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Ten Thoughts on the NFL: Super Wildcard Extravaganza

Bears have the number one pick, love for Lovie, wildcard picks and more

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

1 – We’re #1

The Chicago Bears have the number one pick in the draft. They have the most cap space in the league by a wide margin. The Chicago Bears will own the 2023 off-season. You know when there’s a rumor of a player on the trade block or a good player hitting free agency and fans want to know if that player could be a target for the Bears? The answer to all of those questions is yes, with very few exceptions. The Bears need help at virtually every position group so look for them to add many contributors along both lines, in the wide receiver corps, a running back, a tight end, a linebacker, and a corner. There will be a lot of heavy lifting.

I would also be surprised if Ryan Poles doesn’t trade out of the first pick to build more draft capital. Maybe there’s a massive deal out there that will set the Bears up for multiple drafts. Maybe it’s a smaller deal that allows Poles fill a few additional gaps. Either way, I just don’t think it’s in the best interest of the organization to sink the capital into one player, as good as the top non-quarterbacks might be. If he can’t find a trade partner and takes a guy like Jalen Carter or Will Anderson, I won’t be too upset (those are great prospects) but I will lament the opportunity cost of adding more talent to this roster.

2 – Thanks, Lovie!

That was fun. Lovie Smith’s Texans were in the driver’s seat for the #1 overall pick just a few weeks ago. They started to play tough, competitive football, taking the Cowboys and Chiefs the distance before knocking off the Titans in Week 16. Heading into the final week, a Texans win and a Bears loss would give the Bears that top pick.

Everything looked good until Davis Mills suddenly turned into a pumpkin, throwing two interceptions late in the 3rd quarter, surrendering the lead. Then, on the last drive of the season, the Texans converted a 4th and long to extend the drive followed by the most ridiculous conversion on 4th and 20 for a TD. Mills’s throw, a desperation heave in the general direction of the end zone, went through the hands of the Colts defender and into the surprised arms of Jordan Atkins. The Texans then went for two and took the lead. One of the most insane sequences of plays you’ll ever see in a football game and I’m truly happy for Lovie Smith to stick it to the Texans organization on his way out the door. His players kept playing the entire year and played motivated football until the very end. Bravo, Sir.

The loss for Indianapolis pushes them up to the 4th overall pick and in range to jump the division-rival Texans for the QB of their choice. The Colts have had a revolving door at QB, a motivated GM with a toasty warm seat to get something done, and an owner ready to get involved if necessary. I don’t know what odds Vegas would give for the Colts to trade up with the Bears, but I’d probably lay a chip on it.

3 - <3

All love for Damar Hamlin and the medical professionals who saved his life. He’s alive, talking, and moving around after the most terrifying of moments a week ago.

I bristle when people say football is “just a game” – usually said in a dismissive or derogatory way – because it’s really so much more. For one, it’s a multi-billion-dollar entertainment juggernaut, but let’s leave that for another time. Football, if I can be romantic for just a minute, in many ways is like our country: tough, violent, creative, and often beautiful.

I was fortunate enough to play the game in my younger days, which enhanced my love for it through direct experience, my hand in the dirt, as they say. It taught me many lessons and I can say with certainty that without football, I wouldn’t be where I am today. So, for me at least, football is much more than “just a game.” But what I love most about football is the community that embraces the game from all the different angles that football has to offer. From the X’s and O’s and schematic strategy to Hall of Fame player career arcs and underdog stories to the fantasy and gambling element. Wherever you come from and however you approach the game, there’s room for you in this community. And that community, by and large, coalesced in support for Hamlin, his family, and the players on the field. In a time where few things bring us together, it’s nice to see our humanity show up when needed most.

4 – Seahawks at 49ers

The Seahawks are one of the most surprising stories of the 2022 season. Geno Smith came out of nowhere to have a Pro Bowl season, Kenneth Walker III topped 1,000 yards on the ground in his rookie season, and Pete Carroll laughed in the face of all who thought they’d compete for the #1 overall pick in next year’s draft (as I slowly disappear into the bushes). They needed an overtime win against the Rams followed by a Lions victory over the Packers to get them into the dance but a playoff appearance is a great result for this squad. Their reward? A trip to San Francisco…

The 49ers are once again a threat to make a deep run in the playoffs. Trey Lance only lasted a few plays into the first meeting with the Seahawks before suffering a season-ending injury. Jimmy G came in and guided the 9ers to a competitive 7-4 mark before suffering an injury of his own. In steps rookie Brock Purdy who calmly finishes off the Dolphins before stringing together five wins as a starter. The 49ers are the team that no one wants to play because they can make it work on offense through a bevy of playmakers and their defense can be the best in the league at any given time. It’s actually a pretty incredible story and I will not pick against them in this round or (spoiler alert) next round.

Prediction: 49ers by 2 scores

5 – Chargers at Jaguars

In many ways, this is the best game of the weekend. The Chargers had high expectations entering the year and while a 5 seed is nothing to sneeze at, they had hopes of knocking Kansas City from their perch. Not so fast as the Chargers midseason swoon and inability to finish games against their division rival led them to a road game against the Jags. We got this game back in Week 3 when the Jags took the Chargers to the woodshed for a 38-10 drubbing.

The Jags won five straight to end the year, including a sweep of the Titans, to capture the AFC South crown and earn their way into the show. They’re playing good football and can certainly win this game. In fact, despite opening as a home underdog, I think the smart money is on the Jags here as the Chargers haven’t proven enough of anything to earn the benefit of the doubt in big games. However, I don’t always bet smart money. In the playoffs, games often come down to mismatches and quarterbacks. Trevor Lawrence versus Justin Herbert could be something we see a lot of in years to come but right now, in this moment, I like Herbert more.

Prediction: Bolt up by 3

6 – Dolphins at Bills

So, the Bills don’t get a bye week but they get the next best thing – a wounded Dolphins team. Losers of five straight heading into the finale, the Dolphins pulled out a thrilling 11-6 win over the Jets. Don’t let that score fool you – two of those points were from a last second safety! U – G – L – Y.

The Bills are the better team, the Dolphins are a broken team, and the Bills will send them swiftly into the off season. Nothing to see here, folks. Move along.

Prediction: Bills by all the points

7 – Giants at Vikings

Brian freaking Daboll. What a great coaching job by him this year and as the former president of his fan club, I’m proud of this effort. The Giants did not look like a team ready to win a lot of football games and he certainly outperformed expectations. He created a viable offense out of Danny Dimes and the resurgent Saquon Barkley. They’re tough, but the road likely stops here.

As much as I’d love to bury the Vikings right now, the Giants just don’t have enough pieces to go on the road in the playoffs and beat a competent team. The NFC is weak and this is not an endorsement of the Vikings, but the purple will move on. Look for them to get crushed in SF the following week.

Prediction: Vikings by 4

8 – Ravens at Bengals

The Bengals are a really good football team. They proved to all of their doubters that last year wasn’t a fluke. They absolutely could make another run back to the big game and if they do, they’d likely be the favorite against the NFC opponent. They draw their division-rivals who haven’t scored more than 17 points since late November. Don’t overthink this one – the Bengals offense is running on all cylinders right now and their defense is better than people give them credit for.

Prediction: Bengals by 2 scores

9 – Cowboys at Buccaneers

Is this Tom Brady’s last game? Probably not, as there are already rumors of him playing in Vegas or maybe even finding a way to worm his way into SF. However, I do think this will be it in Tampa. We keep waiting for the Bucs to wake up from their season-long slumber, but one drive to save the season at Arizona on Christmas and a Mike Evans explosion against the Panthers isn’t enough to impress me that this team can do it.

The Cowboys are flawed and the highest variance team in the field. Literally the team that could stomp or be stomped by all of the remaining teams. They’re so weird! When it comes down to it though, this is a Cowboys team that made Philly sweat out the division until Week 18 and has put up 40 or more points three times this season. They’ve got big-time players and should take care of Brady’s Bucs.

Prediction: Cowboys by 8

10 – Justin Fields

Strap in folks, there will be a lot of talk radio and morning show material about how the Bears should really consider drafting a QB at #1 overall. Oh, they can reset the clock on the rookie contract. Ryan Poles can get “his guy” and the organization can be completely aligned with Poles-Eberflus-Rookie QB.

Tune it out.

Justin Fields endured incredibly difficult circumstances this season to lead this team through one of the most blatant gap years in league history. The Bears paid more to defensive players not playing football for the Bears than they did on-field talent. The player with the most sacks was a rookie defensive back! The defense gave up the most points in the league for the first time in franchise history. They used nine different starting offensive line combinations. Nine! And not one of those nine were the originally projected starting five players. The leading receiver was a tight end. And on and on and on. And yet, Fields made this offense go at times, leading the team with 1,134 yards on the ground, creating offense out of thin air. The improvements in the passing game efficiency are there, even if the volume isn’t.

He’s not a finished product – few are at this stage of their career – but Fields proved that he’s the man to lead this organization in the future. Armed with pockets bursting at the seams with gold coins to spend in free agency and the #1 overall pick, this is potentially going to be the most fun off-season in Bears history. They will build around #1 for 2023 and no one around here should be surprised at just how much of a jump this Bears team makes.

Get ready.