are.

    By Blogger MDS, at 2:44 PM  

  • There are actually two things I look at.

    1st, is there an offense and a defense that are clearly superior to everyone else and

    2nd, if not, is there a team that is top 5 in both.

    The Patriots I think are more in the second category, as their defense bordered on great, and they have a very good, but not great offense.

    But aside from them:

    Tampa Bay: I though the best defense that year by far. And they played the Raiders, probably the best offense.

    Ravens: Great Defense

    Rams: Great Offense.

    Broncos twice: Great offense (especially running).

    Packers: Favre at his peak. Great offense (and great special teams).

    Dallas/San Fran era: Both great at both.

    I also look for a team that is the best at something, and then adds something on the other side. The Bucs getting Brad Johnson, for instance. I think that the Bears getting Grossman back is similar.

    This may just be selective memory, but over the last 10 years it seems like teams focus more on one side of the ball. When you look at the 49ers/Cowboy rivalry of the early 90s, they were both at the top of the league in both categories, so my theory is a recent one.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:30 PM  

  • i happen to disagree. i think carolina is a better team than the chicago bears.

    admittedly my opinion is based only upon my own observation, but i did watch about 12 panther game this year.

    i don't see any way the bear's "roll over" the panthers, since the bears can't roll over anybody because their offense sucks.

    that said, i expect a very close, low-scoring game, and therefore i think the fact that the panthers have by far the best player on the field (and the best receiver in the league) going for them, i like their chances.

    smith caught 14 balls for 169 at chicago earlier in the year, and while that is a sample size of only 1 game, the bears have shown no ability whatsoever to handle him.

    (also-- almost all the points the panthers gave up to the packers were in garbage time, no?)

    smith scores twice, the panthers win 17-10. but i agree, delhomme throws 2 picks.

    By Blogger ahren, at 4:06 PM  

  • just checked the line... bears -3. i think that's pretty much right on.

    forced to bet, i'd take the points, but wouldn't feel good about it.

    By Blogger ahren, at 4:10 PM  

  • The Packers turned that game from garbage time to an actual threat at some point. Didn't they miss two FGs in that game?

    The Bear strategy in that game was to let Smith have anything in front of the defense and knock the crap out of him. He only caught one deep pass the whole game, and he never sniffed the end zone.

    Smith did all that he could to beat the Bears in that game, and they still only put up 3 points. If he is all that they have, that's not going to cut it. And it is likely that the Bear's offense has improved from that game.

    But I hope you're right.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 4:54 PM  

  • First a note: The year the Packers won the Super Bowl they had a very good defense. In fact, the drop off of talent on the D-line is probably the main reason they haven't been back.

    Although I agree with your general sentiments on the games, I give Carolina a decent chance because their offense is more established unlike the Bears who just changed QB and whose QB is young and thus more prone to pressure induced mistakes from a good defense. This gives the Panthers a better shot of making at least one drive and a greater chance of the Bears making many mistakes. So while both offenses seem overmatched, the Panthers are less likely to completely implode. Also, 2 of Chicago's losses have come to teams that have a good defense and ground control offense. (Washington, Pittsburgh) This shows that you don't need a superior defense to beat them at their own game if your offense is somewhat capable and won't lose it for you.

    By Anonymous Scott H, at 4:56 PM  

  • Interesting. Listening to Czaban this morning on Bob and Brian, he picked the Patriots over Denver. His reasoning was that he can't imagine saying Monday, "And in the Denver/New England matchup, Jake Plummer took New England to town, as Brady and the Pats just didn't have enough."

    I think he also liked Carolina with the points.

    Personally, I HOPE Chicago and New England both lose. I also think that both have a good chance of happening, but don't really have any confidence either way.

    I don't think Washington has a chance the way they've been playing. Personally, I think the Colts/Steelers matchup is the most interesting one out there this weekend, but it'll probably end up just being the Colts in an all-out offensive explosion on their part. Colts 42, Steelers 17.

    For the other three games, I'll take 21-17 as the final score in each contest.

    By Anonymous mitch, at 10:48 AM  

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