Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Where Do They Stand?

I had a crazy work day yesterday, so I apologize for skipping a day of writing. But I want to address something that was on my mind this week. As sports talk radio goes, The Boers and Bernstein Show is among the best. It's certainly the most entertaining show on the air here in Chicago. Monday night, Terry Boers said something that, based on callers' reactions, is apparently controversial.

Boers said no one should anoint the Bears the best team in the NFL. They're one of a number of good teams at the top of the league, and that number is a bigger group than people realize. Most of the callers argued that the Bears should still be considered the favorites to make and win the Super Bowl, which doesn't really address Boers's point. Because the callers kept approaching the issue from a different angle, there wasn't much actual analysis of Boers' actual contentions. But, the discussion got me thinking, so I want to address a couple of questions: (1) are the Bears clearly the best team in football, or just one of a number of good teams; and (2) how big is that group of teams at the top of the league?

At this point, the Bears are the best team in football. While the Bears are not head and shoulders better than the rest of the league, they have clearly played the best football over the full course of the season so far. There are other teams in the conversation, but no one combines the Bears' record and quality of play. It's important to remember that as poorly as the Bears played against Arizona, they played that well against Green Bay, Detroit, Buffalo, and Seattle. Each of those games told us as much about the team as the Cardinals game. Everyone else has an odd disconnect between quality of play and record. Teams like the Colts, Patriots, Broncos and Saints haven't played nearly as well as their records indicate. The Colts have played terrible defense and special teams, have played four their first six games at home, and would not be undefeated but for the fact that opposing kickers are inexplicably below 50% on field goal attempts against them. The Patriots are coming on strong, and Tom Brady is having a much better year than people realize, but this team still can't stop the pass, especially on first down. The league is geared towards short passing attacks right now, and that's exactly what the Pats are most vulnerable to. The Broncos offense is mediocre at best, and this is another team struggling on special teams. Plus, the Broncos defense is also not nearly as good as the public believes. They're among the league's ten best, but they appear dominant only because they've played the Browns and Raiders of late. Great teams blow crappy teams out. The Broncos don't put anyone away. The Saints are the weakest of the 6-0/5-1 teams. They're a legitimate top-half of the league team, but playing even with the Packers and Bucs doesn't inspire confidence. I'm not sold on their defense either.

In fact, I wouldn't put the Colts, or any of the 5-1 teams, in the conversation for best team right now. I actually think the list is pretty small. The Bears do belong in the conversation. They've been above average on offense, excellent on defense, and otherworldly on special teams. The 4-2 Chargers looked like the best team in football until they laid an egg against the Chiefs this week. They still protect their young quarterback better than any team around, have a dangerous offense, outstanding special teams, and above average defense, with or without Shawn Merriman. Conversely, the Giants looked good, but not great, until this past week when they suddenly looked like the best team in football. The Giants leap into this conversation after that win, on the strength of a high powered offense and an improving defense. But the closest contender for the Bears' perch atop the NFL is a team that is barely over .500. The 4-3 Eagles are the only team in the league that has outplayed its opponent every week of the season. This week they lost on a 62 yard field goal. Since the NFL started using new balls for every kick, no one had made one longer than 58. They lost to the Giants on a 16 yard forward fumble. This team is explosive on offense, very good on defense and above average on special teams. If luck evens out, this team might be hard to beat. After those four teams, all of whom are average or better in all three areas of the game, there is a big drop off. The next group, good teams with at least one weak area among offense, defense or special teams, is a big group. But the elite teams, based on performance so far this year, should be limited to the Bears, Chargers, Giants and Eagles, with the Bears on top for now.


Blogger Jeeves said...

The Eagles really worry me, especially when it comes to the playoffs. They are an experienced bunch. If Westbrook stays healthy (that's a pretty big if) they will be a tough team to beat.

I will say, though, that even though they've outplayed teams every week, they haven't shown complete domination. They should have put the Bucs away earlier, but they let them hang around.

So, I guess I'm really just afraid of what they could progress to be as the season wears on and the playoffs roll by.

1:21 AM  
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