Honoring Iron Mike

Mike Ditka

Iron Mike in his 1992 Bears sideline gear.

It’s been a crazy NFL season, as they all are. With a win tonight against Dallas, the Bears can again pull even with Detroit (record-wise), after the Eagles took care of the Lions on Sunday. In order to secure a playoff berth, the Bears must win out and have Detroit lose at least one game.

Here’s hoping the jersey retirement ceremony of #89 for Mike Ditka will help spark the Bears to a mandatory win over the hated Cowboys.

What are your favorite Iron Mike memories? Let us know.

The Forecast- Cowboys vs Bears

Once again, the Bears’ defense was embarrassed, getting predictably gashed all afternoon by Adrian Peterson. However the issue now, in my opinion, lies within the offense. It’s common knowledge that the Bears’ defense is atrocious, but it’s time to accept that maybe the Bears’ offense isn’t very good, either. Alshon Jeffery’s day was unbelievable and fun to watch, but the Bears are now 0-5 when Jeffery has 100 yards in a game. Josh McCown missed throw after throw in the first half and showed off his many weaknesses. This offense now hasn’t scored more than 23 points in a game since November 4. The defense is bad, but eventually the offense has to help; it hasn’t for weeks now.

Minnesota lost their starting quarterback, but it didn’t make much of a difference. Matt Cassel completed passes when he had to, including a 4th and 11 with a game on the line, where James Anderson inexplicably ran at him with his hands at his hips. The Bears are now 6-6. San Francisco won again, and right now, the Bears are also a half of a game behind the Lions in the division. They don’t own the tiebreaker there, either.

The Dallas Cowboys haven’t played in 11 days. They last played on Thanksgiving when they snuck out a home win against the Raiders. Tony Romo has been great this year, and after all of these years, he’s finally been consistently great. His touchdown to interception ratio is better than 3:1, and he’s completing 65 percent of his throws. Led by Romo, the Cowboys are extremely hot. Unfortunately, Romo has historically struggled in December, and his defense won’t help him this year if those issues flare up. The run and pass defenses for Dallas have been brutal this year, and those problems really showed when they gave up 8 million yards in one game earlier this season to the Broncos. The Bears pretty much have to win the rest of their games, and unfortunately, they have to start that against one of the NFC’s best.

College Football Recap
Obviously, there were two big games two days ago. Ohio State was matched up against Michigan State, and Missouri and Auburn went head to head. Auburn flew by Missouri, and the Buckeyes were finally knocked off by the Spartans. This sets up Auburn against Florida State for the National Championship.

The two underrated games of the day were Baylor against Texas and Oklahoma State versus their in-state rival Oklahoma. Somehow, the Cowboys lost to the Sooners at home, and Baylor beat the Longhorns. Therefore, Baylor won the Big-12 and will play UCF in the Fiesta Bowl.

The other three BCS games will be Oklahoma against Alabama (Sugar), Clemson versus Ohio State (Orange), and Michigan State and Stanford (Rose).

Weather
This game has the potential to go down as one of the coldest games in franchise history. The wind will be howling, and the temperatures will be in the high-teens. With all of that combined, the wind chill could dip into the negatives by the time this one ends.

Injury report
As I’m sure everyone has heard, Jay Cutler is still nursing his ankle injury and Lance Briggs, seven weeks after his 4-6 week injury, continues to rehab his shoulder. Kyle Long (ankle), Brandon Marshall (quad), and Major Wright (hamstring) will all play. Anthony Walters (groin) is questionable. Dallas has a healthy squad. Their leader on defense, LB Sean Lee, is back today (hamstring). CB Morris Claiborne (hamstring) is out and KR/PR/WR Dwayne Harris (hamstring) is questionable. LB Justin Durant (hamstring) is back, too.

Did you know?
Matt Forte has run for 120+ yards in a game on ten different occasions. The Bears are 9-1 in those games. The only loss was last week.

NFL Predictions
N/A. (32-23-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Jason Hatcher- Not a lot of people know about Jason Hatcher, because typically the majority of the attention goes toward DeMarcus Ware on that side of the ball but also the dysfunction inside the Cowboys’ organization. However, Hatcher is one of the best defensive tackles in football. On the year, he has a forced fumble to go along with a monstrous 9 sacks. That is a lot from the interior of the defensive line, especially when one considers that Dallas still has 4 games remaining. Defensive tackles haven’t given the Bears too many problems this year, but Hatcher has game-breaking ability.

Dez Bryant- Everyone thinks that they know that Dez Bryant is combustible, whiny, and selfish, but the fact of the matter is that he is one of the league’s best wideouts. In 2011, Bryant almost got to 1,000 yards in just his second year, and last year, he caught 92 passes for almost 1,400 yards. This year, he will definitely get past 1,000 again. On the season, Bryant has 9 touchdowns and 896 yards. I would guess that he has a great shot to surpass 1,000 yards tonight. In this weather though, watch out for Bryant’s ongoing back problems to maybe strike. They have lingered throughout this year.

Jeremiah Ratliff- The Jeremiah Ratliff-Dallas Cowboys saga is a strange one, but this is all one needs to know: when Ratliff was released and free to sign anywhere, he met with Julius Peppers and Jay Cutler, and they talked him into signing in Chicago because of the chance for the postseason and the opportunity to play the Cowboys. This past week, the Cowboys refused to really comment on it, and Ratliff played it off calling it just another game. Make no mistake about it: this game means a lot to Ratliff, and with DeMarco Murray running the ball for Dallas, Ratliff has to build off of what was a solid performance in Minnesota and have a great game for the Bears to make the Cowboys a one-dimensional offense. If not, Murray will blow through the Bears’ defensive line like every back has done this year.

The Forecast
The playoff chances for the Bears seem slim, but there is still a chance if they win 3 or 4 of their final 4 games. Detroit continues to choke away their best chance of a division championship in 22 years, and with their loss yesterday in Philadelphia, it opens the door for the Bears. Unfortunately, Chicago’s defense is battered and, for the most part, untalented. Dallas, meanwhile, has a bad defense as well but Tony Romo is playing some of his best football. His career record in December is 11-15, but this year, it just feels different for Romo and the rest of his team. The Cowboys are used to these elements, playing in New York, Washington and Philadelphia annually. The Cowboys will score, but the Bears will score more. Chicago needs this game. This may be Josh McCown’s last chance to impress his current coaches and front offices around the league before he hits free agency in March. Bears 34-30. (7-5 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

The Forecast- Bears vs Vikings

I understand that the Bears have been decimated by injuries this year, but this has gone way too far. To go to St. Louis, a young and very average team, and get embarrassed by a rookie running back not named Zac Stacy and who is also an undrafted free agent is unforgivable. Mel Tucker was brought in to maintain a relatively strong defense while they have a small transition phase, but he hasn’t done that. Jon Bostic was brutal last week, as was Chris Conte (what else is new?). The entire defensive line was terrible, too. They allowed huge gain after huge gain on the ground to the Rams, and they combined that with almost no pressure on Kellen Clemens. Julius Peppers mustered up only one tackle, and Shea McClellin was back to his normal, stinky self.

Marc Trestman didn’t have one of his better games either. Once again, he decided to not take 3 points on the goal line, and Michael Bush ran right into a defender from the Rams. It doesn’t help when your first offensive possession goes for one play and that play is a lost fumble inside your own 10-yard line. Another issue has been the penalties. Through the first handful of games, it wasn’t a problem, but now it is. If this was Lovie Smith, people would be remarkably upset. Trestman’s team has now committed 23 penalties in two games, and that’s unacceptable. When a team has it’s back-up quarterback in the game and the defense is horrible, giving teams extra plays and free first downs will always come back to bite that team in the ass, and for Chicago, it has. However, it’s hard to fault Trestman for the way the season has gone. He was brought in to give this organization some offensive firepower which is exactly what he has done. The Bears have scored 18 or more points in every game so far this year, and that has never been done in their history.

Had the Vikings lost last week, they would have the #1 overall pick in the draft if the season ended today. However, they tied, and so they would pick fourth. Hopefully the Bears won’t, but I know a lot of fans have underestimated the Vikings for that reason. They have a lot of holes, specifically in their secondary. They also are a pretty banged up team. Their head coach might be brain dead and their coordinators aren’t much brighter. Nonetheless, they have talented players on their roster. The Bears only hope to get into the playoffs is to win the NFC North. As of now, they would lose almost every wildcard tiebreaker, and Carolina and San Francisco haven’t been letting up at all. The Bears surely have a better team than Minnesota does, but it’s never easy to win in Minneapolis.

College Football Recap
Of course, the game of the day was Auburn and Alabama, and it definitely lived up to expectations. Alabama was leading this game 21-7 and 28-21, but Auburn scored a game-tying touchdown in the final minute. Alabama found a way to get into position to kick a game-winning field goal, but it came up short, and the Tigers returned it all the way for a touchdown. It will go down as one of the best games in college football history. Next week, Missouri and Auburn will face off for the SEC Championship.

Another big game took place in Los Angeles between UCLA and USC, but the Trojans were dominated. Brett Hundley had his way and showed everyone why some NFL scouts love him. USC’s lack of depth because of their loss of scholarships really caught up to them, as they lost two offensive linemen in the contest.

Duke won again and will play Florida State for the ACC Championship in Charlotte. Nobody expected much of anything from the Blue Devils (as usual), but David Cutcliffe has done a great job.

Weather
Dome

Injury report
The Bears’ injury list continues to grow. Matt Forte (knee) is probable. Stephen Paea (toe) and Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) are questionable, but I think both will play. This will be huge for the interior of the Bears’ defensive line. Lance Briggs (shoulder) and Jay Cutler (ankle) are still out. Major Wright (hamstring) is questionable. Minnesota has been hit by injuries pretty hard this year. Three of their most impactful players–LB Desmond Bishop (knee), S Harrison Smith (toe), and TE Kyle Rudolph (foot)–are all out for this game. Rookie CB Xavier Rhodes (head), DT Kevin Williams (quad), LB Chad Greenway (wrist), S Andrew Sendejo (foot) and WR Joe Webb (head) are probable. Adrian Peterson didn’t practice all week, but he will definitely play.

Did you know?
The Bears haven’t led by more than 7 points since October 10 when they hosted the Giants.

NFL Predictions
What do you know? It was another solid week for me, as the only game I didn’t get right ended in a tie. This weekend, I like the Seahawks, Chargers, Panthers, Colts, and in an upset, the Chiefs over the Broncos. (29-21-1 on the year)

Players to Watch
Adrian Peterson- I have a feeling that every game from here on out, the opposing running back will be the player to watch. It helps when the opposing running back might be the best back anyone has seen over the last 15 years. Adrian Peterson is a beast (understatement of the day). The Bears’ run defense is now dead last in yards per carry given up (4.9) and yards per game given up (145.2), and it’s not going to be any easier today against Peterson. Last week, he ran over and around Packers’ defenders to the tune of 146 yards on 32 carries plus one touchdown. Green Bay made Christian Ponder look like a Pro-Bowl quarterback last week, and Chicago will do the same today if Peterson dominates like he’s expected to.

Josh McCown- Eventually, Josh McCown’s luck is going to run out. McCown has never been a good quarterback, and he will openly admit that. However, he may have one more week left in him. The Vikings, as previously mentioned, are pathetic against the pass, giving up more than 280 yards per week. Their yards per attempt allowed is pretty ordinary as well. This game may turn into a shootout, thanks to these two bad defenses. If it does, the Bears will absolutely need McCown to make some plays, especially with Matt Forte most likely not being 100 percent.

The Forecast
I’m not sure how I’m supposed to pick this game. Two weeks ago, the Bears beat the reigning Super Bowl champions at home, and last week, they lost in dominating fashion to St. Louis. Counting week 6, the Bears have alternated wins and losses each week. Going off of that and the fact that the Vikings are horrible, Chicago will win this one. I’m not buying it. I saw last week up close and personal (too close for my own health) how bad the Bears’ defense really is, and as I said, that was against an undrafted player. Why would anyone expect differently against the best player at that position, maybe at any position, in the game? I think Josh McCown will put up some points, but with an injured Matt Forte on the road in the Bears’ last game ever at the dumpy Metrodome, this is going to be too tough. I hope I’m wrong, as the division is still a real possibility. Vikings 30-24. (6-5 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

Turkey Day State of the Bears

Bears at Rams 2013

What a meltdown in St. Louis.

I haven’t posted since before that amazing Ravens game. What a roller coaster of a season. Since losing two games in a row to the Lions and Saints seven weeks ago, the Bears have now won, lost, won, lost, won, lost in that order.

As amazing as the Ravens game was, the Rams game was as disappointing. This weekend, the Bears start a stretch run of “final stands” every week. Pretty tough to expect success when your defense can’t stop the run or rush the passer. In reality, a 4-1 finish just might get the Bears into the playoffs with a 10-6 record. That’s a big maybe. A 3-2 finish leading to a 9-7 final record will likely mean the Bears are home for the holidays again.

Doug Buffone used to have a mantra that he recited almost daily. The keys for a team to have success in the NFL are 1) Rush the Passer, 2) Stop the Run, 3) Run the Football. I believe he changed #3 to throw the football recently. With the Bears incapable of 1 & 2, a lot of luck needs to be on the Bears’ side.

Unbelievably, we all find ourselves in the position of rooting for Green Bay today. Would you believe it? Hard to believe. Happy Thanksgiving.

The Forecast- Bears vs Rams

I’ll be honest with everyone. Up until this point, I think Martellus Bennett has been a gigantic waste of money. In the three weeks prior to the game against the Ravens, Bennett had 9 catches. Nine. Against Baltimore, he only had two, but he may have made the catch that turned the Bears season around. After a 14-yard catch by Alshon Jeffery to move the chains, Josh McCown found Bennett streaking down the seam for a 43-yard pitch-and-catch. The Bears only ran three more plays for the game, one of which was a field goal to propel them to a 23-20 victory in overtime. Last week, I said that that the Bears needed a big game from Julius Peppers. Peppers came through with 4 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. He got help from his DE partner, David Bass, who made an unbelievable play, where he took an interception for a touchdown after he avoided a low block attempt (a very pathetic effort, I may add) from Ray Rice. Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills also had very good games.

The Bears now head to St. Louis to take on the Rams. The Rams were on their bye last weekend, but in the game before that, they destroyed the Colts in Indianapolis. Don’t let that fool you—the Rams have struggled this season. Sam Bradford, who has always been pretty average, tore his ACL a few weeks back in a game in Carolina. Since then, Kellen Clemens has assumed the starting job and has been pretty bad. He’s completing 53 percent of his passes and has only thrown 3 touchdowns in 4 weeks. How did they beat the hell out of the Colts then? Rookie RB Zac Stacy has taken the reigns as the starter and has run with it, literally. He is averaging 4.2 yards per carry. He has 4 total touchdowns and can catch the ball with ease. Defensively, they’re in the middle of the pack in terms of pass and run defense. However, St. Louis is giving up 8.4 yards per attempt through the air, which is good for 31st in football. In other words, they’re prone to giving up big plays through the air. On the ground, they yield 4.2 yards per carry, which is something that Matt Forte can exploit.

College Football Recap
Florida’s atrocious season continues. The Gators lost at home to Georgia Southern. The Eagles couldn’t complete a single pass, but it didn’t matter. I’m not so sure Will Muschamp will survive this. A few years ago, Florida was the premier job in college football. Muschamp has been a huge disappointment.

Baylor got smashed in Stillwater, Oklahoma. Oklahoma State dominated the Bears, and Baylor’s national championship hopes are over. This will help Ohio State, as with a Baylor win, Ohio State would have fallen to #4 in the BCS. Still, Alabama and Florida State are the class of the sport.

Speaking of the Seminoles, Jameis Winston is now the clear-cut favorite for the Heisman. Johnny Manziel had a very poor game at LSU as did Bryce Petty against Oklahoma State. Florida State crushed Idaho, and Winston had 4 passing touchdowns. Boston College RB Andre Williams and Alabama QB A.J. McCarron are probably Winston’s biggest competition for the award.

Quickly, a few conference championship games are now set. Ohio State will square off with Michigan State in Indianapolis, and Arizona State will play Stanford for the Pac-12 Championship.

Weather
Dome

Injury report
Jay Cutler (ankle) is still sidelined, as are Lance Briggs (shoulder) and Jeremiah Ratliff (groin). Stephen Paea (toe) left last week’s game and is week to week, so he won’t play today. The Bears waived Jeremy Cain, so Patrick Mannelly (calf) will return in St. Louis. Isaiah Frey (hand), Jordan Mills (quad), and Shea McClellin (hamstring) are probable. Craig Steltz (head) is questionable. For the most part, St. Louis is healthy. G Harvey Dahl (knee) is out. Cortland Finnegan, who has struggled to the point where he’s now the Rams’ nickelback, is out for the season (eye). They do have S T.J. McDonald (knee) returning today.

Did you know?
The Bears have only committed four pass interference penalties all year long. Half of them came last week.

NFL Predictions
I had a great week last week going 5-1. To try and duplicate more of the same, I like San Francisco to knock off Washington, Baltimore to beat the Jets, Green Bay to sneak by Minnesota, New England to beat Denver, and for an upset, I think the Chargers will get by Kansas City. (25-21 on the year)

Players to Watch
Robert Quinn- When Robert Quinn left North Carolina for the NFL, he was heavily sought after by many professional teams. He fell to the Rams, and he has been a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators ever since. Quinn had a decent rookie season, but in his second year, he turned it on with 10 sacks. Already in 2013, he has 12.5 sacks. Chris Long, who plays the opposite DE spot for the Rams, has been a terror as well, which means Quinn gets a lot of one-on-one looks. The Bears did a fabulous job on Terrell Suggs last week, as he only managed to notch one tackle. They have to do more of the same today on Long but especially on Quinn.

Tavon Austin- Tavon Austin is another guy who was wanted by a lot of teams, but St. Louis snatched him up 9th overall in this past draft. Austin might be the fastest player in football. He has four touchdowns this year, but he has had three called back due to penalties that were out of his control. Two weeks ago, he caught two passes against the Colts and both went for long touchdowns. In the same game, he had a return for touchdown, too. Chicago has to limit Austin’s catches today. If he starts catching a lot of balls, it just increases the chances of a lot of long scores.

Jon Bostic- In my opinion, Jon Bostic is going to be the next great Bears linebacker. He made a tackle on Jacoby Ford last week that only a handful of linebackers in the league could make, where he ran sideline-to-sideline and limited the speedy Ford to a minimal gain of four yards. He also made a Brian Urlacheresque play against the Ravens where he ran stride-for-stride down the middle of the field with Dallas Clark and intercepted a Joe Flacco pass. Bostic is going to be important once again today. A place where Bostic has had some difficulty is in the straight-ahead run game. The Rams will give Zac Stacy a lot of carries today, and Bostic has to be all over him. Kellen Clemens isn’t very good, but any quarterback can dissect a defense if his running back is getting big chunks of yards at a time.

The Forecast
After their annihilation of the Colts, the Rams firmly believe that they can build off of it and get into the playoffs. As I said, Sam Bradford wasn’t playing all that well anyways, so whatever they can get from Kellen Clemens is considered a bonus for Jeff Fisher. Their defense is beginning to play better, as they only surrendered 8 points to Indianapolis and 14 to Seattle. Getting T.J. McDonald back will only help their cause. However, I believe the Bears will edge out a victory. There will be more Bears fans’ in attendance than Rams’ fans. Josh McCown is playing unbelievable football (and everyone should realize that this will end eventually), and the defense has given up only 61 points in the last three weeks; that is leaps and bounds better than the horseshit efforts that they were putting out there in the first eight weeks. Oh, and one more thing: when I’m in attendance for a road game, the Bears are 4-2. Bears 27-20. (6-4 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

St. Louis Bound

Bears at RamsMan, that Ravens game. With the circumstances and heady play of Josh McCown and the defense (when needed), that will go down as one of the most unique Bears games in my lifetime. I’ll have to write a whole story about that.

Today it’s time to head to St. Louis for what will undoubtedly be a great time, win or lose. As always, I’m sure the stadium will be packed with a large percentage of Chicago Bears fans. And I hope the score will be similar to the 2008 result (pictured).

Make sure to watch the Chicago Bears Facebook page for updates throughout the weekend.

Soldier Field Evacuation

Nine-minute video from under the stands during the Bears-Ravens game evacuation of the stands. Crazy, crazy day. I will never identify those doing the talking on this video. Enjoy.

The Forecast- Ravens vs Bears

It’s so strange how football works. One week the Bears look like they’re potentially the class of the division with a win in Green Bay, and the next they can’t even score 20 points at home. The Lions wanted to hand the Bears the win, but the Bears wouldn’t take it. Marc Trestman continued to let Jay Cutler play, despite being noticeably hobbled by an ankle (and groin) injury. Trestman also refused to take an easy three points in the first quarter when Michael Bush (in typical horseshit Michael Bush fashion) couldn’t gain a yard on the play. Trestman also didn’t have Brandon Marshall or Alshon Jeffery (who dropped two touchdowns during the game) in at the end on a potential game tying two-point conversion. Cutler’s red zone interception before the second quarter ended didn’t help the Bears’ cause and neither did the offensive line giving up pressure after pressure on Cutler and Josh McCown. The offensive line also generated nothing in the run game; Matt Forte only mustered 1.7 yards per carry. It was an all around brutal game to watch, whether you were a Chicago or Detroit fan. The effort will have to be much better today and throughout the remainder of the season, especially since the Panthers, 49ers and Packers are all strong contenders for the two wild card spots.

The defending Super Bowl Champions are next on the schedule. On that note, the ears should perk up of every player who dons the navy and orange. The Ravens have really had a rough ‘go’ of it this season. Understandably, they had to keep Joe Flacco and so the rest of the roster suffered. They were forced to trade Anquan Boldin for next to nothing. Defensively, they lost Ray Lewis to retirement, Dannell Ellerbe to Miami, and Paul Kruger to shitty ol’ Cleveland. TE Dennis Pitta was lost for the season before it almost began, who has always been Flacco’s favorite target. Flacco isn’t getting any help from his running game, either. Once again, Baltimore’s defense is the only reason that they’re somewhat competitive this year. They are giving up only 3.7 yards per carry, which ranks fifth in the NFL. They also have 32 sacks which ranks third. After a big win for the Ravens last weekend, the Bears have to be ready for a fight, because with a Baltimore win today, they are right in the thick of the AFC playoff picture.

College Football Recap
There wasn’t too much news today in major college football. Alabama squeaked out a victory at Mississippi State, Florida State put their distractions aside and creamed Syracuse, and Ohio State obliterated a pathetic Illinois team.

College Gameday went to Los Angeles for USC and Stanford, and it didn’t disappoint. Despite being thoroughly outplayed in the second half yardage wise, USC found a way and beat the Cardinal. Ed Orgeron continues to win himself into potentially getting the “interim” title removed.

The game of the day was in Auburn, Alabama. Georgia was losing by 17 to the now 9-1 Tigers in the second half, but the Bulldogs ended up taking the lead with two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter on a gutsy Aaron Murray touchdown scramble. Unfortunately, Georgia’s defense went for an interception on a desperation throw rather than a sure tackle or pass deflection. Auburn caught the prayer and took it 73 yards for the win. As a college football fan, I was thrilled. This sets up Alabama at Auburn in two weeks in what could force a dramatic shake-up in the BCS if Auburn can find a way to knock off the Crimson Tide.

Weather
The good news? Temperatures will somehow be in the mid-60’s. The bad news? It’s most likely going to be a monsoon, as rain will pass through around 1:00 and 25-35 mph winds are in the forecast throughout the afternoon.

Injury report
Just as fast as Jay Cutler came back from a groin tear, he’s back on the shelf for a few weeks again (ankle). On Wednesday, it was also announced that Charles Tillman (triceps) would miss the rest of the regular season. Shea McClellin (hamstring), Patrick Mannelly (calf), and newly acquired Jeremiah Ratliff (groin) remain out. Martellus Bennett is questionable (ankle), but if I’m a betting man, I think he plays today. The Ravens, meanwhile, seem to be pretty healthy. A few weeks ago, it was announced that G Kelechi Osemele (back) would be out for the remainder of the year. LB Daryl Smith (thigh), DT Haloti Ngata (knee), WR Marlon Brown (knee), CB Jimmy Smith (groin), S James Ihedigbo (toe), and CB Lardarius Webb (groin) are all questionable for today’s game. However, I would guess that most, if not all of them, will play.

Did you know?
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery have combined for 1,521 yards this season. No other wide receiving duo has more.

NFL Predictions
I’m finally over .500. This weekend, I think the Saints, Broncos, Giants, Raiders, and Patriots all get wins. (21-20 on the year)

Players to Watch
Torrey Smith- Truly, Torrey Smith is the Ravens’ only weapon on the outside. As I mentioned earlier, Dennis Pitta is out for the season and Anquan Boldin now plays for the 49ers. Marlon Brown, Joe Flacco’s only other true wideout, is an undrafted free agent. Smith isn’t a great wide receiver by any means. He didn’t record more than 860 yards or 8 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, but he is on pace for 1,000+ yards this year. Smith might be one of the fastest players in the game. With news breaking this week about Charles Tillman’s season ending injury and the fact that Chicago has been very poor against the pass, Smith has a great chance of going above 80 yards today, something he hasn’t done since October 6.

Ray Rice- Ray Rice has been pretty bad this year. His offensive line isn’t very good to begin with, but Rice has so much talent that can typically hide the flaws of his line. This year, it hasn’t happened that way. He’s averaging an abysmal 2.5 yards per carry and has only found the endzone three times on the ground. It’s gotten so bad that coach John Harbaugh is going to start splitting carries between Rice and his back-up, Bernard Pierce. Unfortunately for Harbaugh, Pierce has been equally as bad this season. Fortunately for Harbaugh, Henry Melton tore up his knee, so the Bears’ run defense is giving up 4.5 yards per carry (fifth worst) and 129 yards per game (fourth worst).

Terrell Suggs- With the Ravens struggles so far, there has been a lot of talk about Terrell Suggs being over the hill, past his prime, and missing the aforesaid Paul Kruger, Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe. Clearly, those same people haven’t watched one Baltimore game so far this season, because Suggs is his typical, game-chaning self. Suggs has 9 sacks this year, which means he’s on pace for his best season ever in the sack column as a professional. The wet field will help the Bears contain Suggs, but Jermon Bushrod and Jordan Mills have their work cut out for then.

Julius Peppers- It seems like every week I have Julius Peppers on here, but it just shows how important he is to this defense. He’s only made a true impact in two games so far in 2013, and the Bears won both. Last week against a young offensive line, he once again did nothing. The Ravens are tied for fourth worst in the league in sacks given up (30) and eighth worst in quarterback hits given up (53). Peppers has an opportunity to have a solid game today, but I’m not going to get my hopes up, thanks to his unfathomable poor season and the weather.

The Forecast
Take my word for it—I had a great year last two years picking these games; I was 11-5 and 13-3, respectively. Sadly, the Bears injury situation as well as their miserable play that pops up every now and again has really hurt my chances of a third straight decent year. It’s not going to get easier for me again today, because this is another toss-up. The Bears are probably the better team this year, but the Ravens are coming off of a big win in overtime against the AFC North leading Bengals. However, that game was their whole season; they needed a victory or their already-slim chances of a repeat were over. The Bears, meanwhile, finally had a stellar defensive outing but still managed to lose a home game against a divisional foe. Another reason for such uncertainty is the weather. It’s going to be nearly impossible to make a field goal past 35 yards and to reach a rhythm in the passing game. The Bears need a win. With one today, they would advance to 6-4 with games against St. Louis and Minnesota on the horizon, two games where the talent level will heavily favor Chicago. The veterans on this team have to realize that moving to 5-5 is going to put them in a hole that will be too deep to dig themselves out of. Bears 17-14. (5-4 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)

Rooting for Bears to Lose?

No, I don’t seriously mean that, but read on.

What a crazy season it’s been. The Bears rally in the final minutes to win their first two games, then survive a comeback at Pittsburgh to start 3-0. They lose handily to New Orleans, survive another comeback to beat the Giants. They score 41 points and lose to a reeling Redskins team. They beat Green Bay for the first time in six attempts, but come up short in two rallies to be swept by Detroit for the first time in six years.

The Bears stand 5-4 with seven games remaining. Unless the Lions start falling on their own (Detroit owns the first tiebreaker over the Bears), they will win the division for the first time in, well, ever. In order for the Bears to have any shot at the wildcard against Green Bay, Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Carolina, you have to think they have to finish with a 5-2 record at worst.

So why do I say “rooting for the Bears to lose” this week, which I’m really not? The best two games for the Bears to lose the rest of the season are against Baltimore and Cleveland, their remaining AFC opponents. Obviously, finishing 7-0 is preferred. But unlikely even for the most optimistic fans to believe.

It has been interesting. But not as interesting as the 2013 off-season will be, with over 30 players not under contract.

The Forecast- Lions vs Bears

Sometimes, I love being wrong. This is one of those cases. The Bears went up to Lambeau Field and beat the Packers in a game between two back-up quarterbacks. Luckily, Josh McCown actually deserves to pick up a check every week while Seneca Wallace does not. McCown managed the game perfectly, and my lone Bears player to watch, Matt Forte, dominated on the ground yet again against a stellar Packers’ run defense. I won’t go as far as saying that if Shea McClellin does nothing else in his career as a Chicago Bear, at least he gave the Bears a shot at winning the NFC North this season, but it could be huge going forward. It may even give McClellin some confidence in the coming weeks. With news that Aaron Rodgers is out for at least three weeks with a broken collarbone, this divisional race may come down to the Bears and Lions.

Before I get to the Lions, I want to get something off of my chest. THE BEARS DID NOT GET “LUCKY” ON MONDAY NIGHT.
–The Bears hurt Aaron Rodgers. It wasn’t like he sprained his ankle a week ago, or he was running on Monday and somehow came up limping. McClellin broke his stupid collarbone. Period.
–The Bears were without their quarterback (Cutler), an All-Pro outside linebacker (Briggs), and one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the NFL (Melton). Charles Tillman also was not 100 percent. Had the Packers one, I bet there wouldn’t be any “lucky” discussions.
–Does Rodgers play defense?

Let’s move on now. Speaking of the Lions, those hooligans are in town today. The Lions are coming off of a big come from behind win against the Cowboys and then a bye week, and their offense is very dangerous. Detroit’s offensive line is giving the ever-pudgy Matthew Stafford just enough time to find Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew, and Kris Durham, and as usual, the Lions defensive line continues to pressure the quarterback. Ndamukong Suh’s stats don’t show it, but he has been flat out dominant this year, and Nick Fairley is that much better with teams giving Suh the majority of their focus. Given that their tackles have been so good, no one can say the same about their ends. Teams have been running to the edges and averaging more than 5 yards per carry. Today is going to be a battle on the Lakefront, and after Chicago’s big win in Green Bay, this has the potential to be the game of the week across the whole NFL.

College Football Recap
Going back to Thursday, there were three great college football games. Baylor hosted Oklahoma, Oregon traveled down to Stanford, and LSU made the short flight to Tuscaloosa. In a way, all of the games were disappointing. Baylor crushed the Sooners, and the Cardinal dominated Oregon for three quarters. In the grand finale, Alabama obliterated LSU and seems like the clear favorite to win the national championship.

Johnny Manziel had another unreal performance. He continues to impress everyone, and with Oregon’s loss and FSU’s blowout, it seems like he may be inching toward a second straight Heisman trophy.

Weather
It should be a perfect November day for football. Temperatures will stay in the 40’s and the skies will be totally clear. Wind may be a small factor.

Injury report
Chris Mortensen reported on Monday that Jay Cutler (groin) would likely start today, and he was right. Cutler is back. The aforementioned Shea McClellin, however, tweaked his hamstring in practice on Wednesday and is doubtful. Joe Anderson (chest/groin) was put on injured reserve during the week, so he is done for the remainder of the year. Patrick Mannelly will miss today’s game (calf), and that is very rare for him. On the other side of the field, WR Nate Burleson remains out (arm) for the Lions. DE Ziggy Ansah (ankle), Starting RT Corey Hilliard (knee) and CB Bill Bentley (knee) are all doubtful. RB Reggie Bush (knee), WR Calvin Johnson (knee), and S Louis Delmas (knee) are probable.

Did you know?
The Bears’ offensive line has only committed one false start this year. The Giants, Colts, and Dolphins are tied for second with four.

NFL Predictions
We’re in the home stretch. I’d like to finish above .500 for the year. To turn it around, give me the Broncos in a blowout against the Charges, 49ers to crush the Panthers, Saints to knock off the Cowboys, and for two upsets, the Ravens over the Bengals and the Falcons to top the Seahawks. (18-18 on the year)

Players to Watch
Calvin Johnson- Once again, Calvin Johnson is having a monster season. He has 821 yards on just 47 receptions, which comes out to 17.5 yards per catch. He has 7 touchdowns, too. In the last meeting with Detroit, the Bears held him to only 44 yards on 4 receptions. It would be absolutely huge to hold Johnson to that again, because anytime you can take a team’s best player out the game it greatly benefits your chances of winning, obviously. It won’t be easy and I’m not counting on it (thanks a lot, Chris Conte).

Reggie Bush- Everyone now knows that the Bears’ run defense is awful, so I expect Reggie Bush to get a lot of touches today, on the ground and through the air. It won’t be as easy for Bush this time on the Soldier Field sod, as it always seems to negate some speed and cutting ability for the shiftier players in football. Bush has only gone for more than 92 yards once this year, and that was against the Bears. Bush and Johnson are the Lions two most explosive players, and so with just some containment, Detroit’s offense could struggle.

Julius Peppers- Maybe it’s a night game thing. In Pittsburgh, Julius Peppers had a fumble recovery for a touchdown, and in Green Bay, he had an interception and a sack. If it is, he will probably struggle today, since it is a noon start. However, his only other sack this year came against Detroit. In fact, he has 12 sacks and 6 forced fumbles in 11 career games against the Lions. As I said, Shea McClellin won’t play today, but even if he had, I wasn’t going to predict that he would have another great game. The Bears need Peppers today to slow down Detroit’s well-oiled offensive machine. A sack or two and a solid game in run defense, where the Bears really struggled the last time these two teams met, will do the trick. Keep in mind that Detroit’s offensive line has only given up 10 sacks this year, and that is the best in football.

The Forecast
This is yet another game that can go either way. The Lions got the best of the Bears back in September, but the Bears got crushed in the turnover battle and they only lost by 8. Detroit is a solid team this year. Proof of that is the fact that they haven’t Detroit Lion’d a game…yet. Ndamukong Suh hasn’t tried to commit homicide so far and Jim Schwartz hasn’t pissed down his leg up to now. For Chicago, it sure would be nice to win this one with three straight winnable contests ahead. The good feelings from the win in Green Bay with the addition of the excitement of Cutler’s return and a little homefield advantage mixed in is the difference today. Bears 33-30. (5-3 on the year)

-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)