That's The Chicago Way, And That's How You Get Capone!
At the United Center on Saturday, as the Bulls laid waste to the Memphis Grizzlies, I watched in horror as the fans did the wave. THE WAVE!!! Come on, people. Have some dignity. The thing actually made three circuits of the building before 18,000 people noticed that a basketball game was taking place. Then, on Monday, as the Bulls ran the mighty San Antonio Spurs into submission, the fans reserved their loudest cheers for the water truck and donut races. As the buzzer sounded on a 99-87 win, fans booed because Ben Gordon's final bucket was a two, not a three, and thus failed to procure a free hamburger for the apparently starving masses in attendance. Most egregiously, 6,000 paying Bears fans failed to show up at Soldier Field Sunday for the Bears play-off game with the Seahawks.
I think the faltering enthusiasm, optimism, and sports IQ of Chicago sports fans is directly attributable to a toxic soup of sports columnists and sports talk radio. Chicago fans have always been irrationally upbeat about their sports fans. "Wait 'til next year," wasn't a cynical catch phrase for Cubs fans, it was an honest belief. In 1988, we were shocked when the 49ers, and the greatest pass-catch duo ever, actually managed to put points on the board despite the combined presence of the Monsters of the Midway and some genuine Bear weather.
In the last two days, I've listened to every voice on the radio tell me that: (A) the Bears aren't that good; (B) the Bears were lucky to win Sunday against an inferior opponent; (C) the Saints are an unstoppable force; and (D) the Bears are going to get rolled this coming weekend absent a miracle. One pundit declared that the Bears will be at a disadvantage at every single position on the field this weekend. Another said that he would take the Saints' defense over the Bears' defense at this point. If I'm contemplating spending money on tickets, or time in the elements, to support this team, why would I when all I'm hearing is that the Bears will leave me disappointed and heartbroken. For that I can sit at home, or better yet, head to a sports bar where I can have a few beers with my buddies while the game plays in the background.
The worst thing about it is that it's garbage. For once some honest optimism is warranted. The Bears now stand with the door to the Super Bowl, and even a Super Bowl win, thrown wide open. The Ravens, Chargers and Eagles -- three teams who had clear advantages against the Bears -- are all gone. Remaining are deeply flawed Saints and Colts teams, and Patriots team that the Bears played tough in Foxboro despite an appearance by Evil Rex. Even more importantly, this Bears team is actually really good.
There will be plenty of time to analyze this game between now and Sunday, but let's dispel a couple of myths. First, the Bears will have match-ups they can take advantage of. The Bears led the NFL in adjusted line yards on runs between the guards at 4.8 yards a run. That's 4.8 yards on every run up the middle, discounting any long runs that are more attributable to the running back's break away ability. The Bears are the league's best inside running team. The Saints were only middle of the pack stopping inside runs. This is just one match up the Bears can take advantage of.
In fact, the Saints D is pretty mediocre all around. It's certainly not on a par with the Bears' D, which is the second myth I've heard on the radio this week. Even weighted for late season performances to the point where the first four weeks of the season are basically ignored, the Bears were the second best defense in the NFL, according to Football Outsiders' DVOA metric. They were 2nd against the pass and 5th against the runs. The Saints, on the other hand rank 17th in weighted defensive DVOA. Their 22nd against the pass and 20th against the run. For all the talk about their defense coming on towards the end of the year, weighting for late season performance, the Saints are an average defense.
Which brings us to the biggest myth of all. The talking heads in town are building the Saints up into an unstoppable steam roller. They were 10-6, people. Win-loss is not the best predictor of future performance, but weighted DVOA is an excellent predictor. The Saints finished the regular season 8th in weighted DVOA. That would be four spots behind the Bears. The Saints' offense was 5th, their defense 19th, and their special teams 14th. Some juggernaut.
I'm not saying the Bears will beat the Saints. But they certainly can. I'll analyze the match-ups more later in the week, but my first reaction is that the Bears should be slightly favored. And yet the local media is covering this as if the mongol hordes are descending to destroy our hapless band of plucky villagers. With such pessimism, and lunacy, on the airwaves, is it any wonder that Chicagoans have become more cynical, less interested, and less intelligent about our teams?