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Vikings at Bears preview: Who’s bad?

The Vikings were bad last week. The Bears have been bad all year. Is anyone in the NFL good anymore?

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NFL: Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Jay is back. Will he be badder than ever?
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

I haven’t led my weekly preview article with a song parody for over a month. So here goes, even though exactly zero of you were clamoring for more.

“Football’s Bad” (to the tune of “Bad” by Michael Jackson)

Your butt is tired
You watch every night
Although you know
Something ain’t right
I’m telling you
On how I feel
These games are like
Watching paint peel

[Sha-mon, dah, sha-mon, lay it on me, dah, alright]

I’m giving you
Crap on TV
It’s Jacksonville
Against Tennessee
I’m telling you
AFC South
Will make vomit
Come out your mouth

But you’re still gonna watch it
Just like you always do
But my friend you ain’t seen nothing
Just wait a week or two!

Because it’s bad, it’s bad, come on
[Really really bad]
Football’s bad, it’s bad, you know it
[Really really bad]
You know it’s bad, it’s bad, come on, you know
[Really really bad]
And the whole world has to answer right now
Why the hell do we still watch?!
It’s bad!

The word is out
Something is wrong
Ratings disappear
Before too long
It might get worse
On Monday night
The Vikes can’t block
Bears have no fight
There’s no highlights
Just ‘C’mon Man!’
Maybe it’s time
To change up our plans

The Bears are straight rebuilding
Half the Vikes are on IR
Should be out trick-or-treating
Instead? Well here we are

Because it’s bad, it’s bad, come on
[Really really bad]
Football’s bad, it’s bad, you know it
[Really really bad]
You know it’s bad, it’s bad, you know it, you know
[Really really bad]
And the whole world has to answer right now
Why the hell do we still watch?!
It’s bad!

If there has been one overlying theme of the 2016 NFL season, it has been the poor quality of play. There have been hundreds of think pieces posted in the past several months explaining why the NFL is allegedly getting worse. Some think it has to do with age because teams are opting for younger, cheaper players over veterans with more experience. Others think that the league can’t sustain all the injuries to star players—as these elite athletes keep getting faster and stronger on the same God-given ligaments, the ACL and Achilles tears are only going to get worse. (Not to mention the Pandora’s box of concussions that has only recently been opened.)

Perhaps the college game is to blame. All the spread offenses are leaving players ill-equipped for the pro game, especially along the offensive line. Since the offenses tend to be affected more by the lack of preparedness from the college ranks, defenses are starting to dominate in a way that we haven’t seen for years. These low-scoring battles aren’t intrinsically bad but they aren’t aesthetically pleasing to the casual fan that might have more rooting interest in their fantasy teams than anything else.

Or maybe it’s just all in our head. The “NFL is in decline” narrative has been around for years yet football is still a ratings juggernaut that annually dwarfs all other sports. That said, NFL ratings are down across the board this year. The declines are most significant in the nationally televised Thursday, Sunday, and Monday night games.

So why are they down? The obvious answer is that the prime time games have been particularly atrocious this season. Outside of the season opener, the first two Sunday night games, and that Colts/Texans game that was good only because both teams were so comically bad, the contests have been snooze fests. All but one of the Monday Night Football games have been boat races. A combination of bad matchups and bad luck has sabotaged the NFL’s schedule of “marquee” games this year.

Another easy explanation is the election cycle. No matter what you think about each Presidential candidate, the mudslinging and mean mugging make for captivating television. The future of our nation is Trumping the future of our most popular sport.

Or maybe the explanation has less to do with football and more to do with our modern viewing habits. During my radio appearance in Fargo last week, we briefly talked about the the declining NFL ratings. I joked that it was simply because there are a lot of good things on Netflix these days. But in reality, that’s kind of true. Even the most popular television shows today draw a fraction of the audience that most network shows did a decade or two ago. Our eyeballs are constantly being pulled in different directions to different screens to satiate shorter attention spans. Besides, the ratings couldn’t just keep increasing the perpetuity. The league may have hit its saturation point with the viewing public. Newton’s laws apply to the NFL too.

Even if you can explain away the ratings downturn, the vitriol for the play quality isn’t going away. After all, this is the Age of Twitter; snark and sarcasm conquer all. It feels like we’re all turning into Stan from South Park on his 10th birthday—everything we used to enjoy looks and sounds like sh*t. Gregg Easterbrook, who used to write his Tuesday Morning Quarterback column for ESPN, wrote a book over ten years ago titled The Progress Paradox. The basic theme was that while quality of life has improved by leaps and bounds over the past century, people are generally less happy overall. Perhaps the Age of Twitter is the ultimate culmination of the progress paradox. We have everything at our fingertips and yet we choose to anonymously hurl insults at everything we see. Technology is slowly ruining us. BLACK MIRROR ISN’T SCIENCE FICTION, IT’S PROPHECY!

So in summary, things probably aren’t as bad as they seem, but we still assume that everything sucks. What a perfect way to transition to the Minnesota Vikings!

All our fears about the team during their 5-0 start showed up simultaneously in Philadelphia last week. The turnovers the Vikings had previously avoided appeared in bunches. The porous offensive line got Sam Bradford hit nearly every other time he dropped back. Sam handled that pressure much worse than he had in his first four games. Even the team’s most reliable scoring threats—defensive and special teams touchdowns—couldn’t come through last week. The Vikings went from serious contenders to paper tigers over the course of 60 minutes. All the warts were exposed.

No wart was bigger than the pass protection. The interior wasn’t terrible, but it was a comedy of errors by nearly everyone else that had a blocking assignment. The second strip-sack of Bradford on Sunday epitomized the futility.

Jake Long, Jeremiah Sirles, T.J. Clemmings, Matt Asiata, and Ronnie Hillman all played major roles in the debacle. But it isn’t like the Eagles were the first team to expose this fatal flaw in the Vikings. So why did the Vikings barely run any quick-hit passes like this until their sole touchdown drive in garbage time?

Simply put, that’s on Norv Turner. You don’t add extra blockers when nobody is capable of blocking; you get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as quickly as possible. Also, can we all agree that the rotating tackle experiment was an abject failure? That approach seemed to confuse Long, Sirles, and Clemmings just as much as the viewing audience. Surely I wasn’t the only one screaming this at my television on Sunday. (Albeit with lots more expletives.)

While the Bears’ pass rush is nowhere near as potent as Philadelphia’s, don’t expect smooth sailing for the Vikings this week. For starters, Pernell McPhee is back. He played only 19 snaps in his season debut against the Packers last Thursday but it sounds like he should be a lot closer to full strength by Monday. When McPhee is healthy, he can do things like this against “first string” Vikings tackles:

Pernell McPhee sack

Imagine what he might do to whatever mirage/hologram/phantasmagoria the Vikings try to put in front of him on Sunday.

We shouldn’t focus all our attention on the pass blocking, lest we forget about how awful the rushing attack has been all year. Sunday was the Vikings’ best day of the season running the ball in terms of yards per carry. But clearing that bar took the equivalent of a bunny hop on a Razor scooter. Here are the Vikings’ yards per carry by game so far:

Tennesee: 2.91
Green Bay: 1.36
Carolina: 2.42
New York: 3.15
Houston: 2.59
Philadelphia: 3.44

For reference, the league average this season is 4.17 yards per carry. Which means last week was the first time the Vikings came within a yard of the league average. There have been some signs of improvement in recent weeks, but there needs to be a lot more in order to help ease the pressure on the passing game.

But enough about the woes of a 5-1 team that still has one of the very best defenses in the NFL. I have been prattling on for nearly 1,500 words about bad football and I have barely mentioned the 1-6 Chicago Bears. Talk about burying the lede!

Yes, the Bears are bad. They’re in much worse shape than the Vikings, as one might expect from glancing at the standings. But they aren’t that bad. Chicago is tied for the second worst record in the league yet they aren’t even in the bottom ten of DVOA. The Bears are 16th in total offense and 12th in total defense per game. Most advanced metrics have them more toward the middle of the pack instead of the bottom.

What’s killing the Bears thus far is finishing drives. Chicago ranks 11th in yards per drive yet they’re dead last in points per drive. If you thought people were upset with Turner, you should see what Chicago fans have been saying about new Offensive Coordinator Dowell Loggains all year. As far as I can tell from the film I watched, their red zone strategy seems to be:

  1. Run around aimlessly
  2. Chuck the ball up to a well-covered Alshon Jeffery or Cameron Meredith
  3. Hope for the best
  4. Attempt a field goal

Jay Cutler and Jeremy Langford are both scheduled to come back this week, but I don’t anticipate their returns being a huge boon for what’s ailing the Bears offense. The Eagles defense demolished the Bears in Chicago when both players were on the field in Week 2, so one could anticipate similar struggles against an equally formidable Vikings D.

Ah yes, that wonderful Mike Zimmer defense. The one beacon of hope that shines through all the negativity surrounding the Vikings after last week’s loss. They can keep the team in any game. As long as all the bad things don’t rear their ugly heads at the same time again this week, the Vikings should be just fine. The Zim Reapers are bad football repellent—just a spray a day keeps the bad season away.

All is not lost with the offense either. There are still reasons to believe the line could improve as the season goes on, even without the Joe Thomas or Joe Staley pipe dreams. (Arif said it, so it must be true.) Hopefully Norv can remember that less is more when it comes to Bradford’s dropbacks and time with the ball. And just maybe the running game can get going enough to make play action slightly believable. In a season plagued by so much bad play, there are still plenty of reasons to think the Vikings are good. Looking around the league, even the best teams in the league this year have serious flaws.

When you think about it, wouldn’t it be kind of fitting if the Vikings made a deep playoff run in the year the NFL was most remembered for being bad? It almost makes too much sense. I can see it now—the Vikings win the division by default because the Packers can’t ever get their shit together and the Lions go Full Lions. Minnesota’s defense keeps bailing them out and winning ugly games with three times the amount of field goals and turnovers as touchdowns. They eke out a 13-9 win revenge game over the Seahawks in the NFC Championship Game to face Tom Brady in his last Super Bowl with the Patriots...

OK now I’m really getting ahead of myself here. First thing’s first—the Vikings have to beat the bad team across from them on Monday night in a place that has been historically bad for them. If they can take care of business against the Bears in Chicago, perhaps we can step away from the ledge and realize that this team still has the potential to do some damage.



Vikings 23, Bears 16

(I’m also making this my Survivor Pool pick of the week, now 6-1 on the year after Green Bay took care of the Bears last week. I look forward to reading about how I just jinxed everything in the comments.)

And now for the rest of my Week 8 NFL picks (home teams in ALL CAPS):

TITANS over Jaguars

What’s bad: Blake Bortles has a career record of 2-14 on the road. One of those wins was two weeks ago against the Bears.

BENGALS over Redskins

What’s bad: Any possible combination of these two teams’ uniforms is going to look hideous. It will look like a sofa from the 1970’s threw up all over the field.

Patriots over BILLS

What’s bad: The Patriots might be the only truly good team in the NFL. You know, because the Boston area totally needs another championship run.

BROWNS over Jets

What’s bad: Literally everything about this game. These are the bottom two teams in the league in DVOA. (And the fact that I’m actually picking an abysmal 0-7 team to win is just as bad.)

Lions over TEXANS

What’s bad: Thanks to Matt Stafford actually playing better without Calvin Johnson, the Vikings might have to fend off two teams for the NFC North crown.

Chiefs over COLTS

What’s bad: Andy Reid is far and away one of the best head coaches in the NFL right now, which means making jokes about him is tougher these days.

Raiders over BUCCANEERS

What’s bad: Oakland could make the playoffs without actually having to defeat a good team all year.

Seahawks over SAINTS

What’s bad: Seattle has failed to score a touchdown in half of their games so far. They’re still the Vegas favorites to win the NFC.

PANTHERS over Cardinals

What’s bad: This NFC Championship Game rematch was supposed to be one of the games of the season. And even though Carolina’s secondary is a mess, I don’t think Carson Palmer can consistently beat them anymore.

BRONCOS over Chargers

What’s bad: With C.J. Anderson’s status in question, the jamoke in your league that picked up Devontae Booker is probably going to beat you this week.

FALCONS over Packers


COWBOYS over Eagles

What’s bad: We’re exactly five weeks away from smug Cowboys fans with all the confidence in the world invading US Bank Stadium and telling us how it’s just a cheap ripoff of JerryWorld.

Last week: 8-5-1
Season so far: 63-42-1