While Falcons vs. Saints may not scream interesting, there are actually some very interesting things to watch for on Thursday night:

  1. The latest episode of Devonta Freeman takes over the world
  2. Is Julio Jones going to be able to play? If so, how much and how effectively?
  3. Can the  Falcons defense continue to be at least average, especially against a Saints offense that has been good this year, ranking 9th in DVOA, and 7th in yards per game. If the Falcons can hold them in check to an extent, it will be a good sign for the Falcons.
  4. Is this one of the last primetime chances football fans will get to watch the Sean Payton Saints. It is not crazy to think that Payton won’t coach the Saints next year(Brees could also not be on the team next year). If so, it is a last chance for fans to watch a very unique team from the last five or so years.

As you can see, watching this TNF game is actually worthwhile if you have the time.

Falcons over Saints.

This one was almost too easy. New Orleans is allowing 409 yards per game. That is dead last in the league. Atlanta ranks 4th in the league in yards per game at 406.2. Digging deeper, we see that the Saints are rated 30th in run defense, and 23rd in passing defense when it comes to yards allowed per game. Football outsiders ranked their defense 32nd by their DVOA measure. Atlanta has the 4th best offense by DVOA. In contrast, the Falcons actually rank first when it comes to stopping the run. They are worse than the Saints when it comes to the pass, but after watching a little of Drew Brees this year, they will probably focus on shutting down the pass since their run defense has been so good this year. This game will be a shootout, but the Falcons are just plain better than the Saints, they should move to 6-0 on Thursday night.

So that’s the pick, if you really want to the Falcons would not be the worst eliminator pick, but I am going elsewhere this week. Now onto the main point of this piece: the 2015 Chicago Bears. Why the Bears? They are my favorite team, and from time to time I like to look in on the state of my team. So just how good are the Bears this season? Any players who are standing out and any who are having down years? Is there reason for optimism? Should Bears fans start watching highlights of Jared Goff and Joey Bosa? You’ll have to keep reading to find out!

As they stand right now, the Bears are 2-3, 3rd in their division, and are tied for 7th in their conference. They are only .5 games back of the Vikings for second in their division, and for the second wild card. The Bears right now are right on the cusp of the playoff picture… with six other teams. Hey it’s early, what do you want me to say. By football outsiders, the Bears had the 3rd hardest schedule through five weeks(opponents combined record of 14-11. That does not sound very daunting but remember the Seahawks are 2-3 and they are still a tough team, and the Raiders are 2-3 and are a team on the rise), but they have the 2nd easiest schedule going forward. Their remaining schedule going forward looks like this: @DET, MIN, @SD, @StL, DEN, @GB, SF, WAS, @MIN, @TB, DET. I consider myself to be a realist, and I this schedule going forward is not that difficult. Especially if this Bears team is healthy.

If you had asked me two weeks ago if the Bears had any real shot of making the playoffs I probably would have said no. Today, while I still think that they end up missing the playoffs, it will be a lot closer than I initially thought. I honestly watched some Bosa and Goff play the last couple weeks, granted I get to watch Bosa play every week but still. I think that if healthy, the Bears won’t be able to draft either of these guys, and that is not necessarily a bad thing. So to answer the last two questions, there is reason for optimism, and you can watch Bosa and Goff highlights if you want, they are both pretty talented.

So just how good are the Bears? That answer is complicated. If you were to divide the NFL into tiers, there would be the elite teams, the almost elite teams, the good teams that should contend for the playoff teams, the group in the middle, and the teams that are trash. The Bears are in that group of teams that are in the middle. That may not sound very good, but this year that group is very large to me. The first three groups do not contain more than 10-12 teams. The bottom group has no more than five or so teams. So where exactly do the Bears fit in between 13-25, to figure this out lets dive into the numbers a little bit.

Any conversation about the Bears has to start with Jay Cutler. This year is starting to feel like the year he shuts some of his critics up(knocks frantically on wood). Granted, the time for Cutler to get some actual credit is long overdue, but that’s beside the point now. Cutler has not played like a top ten qb this year… but that’s okay because he has played well enough this year to earn some praise from national media in what feels like the first time in forever. He is not put up overwhelmingly great stats, but that’s alright he has missed one game. Cutler ranks 14th in DYAR and 15th in DVOA(DYAR shows a qbs total value, and DVOA shows a qbs value per play), while he ranks 26th in QBR.

To me, Cutler has passed the eye test for me. He has avoided the back-breaking turnover for the most part this year, especially since against Oakland they ended up winning the game. Cutler has also led two game winning drives this year, each of them he showed great heart. In the last two games he has been without Alshon Jeffery, had a banged up offensive line, and was not fully healthy for himself. He showed a lot of toughness that plenty of Bears fans had questioned him about after the NFC title game. The Bears this year have some holes on their team, but Cutler is not one of them. He is exactly what logical Bears fans expect him to be: not an elite guy but a qb that a team can win with.

Also, I think this is the year that the notion that Cutler’s contract is toxic should be put to bed. Many people gawk at the 7 year $127 million headline, but really ignore the fact that it was a guaranteed three year $54 million contract. Many people call Cutler the most overpaid player in the NFL, which when you break down other qb contracts in the NFL that simply is not true. He ranks 12th in average annual  value, and really should be 14th because Manning and Brady had their contracts restructured. It is also important to remember that Andrew Luck is still on his rookie deal. So if you told me that Cutler had the 15th highest AAV, I would be perfectly fine with that because that is about what he should be getting paid.

My other favorite example to show why Cutler’s contract revolves around Joe Flacco. Flacco signed a six year contract worth just south of $121 million. I believe he is more overpaid, sure he has a Super Bowl, but everyone knows the NFL is a team sport. Cutler never counts for more than $18.5 million against the cap in one year(except for the later years, but I doubt he will be playing for the Bears in 2019 and 2020), while Flacco’s highest one year cap hit is just north of $31 million. Could you imgagine all the complaining that Bears fans would be doing if Cutler counted ofr over $30 million against the  cap. This one year cap spike is common in some qb deals, such as Drew Brees and Tony Romo. Over his top two highest earning years, Flacco will count against the cap for nearly $60 million. In contrast, Cutler’s two year high against the cap is $35.5 million. Even if you think Flacco is better than Cutler, he is not worth $24.5 million more than Cutler, that’s just silly. Also, the Ravens will most likely be forced to restructure Flacco’s deal to get some cap relief when his contract hits the $60 million stretch, that means adding extra years onto the deal. If the Bears were forced to extend Cutler longer than 2020, Cutler bashers would be livid. The lesson from all of this is: Stop complaining and appreciate what you have, it could be a lot worse.

I have seen this stat passed around a lot by Bears fans over the last week: The Bears currently sit 7th in the league in yards allowed so far this year, and 4th in yards per game. This is amazing… and also slightly misleading. The Bears also rank 28th in points allowed per game. They also rank 27th in defensive DVOA. This troubles me. They are also in the bottom ten when it comes to defending opposing teams top two WR. One of my top worries coming into the year was the secondary, and while some of my worries have been alleviated, some still remain(looking at you Kyle Fuller). I think the Bears are at a point this year defensively where many fans hoped they would be. They are not the worst defense in the league as they had been the lsat two years. They are an improving unit who appears to have found a couple quality defenders. Hell I might even get a McPhee jersey if he keeps this up. Don’t worry about the Bears defense, they may not be one of the best in the league, but they are on that track and are in great hands with Vic Fangio.

The Bears probably won’t make the playoffs but they are making my preseason prediction look good. You are proud to watch this Bears team this year. There is fight until the end, and not a sense that some guys had quit on the season. They should be able to beat the Lions this week and head into the bye 3-3. Bear Down!!

Ted Van Green(@TVG_5)

Spark Sports Analyst

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