Feeling a bit better today, and I have an announcement coming up later this morning. Twitter followers got a slight preview, although I’m going to adjust the rules a little from what I discussed there last night, so it will be a bit of a surprise to everyone! (Don’t get too excited, I’m not giving away a car or anything. Although I do have quite the Sebring, if anyone wants to make a fair offer. Oh, what a glamorous life I lead.)
- As Dan Wiederer of the Chicago Tribune notes, Lance Briggs took limited reps with the first team at Wednesday’s practice. That’s obviously better than no reps, but Marc Trestman says the process for clearing Briggs isn’t complete; he mentions Friday as a possible announcement day, but hints that it might be a game-time (or at least game-day) decision. As I’ve discussed a few times, a Briggs return would benefit the defense in multiple ways; first, because he’s a great tackler with fantastic instincts. Second, he called the signals this season when he was on the field, and with a rookie playing MLB it would be nice to have a veteran on either side. (At least, it seems that way from afar. I don’t think it could hurt.) Another injury note: Brandon Marshall was held out of practice for precautionary reasons (he’s apparently still nursing both his hamstring and quad) but he’s expected back at practice tomorrow. I’m sure he’s legitimately sore in those areas, but the same thing happened last week, and he looked fine. Much like Allen Iverson, Brandon Marshall doesn’t really need practice. Come on, man. Practice?
- Speaking of Brandon Marshall, Dan Wiederer (speaking of Dan Wiederer, too) had a separate piece detailing the campaigning efforts Marshall has undertaken in an effort to get Alshon Jeffery to the Pro Bowl. For a guy who obviously wants the ball as much as Brandon seems to, he’s nothing but supportive of his teammates. It’s one thing to not publicly sulk when a teammate at your position has a breakout season, but to go out of you way to compliment the younger player is impressive work on his part. For what it’s worth, I absolutely think Alshon deserves Pro Bowl recognition; to have numbers like he has while playing in the same offense as Brandon Marshall, with a backup quarterback for a decent chunk of the season? (No offense to Josh McCown.) I’d have no problem voting for him.
- Of course, if he really wants to solicit Pro Bowl votes for Alshon, he should just send voters to this page, where Craig Newman of the Sun-Times has handily placed all three of Alshon’s highlight-reel touchdown catches in GIF form. Hopefully he has to add one or two more before the season ends. Which is your favorite? I tend to vote for the Minnesota catch, still. Degree of difficulty was highest. The other thing I learned from watching those plays is that on two of them, it was a third and long situation; the exception being the Dallas play, which was the only near in the red zone. Trestman isn’t afraid to dial up some deep looks on long-yardage third down situations, which I like; that down and distance removes the most dangerous of potential outcomes for a deep pass. When you throw a deep ball, there are only a few things that can happen. It can be completed or draw a defensive penalty, which are the good outcomes. It can be incomplete, which is fairly neutral; the odds of picking up 15 yards on a more conservative, high-percentage throw are lower, so it makes sense to look deeper and risk an incompletion. Or it can be intercepted, which is obviously the negative outcome. But on third and forever, a deep ball interception is effectively a punt; had Cleveland made a play on the ball, they likely would have taken over inside their own five, and had Minnesota intercepted McCown they may have gotten a touchback. Considering the Bears would have been punting on the next play anyway, the risk/reward equation incentivizes the deep shot. (An ugly relative of this decision is the deep shot on third and short or third and manageable; the Ravens attempted a 15-yard out route on third and short against Detroit. At that point, the value of the first down far outweighs the value of the extra dozen yards, and when you factor in the likelihood of a particular play succeeding, I just don’t see the point in attempting a high-difficulty/low-percentage throw in those situations.
- The Eagles have one of the best running backs in football in LeSean McCoy; he leads the league in rushing yards and in total yards from scrimmage. (He only trails Matt Forte by 15 receiving yards. If you’re curious, Matt is third in both of those stats. Two fantastic all-around players, who are very well-utilized by quality offensive coaching staffs.) And as Adam Hoge writes for CBS Chicago, McCoy knows that the Bears rushing defense is not exactly a steel curtain. One of those cheap, non-waterproof shower curtains from Marshall’s, maybe. Made available to the Chicago media via conference call, McCoy had this to say about a potentially big night:
“‘It’s tough for them,’” the running back said about the Bears’ two rookie linebackers. “Seeing things like that and missed tackles and guys out of line, out of place, that kind of makes a running back happy. And seeing teams gash them, automatically that light bulb lights up in your head like, ‘Wow, we can get the running game going.’”
I can certainly understand his excitement. Hopefully the Bears can display a few fundamentals on Sunday night and hold him under 150 yards.
- If you want a snapshot of Philadelphia’s recent performance, you could do worse than reading this game review from Pro Football Focus’s Rick Drummond. Looking at the Eagles-Vikings game from this past weekend, Drummond notes that Nick Foles has been sliding after his hot streak ended. You might remember when Foles was the talk of the NFC, having ridden a very impressive streak of games in which he avoided throwing an interception. While Foles is still dangerous, especially given the strength of his offense and the fairly obvious weakness of the Chicago defense, it’s important to remember that streaks are just that; they’re not infinite, and just as often they’re the result of luck and statistical cluttering as they are any sort of overwhelmingly strong and sustainable play. This sort of thing is why I supported the Bears turning to Jay Cutler, despite how well Josh McCown played. The only players who can play well over sustained periods of time are really, really good players. Everyone eles’s luck runs out at some point.
- Football Outsiders updated their playoff odds this week, and the Bears (unsurprisingly) lead the NFC North with a 61% likelihood of making the playoffs, up nearly 35% from last week. The Lions and Packers are virtually tied; within a percentage point of each other at 19.9% and 19% apiece. That Justin Tucker kick really did swing some things.
- Including the win-probability graph for that game from Advanced NFL Statistics; I didn’t see this until yesterday, and if you know anything about win-probability graphs you can probably guess what it looks like. But wild swings are always fun; I like to imagine the computer being stunned at the results.
- Aaron Rodgers remains sidelined, recovering from the broken collarbone inflicted upon him by Shea McClellin in one of the more ironic twists of fate in recent memory. Quickly off-topic: I think I use ironic wrong. My first exposure to the concept was the Alanis song, and I think that ruined my development on the subject. Which leads me to wonder if it’s ironic that I use ironic incorrectly? By asking that, is that then ironic? What a rabbit hole. It’s like when the Jumbotron shows a shot that features the Jumbotron, and you can see an infinite amount of progressively smaller Jumbotrons. Maybe I’m not feeling better after all. Anyway, as Ryan Wilson notes on the CBS Sports Eye on Football blog, Mike McCarthy said Wednesday that Rodgers would be evaluated on Friday, and a decision would be made then on his status for Sunday’s crucial game against the Steelers; it very well could be must-win for Green Bay. But as I’ve said all along, and I’m trying to be as objective as possible, you can’t put him back on the field unless he’s totally healed. This isn’t a mild ankle sprain or a broken finger. It’s a different sort of injury, and if he’s still in a stage where re-injury would mean a serious problem, I can’t see the point in risking the obvious franchise player. (From a biased perspective, I want no part of Rodgers in Week 17. Cleveland receivers ran free across the middle all day on Sunday, but Jason Campbell couldn’t find them. Aaron Rodgers, even coming off of an injury, is a different story.
- Last, but certainly not least, The 506 has their weekly TV coverage maps. It looks like the vast majority of you will get two late games, which is a slight rarity. Both Lions-Giants and Packers-Steelers are in the late window, and they’ll both be shown in the Chicago market. Which I think is good news; those are both obviously rife with Bears implications. (The Chicago area also gets the very interesting Chiefs-Colts matchup in the 1 P.M. window.) Those games will certainly be quite a lead-in to Chicago-Philadelphia on Sunday Night Football.