Ahh, football season is back in full swing and all is right with the world. For many football fans, this means a year of renewed hope that their favorite team will bring prestige and late night riots to their home city. For others, it means another year of heavy sighing, frustration, throwing whatever inanimate object is nearby, getting drunk and beating your kids because that Romo is a worthless piece of crap.
The first two weeks of this NFL season have been chock full of excitement. There have been upsets and surprises. There are nine undefeated teams right now, some of which can be considered surprises (Broncos, 49ers, Jets) while others are not so much (Colts, Ravens, Saints, Giants).
The New England Patriots have Tom (savior of the NFL and all mankind) Brady back, but the team looks to have come back down to Earth in a hurry. They’ve been above average at best and ineffective at worse, and would be 0-2 were it not for a Leodis McKelvin fumble in the closing minutes of the Week 1 game.
The Tennessee Titans, arguably the best team during the 2008 regular season, are 0-2 and looking like the departure of Albert Haynesworth has badly deflated what was a fearsome defense just ten months ago. There’s still plenty of time to turn things around, but the Titans have to do so fast or they may enter trainwreck mode.
The Cowboys, Giants, and Chargers are perennial favorites to make the playoffs and maybe even win it all. This year is no different. The only obstacles standing in their way are their own feet.
The first two weeks of this 2009 season made for some very exciting football, but this week looks like a bit of a downer. The hangover, one might say, after two weeks of hard partying. Only a few games can be classified as must-see while the rest are more like watching an old WWF Superstars program. It’s jobbers vs. stars.
The games worth watching appear to be (with my pick at the end):
Tennessee at New York. The Titans need to turn their season around and earn their first W if they want to be able to compete with the Colts and what looks like a strong Houston team. Their ground and pound tandem of running backs will be up against a very formidable defense led by Rex Ryan, which means Kerry Collins may be forced to win the game on his own. This is also a rematch of last year when the Jets handed the Titans their very first loss in Week 11. Can the Titans repay the favor and stop a potential disastrous 0-3 start? I don’t think so. JETS
San Francisco at Minnesota could be interesting or it could be a blowout. What it will undoubtedly show is whether Mike Singletary’s 49ers squad is for real, or if they’re just pretending. Good news for the Niners either way: they play in what is probably the weakest division in the NFL and might only be a Cardinals implosion away from winning the NFC West. As a Bears fan I hope the Niners are for real and crush the Vikings. Frank Gore will not have his way with the Minnesota defensive line and without him the Niners may be hopeless. I think big purple is just too powerful on too many fronts. VIKINGS
Atlanta goes into New England at 2-0 and finds the Patriots licking the wounds they received during Week 2’s loss to the Jets. The Patriots defense finds itself missing, well, all of the old guys who were traded or retired this past off-season. Even though production had fallen off last season, a team always struggles when losing a team leader. When a team loses several leaders, there are consequences, even for a juggernaut like the Patriots. The defense is rebuilding towards a future back in prominence but right now they’re stuck in limbo and even Tom (his sweat cures syphilis) Brady cannot bring them out as he’s a year older and appears to be more than a little timid of the whole ending up crippled by the next tackle thing. The Falcons, however, are a young team with a Win Now and Later philosophy and will try their best to give the Patriots their first sub .500 record in a long while. Patriots will play hard and come out with something to prove. It won’t work. FALCONS
Jacksonville at Houston could be good. Jacksonville is desperate to prove they’re not bottom-feeders. After all, it was only two seasons ago they were the sleeper picks to win it all and got a taste of the high life in the AFC championship game. Houston, however, is a potential team of the future with one of the most exciting offenses to watch. And if the Titans/Texans heavy-hitter from last week is any indication, this should be a fun game to watch. Who would have ever believed the last two sentences would ever by seriously typed by anyone ever? TEXANS
Finally, there’s the Sunday night game, Colts at Cardinals. The Cards haven’t been as impressive so far into this young season. Their passing game started to click last week and could be running on all cylinders come Sunday. The Colts have outperformed many so-called expert opinions that mentioned Peyton Manning’s age or his potential productivity without Marvin Harrison, apparently forgetting that Manning won MVP last season with a Harrison who was mostly ineffective when not injured. Both teams have exciting passing games and questionable defenses which gives this game the potential to be a high-scoring affair. The team that scores last will win the game. COLTS
And let’s not forget the most important game of the week: Chicago at Seattle. My Bears got off to a terrible start in Week 1. Jay Cutler, Chicago’s first franchise QB in way too long, threw four picks and was handed his first loss as a Bear. The next week the team came back and was quite impressive in their defeat of the defending Super Bowl champions. Now they go into one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL against a team that was picked to have potential to be … maybe not great but good. Both of these franchises took a turn as the fodder for AFC teams in a Super Bowl this decade, and both teams and their fans remember the partial glory that comes with their team making it to the big game.
Which brings us to this week’s:
Every week (optimistically) I’ll focus on the Bears game, and I know how excited that makes most of you. But I won’t go it alone. This week Seahawks fan Jun Bakon helps me lay out the keys to either team winning.
Bears Keys to the Game:
* Jay Cutler taking a step further with his young receiving corps. Johnny Knox has emerged as a threat and this should allow Devin Hester and Greg Olsen, perpetually double-covered, to get open a little more. The bombs have not yet started flying for the Bears, but they will eventually.
* Matt Forte. Remember this guy? Great rookie season. Not so much so far this season. To be fair, he’s played against two great run defenses, so the jury is still out on whether it’s that or the sophomore slump that has caused him to be a complete non-factor. The Bears running game ranks 31 in the league after two weeks, but you can be damned sure they’re looking to change that this week.
* Nine players are on the Seahawk’s injury report, not including their QB Matt Hassleback, who may try to play with a broken rib. Odds are that will not last long, as the Bears defensive front has actually been able to get penetration so far this season and they won’t take it easy on Hassleback should they get within hitting distance.
* If Hassleback does play and stays unmolested, it could spell trouble for the weak Bears secondary. Even if Hassleback is out, Seneca Wallace is no slouch. He’s not a great QB by any means, but he’s a trustworthy QB who can manage a game, else the Seahawks would have looked elsewhere for a backup years ago. Whoever is QB, they’ll still be throwing it to receivers playing against the Bears secondary.
TJ Whosyourmama, the Seahawks major off season pickup, recently had this to say: “I feel like I’m going to get open every play, every time, but that’s not going to be the case. Those guys get paid well. I feel I’m going to win regardless, but I have to be realistic. I feel I’m going to win 95 percent of the time and they can get the other 5.” This would make me angry if I weren’t already angry because it’s could very well be true. Peanut Tillman is a great player when it comes to forcing turnovers, but he leaves much to be desired in the pass coverage game and Zack Bowman is still unproven. The fact that he’s in there over veteran Nathan Vasher speaks to how much the Bears CB situation sucks right now. If Hassleback plays and plays like NFC Champion Matt Hassleback, the Bears could end up on the defensive, trying to play catch-up most of the game and forcing Jay Cutler to throw more, and potentially make more mistakes because…
* Qwest Field is loud. Really damned loud. The Bears will need to both score early and either force some Seahawks 3 and Outs or a turnover to shut this powerful 12th man out of the game. Deflate the crowd and you remove the fans as a factor.
Seahawks Keys To The Game:
*As far as I’m concerned, the most important player on the Seahawks offense isn’t Matt Hasselbeck. Or TJ Howsmysalsa. No, the most important guy is Walter Jones. The 35 year old is a nine time pro bowl selection. He is arguably the best Left Tackle of all time. There’s only one Seahawk right now that you can call a first-ballot Hall Of Famer: Big Walt. Injuries have kept him out of both games this season. Sean Locklear was an able backup, but now he’s injured and definitely out. Jones is listed as questionable on the injury report, but he did practice fully on Thursday and Friday. It doesn’t matter who’s under center Sunday if Jones isn’t anchoring the left side of the line. Without Big Walt, the Bears D will assault the Quarterback in a manner reminiscent of certain scenes in American History X.
*Special teams. Devin Hester is dangerous. His ability to return punts and kicks is still the most impressive in the league. Ever. Just one return for a touchdown can demoralize a team. After being raped by San Francisco last week, the Seahawks can’t afford any demoralizing. Nick Reed has to step up big this week.
On the other side, Josh Wilson is out. He’s been a solid kick returner this year and will be missed come Sunday. Luckily he’s got rookie Deon Butler backing him up. I like Butler and I think he’ll be a good replacement for Wilson. If he isn’t, the Hawks offense could be staring at a lot of field.
*The running game on both sides of the ball will determine the winner of this game. The Seahawks spent a lot of money on beefing up the D-Line in the offseason. The additions of Colin Cole and Cory Redding increased the weight of the line by about 837 pounds. If they play like they did last week, look for Forte and the other Bears to be able to Moonwalk into the end zone. Frank Gore violated the Seahawks defense last week to the point that I thought I was watching the end of the Sons Of Anarchy season premiere.
Offensively, Julius Jones needs to step it up. He did great in game one, but was wholly inept last week. He is not who the Seahawks thought he was. Edgerrin James has been completely unremarkable in his time with the team. They would have done better to have kept Duckett and let James twist in obscurity. The only player that has done well consistently is little Justin Forsett. He squirms through the line like semen through my fingers. The Bears need to find a way to stop him or it’s going to be a long day. Add in the fact that Seneca Wallace will likely be at the helm and the Seahawks should be able to run the ball at will. I say should because so far they’ve not proven themselves.
*Unlike last year, the receiving corps are healthy. TJ Hornyllama is on record as saying he wants to punish the Bears for not trying to sign him. Nate Burleson is healthy and playing like every Seahawks fan has wanted him to since he was signed from Minnesota. Deon Butler is playing above anyone’s expectations. Deion Branch is starting to get into his groove. John Carlson is perhaps the best Tight End in football today. With Urlacher out, I’d expect quite a few short passes over the middle. If they can beat the Bears deep, the Seahawks should win this game.
*Jun’s Bottom Line: Seahawks win 23 – 17
*Lowell’s Bottom Line: Bears win 28 – 20