No Bears today, (I covered some Bears topics yesterday in a late-night bullet roundup) but at least you’ll have a Sunday free of opposing running backs making the Bears look like, well, a bad NFL defense. Plenty of other good games to watch for, though, as well as the promise of winter weather affecting games all across the country. Few things look cooler than a snow game in HD. I believe the last snow game for the Bears was the day after Christmas in 2010, when Jay Cutler threw three touchdowns against the Jets. Funny story: that game wasn’t on in our local Indiana market (it was a CBS game, and they carried the Colts instead.) My uncle was managing a retail store, and he had to work in the morning; he got home in time for the second half, realized the game wasn’t on local TV, and bought NFL Sunday Ticket just to watch one half of a Bears game. It was a late-season reduced price, but I think it was still $80. Now that’s a fan.
Here are the games I find most intriguing, with bonus armchair meteorology:
1 P.M. Eastern
- Lions at Eagles: Today, we are all Eagles. I probably don’t need to tell you how much an Eagles win would help the Bears slim-but-there chances at the NFC North title, but just in case: it would help a lot. If the Lions win this game, they only need to go 2-1 to clinch the division, even if the Bears finish the year 4-0. But if they were to lose, and the Bears could pull out a win on Monday night, things get very interesting. The Eagles have won four in a row, and Nick Foles is playing inspired football. But their opponents haven’t exactly been, well, good. (Oakland, Rodgers-less Green Bay, Washington, and Arizona.) The Lions are 2-2 over that stretch, but they’ve had a few extra days following their traditional Thanksgiving game (they crushed the Packers 40-10, a result with which I’d have been overwhelmingly pleased had it happened in any other season.) Snow won’t be a factor until perhaps the second half, but it will be a very cold day in Philadelphia. I doubt that will have much of an effect on either offense. Stafford is going to chuck it to Calvin Johnson, and Chip Kelly is going to do what Chip Kelly does. I’m excited to watch this game, and I will be wholeheartedly pulling for the Eagles. I hope you’ll all join me.
- Colts at Bengals: Who knows? The Bengals have a lot of talent, and after a mediocre start they’ve won six out of their last eight games. The Colts have seemingly less talent, and after a hot start they’re just 2-2 over the previous four weeks with the two losses being blowouts. ESPN’s Matt Williamson mentioned in his chat this week that from what he’s seen, the Colts have the worst-coordinated offense in the NFL. (Nice of Mike Tice to step aside and let someone else claim that crown. Unrelated to Indy but in the same chat, Williamson says he’d take Josh Gordon over Alshon Jeffery, but barely. He based his decision on the fact that Gordon is the focus of opposing defenses, while Jeffery has Brandon Marshall attracting attention.) This game is very much a snow game, for which I’m excited. It’s supposed to snow all morning in Cincinnati, up to and through kickoff. There’s then the possibility of freezing rain during the game! Andy Dalton is already incredibly unpredictable; who knows where the ball will go if it’s covered in ice? These teams are both 8-4, so the game has some fairly heavy AFC playoff implications as the winner will still be alive for a bye, and at the very least would put a death grip on the #3 seed. That’s important, since the talent gap from the likely #5 seed (Kansas City or possibly even Denver) to the likely #6 seed (any number of very mediocre, .500 or worse AFC teams) is a wide one. All that said, I have zero idea as to a result. Andrew Luck is very good, but his own coaching staff has defanged him this season, trying to force a power-running game as the dominant aspect of the offense. (Because when you have the best young quarterback in a generation, you should definitely take the ball out of his hands as often as possible.) But Andy Dalton is boom or bust; a Rex Grossman-type quarterback, with no discernible pattern to his performances. I’ll guess Cincy wins at home in the snow, because their defensive line is very good, and I don’t have a lot of faith in the Colts adjusting and throwing the ball.
4:25 P.M. Eastern
- Seahawks at 49ers: These two teams played a weather-delayed Sunday Night Football game back in Week 2, which the Seahawks handily won. But Seattle has been a different team on the road; nearly unbeatable at home, they’ve been pushed much harder when forced to leave the earsplitting confines of CenturyLink Field. They’ve still won games (except for their Week 5 loss at Indianapolis, their only blemish) but the margin has been much closer when they’ve played even passably decent teams. San Francisco has been better lately, winning seven of nine, with Colin Kaepernick finally playing halfway decent football. (Still not exactly tearing it up, despite what Ron Jaworski predicted this offseason. Still waiting for that one, Jaws.) I’d pick the Seahawks because I’m a fan of Russell Wilson (I saved some of my GChats from his Wisconsin season to prove that I predicted his NFL success, I’m sure that is just thrilling for all of you) and because I think they have the more talented roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised if San Francisco pulled it out at home. This will not be a snow game, but there’s always the potential for some Jim Harbaugh/Pete Carroll fireworks.
8:30 P.M. Eastern
- Panthers at Saints: The Panthers and Saints obviously both play in the same division, but through a scheduling quirk today will be their first meeting this season. I know everyone’s all aboard the Panthers train, and they’re certainly a talented team. But they are currently on what has to be one of the least impressive eight-game winning streaks in NFL history. Their wins, in order: Vikings, Rams, Buccaneers, Falcons, 49ers (a 10-9 win), Patriots (the infamous “pass interference flag-pickup” game), Dolphins, and Buccaneers again. How many average-at-worst teams are on that list? Two? They’ll probably make the playoffs (aside from their two remaining games against New Orleans, they have the Jets and the Falcons left to play) and it’s a fun story, especially for former Bear Ron Rivera. But I have a feeling that the Saints, coming off of an embarrassing (for them) loss at Seattle on Monday, will handle the Panthers at the Superdome. A compelling game, though, and certainly worthy of having been flexed into primetime. (It replaced Packers-Falcons, which is on in the Chicago market. Chicago’s loss is America’s gain, friends. I appreciate you taking this one for the team.)
Enjoy the games, everyone! If you’d like to discuss today’s action in the comments, feel free to do so; I’ll be around. I’ll also be on Twitter, @BearsBN. I enjoy talking about football, so feel free to say hello.