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Ten Thoughts on the NFL

First five weeks in the books, let’s talk about that

Nebraska v Illinois Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

1. Dick Butkus played his last football game for the Chicago Bears almost a decade before I was born, but I feel like I know his career better than I know many I watched with my own eyes. Butkus passed away last week at the age of 80, a couple years after his friend and draft-mate Gale Sayers. With his passing, the Bears say goodbye to a Chicago icon. Born and raised in Chicago, starred collegiately at the University of Illinois, and played his entire professional career in Navy & Orange.

Pro Football Reference lists four nicknames on his profile (The Animal, The Enforcer, The Maestro of Mayhem or The Robot of Destruction), but his was a name so singular, he didn’t need the nicknames. Like the scene in The Sandlot where the kids list the nicknames of Babe Ruth, you didn’t need to know The Sultan of Swat moniker to know you were talking about the best.

Butkus had a contagious laugh with a fun-loving attitude, which made for a juxtaposition for his on-field demeanor. As much as he’ll be remembered for his highlights and NFL Films reels, I’ll remember his humor and his pride in Chicago and the Bears. Rest in Peace.

2. The “win one for ______” games always seem like a lot of pressure, but the Bears came through once again after the passing of a Bears legend with a 40-20 win in Washington. The Bears won the game after Sayers passed in September, 2020 against the Falcons and the November 7th, 1999 game against the Packers after Walter Payton’s death.

I have no idea if there is any kind of additional motivation for a locker room after something like that happens, but I take a small slice of comfort that the Bears took care of business for Butkus. As for the season as a whole, it sure was nice to snap that 14-game losing streak and look like a real professional football team while doing so. Let’s hope the Bears can start a new streak of wins now.

3. Is it just me, or do NFL coaches not understand the importance of acclimating to your environment? The Jaguars stuck around in London, their adopted second home, after their win over the Falcons, to prepare for the Bills. They were able to jump out to an early lead and hold on against the talented Bills for their third victory of the season.

The Bills came out looking lethargic, like they were jet lagged and not ready to start the game. We have seen this in the past with teams losing early in the year to Denver due to the altitude or down in Miami with the heat and humidity catching teams unprepared. I wonder why teams don’t spend the extra money to post up at a local facility more often to try and acclimate to whatever the variable might be more often.

4. The Lions took care of business against the Panthers and take a commanding lead in the NFC North. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone paying attention, but as the Lions start to rise to the top of the conference, they need to set their sights on bigger targets. This conference looks like two powerful titans slugging it out in the Eagles and 49ers. The Lions, playing a weaker schedule, avoid playing either in the regular season and could run up a high win total. It will be interesting to see if the Lions can try to sneak past one of those two with a better record and get a chance at home in the playoffs to really shock some people.

5. With the Bears victory, the Panthers are the last team without a win on the year. We need a word for that. Undefeated means you haven’t been beat, but is there a word for a team that hasn’t won yet? Unwon? Anyway, the Panthers head to Miami this weekend where the Dolphins look to continue their statistical dominance through six weeks to continue accomplishing Mike McDaniel’s mission.

As 14-point underdogs, I’m going to say, for the sake of argument, that the Panthers fall to 0-6 this weekend before they head into their bye week. They will then play the Texans and Colts at home before traveling to Chicago. Plenty of time to go but as of right now, that Panthers pick looks like it could turn into a winning lottery ticket.

6. The Steelers are weird. That team is somehow 3-2 with just the ugliest of wins. They’re very similar to the Titans. Those two teams play on Thursday Night Football in early December and I’m already putting money on the under. I don’t even care where they set it, I predict it will be fewer points.

But, the number in the win column does not care about style points and you have to hand it to Mike Tomlin and the Steelers for hanging around in games consistently until they just push the other team over at the end. Crazy thing is, there are plenty of games on their schedule in the back half of the year you can talk yourself into them winning. If you bet the Steelers to win, I encourage you to never watch the games because I fear it’ll give you heartburn. However, the under is 4-1 in Steelers games so far this year.

7. Sean Payton running his mouth about how poorly the Broncos were coached this year only for him to then lose to Nathaniel Hackett’s new team, led by Zack Wilson, is just so delicious you can’t make it up. Payton has the championship ring in New Orleans and certainly knows offensive football, but to preside over the worst defense in the league after the Broncos fielded one of the better units last year is incredibly odd. It makes you wonder just what the plan is in Denver and if they’re going to look to take a tank year and draft a young quarterback to pair up with Payton.

8. The aforementioned 49ers dismantling the Dallas Cowboys points to a couple of things. First, the 49ers are legitimate contenders once again and this might finally be the year that Kyle Shanahan gets that ring. He’s one of the best offensive minds in the game. A huge percentage of the league is running some variation of the “Shanahan offense” that he has modernized and taken to the next level. He has playmakers all over the place and has a knack for scheming receivers open and sequencing plays as well as anyone out there.

Second, the Cowboys once again appear to be headed for the “talented also-ran” story that their fan base is accustomed to by now. Mike McCarthy isn’t exactly a great coach and that uninspired hire may cost Jerry Jones another chance at recapturing glory.

9. I don’t know if beating the Cardinals can be considered saving your season, but the Bengals found a groove that has eluded them thus far this season. Joe Burrow looked fully back and Ja’Marr Chase had a DJ Moore-like afternoon with 192 yards and three scores. The Bengals may have dug themselves a hole but there’s plenty of time for them to rattle off some wins and get back into contention.

The thing is, they have Seattle, Bye, at San Francisco, and Buffalo over the next few weeks. If they can even up their record at 4-4 after that rough start, they’ll be in good shape. If things tilt the other way, they may just not be able to get back into a competitive AFC race.

10. The Raiders chose to kick a 52-yard field goal on 4th and 1 late in the game against the Packers to try to extend a 4-point lead to a 7-point lead. Of course, Daniel Carlson hits an upright and gives the Packers a golden opportunity to go down and win the game in the final minutes of the game. The decision is an odd one because the points don’t really help nearly as much as just getting one additional yard to milk the clock.

No one will care because the Raiders defense made it hold up, picking off Jordan Love in the end zone to end the game. That was the 3rd Love interception of the evening and Packers fans have to be questioning what to do with their season already seemingly on the brink at 2-3 as they head into their bye. Remember, we want the Packers to be bad but not so bad that they get to draft one of the hot QB prospects next year. It’s a delicate balance.