Scheduling, the Pats D, the Bears, McNabb and much more this week.
Athlon's Steven Lassan, Nathan Rush and Braden Gall debate five burning questions for Week 4 in the NFL:
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1. An 18-game regular season looks to be all but certain. Should the NFL change its current scheduling format?
Braden: An 18-game schedule would be incredibly brutal on the players. Yet, my bleeding heart does not go out to someone making millions of dollars to play a sport. Unfortunately, anyone who has a job is a simple commodity and bottom lines dictate the value, direction and usage of personnel. If the fans want more games and the finances show that it is a fiscally viable decision for all parties involved, then give us more football! Of course, cutting down on preseason games doesn't hurt either.
Steven: I’d prefer to keep the current schedule in place and not add two regular season games. Cutting down the preseason isn’t a bad idea, but this means fewer players will have an opportunity to earn their way onto the roster. With only two preseason games, teams will play their starters more than we see with four preseason contests. I think there are also even more concerns about the competitiveness of games early and late in the season. If two more regular season games are created, would we see teams resting their starters early in the year to save them for a run at the playoffs? Adding two regular season games extends the calendar even more, making it a longer season for fans, coaches and players. With 16 regular season games and the playoffs, the NFL has a good scheduling model, and it’s easy for fans to hold interest. No matter what happens with the schedule, I’m still going to watch the NFL every Sunday, but why change what is currently a great format?
Nathan: An 18-game schedule is ridiculous. I didn’t know that Bill Polian played Madden — or that he testified to the National Press Club this week. These players are human. They are “not automobiles,” “not machines,” as Ray Lewis has said on record. Speaking of schedule expansion, no one gives O.J. Simpson credit for rushing for 2,000 yards in 14 games rather than 16. That’s the most impressive single-season rushing record.
2. After wins over Dallas and Green Bay, what is to be expected from the 2010 Chicago Bears?
Braden: The Bears are literally 3-4 plays away from being 0-3. The call on Calvin Johnson's TD in week 1 was atrocious and cost the Lions a win. The fumble on Monday night is the only thing that stopped the Packers from retaking the lead and winning that game too. Jay Cutler clearly has made improvements and having Brian Urlacher healthy again makes this team a playoff contender. However, Cutler still made some terrible decisions on MNF (and got away with most of them) and Mike Martz still has no desire to run the football. And how long will Julius Peppers stay this motivated? How deep can that combination take you into the playoffs?
Steven: So far, so good for Chicago. The wins over Dallas and Green Bay were impressive and if the Bears can get by the Giants on Sunday, the schedule is favorable with Carolina, Seattle and Washington before the bye week to think about a 7-0 record. Mike Martz was a risky hire, but the offense has been solid through three games and as long as Jay Cutler stays healthy behind a bad offensive line, the Bears will have a chance to contend for a wild card spot. Although the Bears defeated Green Bay on Monday night, I still believe the Packers are the team to beat in the NFC North.
Nathan: The Bears are legit. Jay Cutler is a good quarterback. Mike Martz is just crazy enough. The defense added Julius Peppers (free agency) and Brian Urlacher (injury). If Chicago doesn’t make the playoffs, it should be considered a letdown.
3. What is wrong with the Patriots defense?
Braden: The Pats have made their living on trading elite level defenders just before they either need a new contract or start to decline in production. It has been an excellent business model. Names like Ty Law, Asante Samuels, Mike Vrabel and Richard Seymour were all moved supposedly just ahead of the curve. However, you cannot continually cut, trade or let walk premium NFL players for years on end and somehow continue to produce Super Bowl-caliber defenses. There is plenty of young talent on this defense — Mayo, Meriweather, Chung — but it might take some time to return to elite status. Injuries early this year have not helped, either.
Steven: The Patriots had several question marks with this defense going into this year, so the early struggles aren’t a surprise. The defense lost cornerback Leigh Bodden and end Ty Warren in the preseason to season-ending injuries, and a cast of young players has been asked to fill the void. Ron Brace is getting the start at one of the end spots, and the secondary has three options to start at cornerback – Kyle Arrington, Darius Butler and Devin McCourty – and each has less than three years of experience in the NFL. The linebacking corps is talented, but a couple of inexperienced players also seeing significant time as well. There’s a lot of young talent to like on this team, but with inexperienced players comes inconsistency.
Nathan: Nothing is wrong with the Patriots defense that the Raiders’ first-round pick (via the Richard Seymour trade of 2009) can’t solve. Who will buy a house in Boston? LSU corner-returner Patrick Peterson? Or maybe Ohio State beast Cameron Heyward? Either way, the Patriots have a plan and won’t be down for long.
4. If you were Mike McCarthy, would you have let the Bears score on the last drive of the game Monday night?
Braden: On first down, no. On second down, maybe not. But on third down, with no timeouts, you are basically giving them a 99% chance of winning the game (how many extra points are missed in the NFL each year?) if you do not let them score. The Packers offense had not been stopped — at least not by the Bears' defense — so they would have had a decent opportunity to score to tie the game.
Steven: Yes – McCarthy should have let the Bears score on the last drive. You never know what could happen in a game – there could be a fumble or a bad snap by the center – but Green Bay owns one of the best offenses in the league and a getting a touchdown with a minute to go isn’t unreasonable. If the ball is around the 30, there’s no way I let them score. However, the Bears had the ball inside of the five and the Packers should have let them get into the end zone, then take their chances with Aaron Rodgers having one last chance to tie.
Nathan: No. Play football. Put a helmet on the ball. Force a turnover. I’m sorry, don’t the Packers play in the black-and-blue division? They’re the wanna-be Colts, but still. That division has been and should be tough. It’s not like Jay Cutler wasn’t throwing picks or taking sacks. Play football. But don’t go helmet-to-helmet on the quarterback and don’t tackle the receiver before the ball arrives. Committing 18 penalties for 152 lost yards is what killed the Packers.
5. In a city where tasers, puke and Santa Claus have reigned supreme, what will happen this weekend when Donovan McNabb walks into Lincoln Financial with a Redskins uniform on?
Braden: I have said it before and I will say it again: Within the home city, with the home fans, McNabb is the single most underrated player in the history of American sports. He is a borderline Hall of Famer who had very little offensive support but still managed to lead a team to the Super Bowl — and almost won it. I believe there will actually be more cheers than boos, but those that boo tend to be a little more raucous than those that cheer.
Steven: Considering the incidents mentioned in the question, nothing would surprise me when McNabb steps onto the field Sunday afternoon. Although some Philadelphia fans will boo McNabb, I think he will get a warm reception – even though he was never fully appreciated during his time in an Eagle uniform. McNabb led the team to eight playoff berths in 11 year, but never seemed embraced by the fan base. Although I expect McNabb to get a good reception by the fans in pregame, once the game kicks off, it’s the Eagles vs. Redskins and the fans at Lincoln Financial will be cheering against him and for a Philadelphia victory.
Nathan: Donovan was booed as an Eagle. He will be booed as a Redskin. But how will Kevin Kolb be treated when he goes out to dinner after Philly beats Washington? Mike Vick will be lionized. Kolb? Depends on the crowd, the restaurant and his reservations. If he’s lucky, no one will recognize him. Otherwise, he might get Santa Claus treatment from the Philly fanatics.
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