Wednesday, October 11, 2006

We're #1 !!!

I'm not actually prone to irrational exuberance. I'm not even prone to perfectly rational exuberance. Basically, exuberance is just not a word that comes up often when one is discussing me. But the evidence is becoming overwhelming: the Chicago Bears are the best team in football right now, and it's not that close.

Let's start with what was expected to be the team's strength. The Bears' defense has been the second most efficient in football. Only Baltimore has played better so far, and the Bears may well overtake them before the year is done. Chicago is ranked second against the pass and seventh against the run. But this week, the Bears corrected the closest thing to a defensive weakness, and held the league's leading rusher to only 50 yards. Early in the season, a few big plays against a defense can skew statistics, and the Bears rank near the bottom of the league preventing the long run. Avoid the big running play in the future and the Bears' run defense will rank even higher. Already, the Bears rank among the best in football at stopping their opponents when it counts most -- on third and fourth down short yardage situations.

What is more of a surprise is the team's offensive success. The Bears' offense, third most efficient in the NFL, is led by the league's best passing attack. WHAT?!? Strange, but true. Rex Grossman has been the third most productive quarterback in football, and THE most efficient. He has 1212 yards, 10 touchdowns and only three turnovers in 152 passes. That's as many yards and more touchdowns than Peyton Manning in 20 fewer pass attempts. Bernard Berrian and Muhsin Muhammad, Grossman's top targets, rank 10th and 11th, respectively, among NFL receivers. Berrian has caught 53% of passes thrown his way for 413 yards and four touchdowns. Muhammad has caught 65% of passes thrown his way for 334 yards and a TD. Add in the league's most productive tight end, even after a quiet week against the Bills, Desmond Clark, and the Bears' passing attack is positively unBear-like.

And, while the rushing attack has been average so far, average is far better than where it stood before the Seahawks and Bills games. Thomas Jones has shaken off a slow start that had some idiots -- um, me -- calling for his head, and now ranks 16th among NFL running backs in overall production. He's carried 106 times for 388 yards and two touchdowns. He's closing in on a 50% success rate on his carries (in general, a play counts as a success if it gains 40% of yards on first down, 60% of yards on second down, and 100% of yards on third down). Again, not great, but pretty impressive given the way he started.

Also, let's not forget special teams, where the Bears rank #1 in all of football. Robbie Gould deserves a lot of credit for the Bears' success. The team's field goal and kick off units rank as the best in the NFL. The punt return unit has also been the 5th best in the league. Basically, everything the Bears can control, they're doing well, even the so-called little things.

Who's the competition for the top spot? Well, the Colts are undefeated, but rank 27th in defense. They rank 30th in run defense. That's not a recipe for continued success. I'd say the Chargers are actually number two; they're the only other team ranked in the top five in offense, defense and special teams. As for Michael Irvin's asinine insistence that the Cowboys are the top team in the NFC, well, it's asinine. Besides the Bears, I'd rank the Eagles, Seahawks, Giants, Falcons and Panthers ahead of the Cowboys. That would be seventh. At this point, I'm expecting the Cowboys to miss the play-offs. The Eagles, on the other hand, are the real deal. They've been winning despite bad luck in terms of fumble recoveries and opponents' field goals (both areas that a team has little or no control over). They also have the best offense in football.

But forget the Chargers, Eagles, and everyone else. Right now, the Chicago Bears are the best team in football. That probably hasn't been the case since the mid-80's. So, whether you're prone to irrational exuberance or not, if you're a Bears fan, it's probably time to start getting excited.


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