After eight years, the Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North yesterday, giving them their first playoff birth since 2010.
The Bears won their 10th game of the regular season yesterday over Aaron Rodgers and a reeling Green Bay Packers squad, something they have struggled to do for as long as I can remember. With that win, they’ve now won seven of their last eight games and are rolling HOT into the playoffs. They have key wins over the Packers, Seahawks, Vikings, and Rams. Their defense is legit, maybe the best in the league, featuring studs such as Khalil Mack, Eddie Jackson, Kyle Fuller, and Akiem Hicks. The offense, which had shown to be shaky at times earlier in the year, looks like they are finally starting to click. So without further ado, I’m going to shoot my shot right now and say that this team is going to make the Super Bowl. Book it.
Some may think that this is a bold take by me, others maybe not so much. I feel like the consensus around the league is that the Saints and the Rams are the favorites to come out of the NFC. Given the fact that those two teams have records of 11-2 and 11-3 respectively, that’s a fair claim. But I want to roll with the hot hand right now, and I have an argument against both of these squads that make me feel like they don’t have enough juice to go the distance.
I’ll start with the Saints, who I actually believe to be the best of the three teams. They have the coach, they have a great defense, and they have the only quarterback among the three with a championship under their belt. Drew Brees has been a great leader over the course of his career. But if we’re being honest, he hasn’t shown me jack shit in the playoffs outside of his one bounty-gate Super Bowl run. He had a phenomenal start to the season, but he’s started to show his age a bit over the last few weeks with an ugly loss to the Dallas Cowboys and a near loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week. We saw the same thing last year with this team after an ugly playoff loss to Case Keenum and the Vikings. If the Saints continue to show signs of weakness down the stretch like they have, I could easily see them getting knocked off early for the second year in a row.
My take on the Rams is pretty simple. I absolutely loved this team coming into the season. After key additions like Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, and Marcus Peters, it was pretty hard not to get excited about what they have over on the West Coast. On paper, they should have one of the best defenses in NFL history. But that hasn’t really been the case this season. As a matter of fact, they don’t even fall in the top ten among yards per game (20th), points per game (20th), and sacks (20th). Why might that be? Well, while Sean McVay and Wade Philips have proven to be great coaches during their respective careers, I don’t think they have a hold on the roster. This team is incredibly young, as they came into the season ranked as the second youngest team in the league with an average age of 25.3. Their lack of a veteran presence showed during last years post-season when a very playoff-tenured, but far less talented Atlanta Falcons squad wiped the floor with them at The Coliseum.
That age and lack of leadership reared its ugly head again last night. As the Rams were playing host to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday Night Football, CB Marcus Peters nearly ran into the stands and got into a verbal altercation with a fan:
I don’t want to sound like the old man yelling at clouds here, but you can’t do this kind of stuff. I get that athletes are every bit human as we are and that I’ve never been in this type of situation, but you have to try holding your composure there if you’re Peters.
I’m not saying that the Rams won’t make the Super Bowl because Marcus Peters got into it with a fan. All I’m saying is that discipline is key when putting together a championship run, and I don’t think this team has any of that right now.
While the Bears are also very young and don’t have much playoff experience under their belts, I do think they’ve shown to be far more disciplined than most teams around the league. In his first year with the Bears, Khalil Mack has been worth every penny Chicago signed him for. Not only has he been dominant on the field, but he’s been the voice for a very young, but talented, Bears defense. They play together, as a team, because of him. Matt Nagy has also done an excellent job during his first year as head coach coming from the Andy Reid coaching tree. I think Nagy and Mack will wind up being the difference for this team come January simply because they’ve proven that they know how to keep their cool and win some big games late in the season.
If the Patriots have shown me anything important over their run of sheer dominance, it’s that you have to play your best regular season football in November and December. The Bears are doing just that right now, and I think they’ll continue to ride that wave through the playoffs. Go ahead and take your shots at me in the comments.
-Nick Cherico (@CouchGuyCherico)
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