Silverman: Every NFL Contender Has Significant Weakness, Not Just Bears
By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) The Bears were outplayed and badly outcoached in their Monday night loss at San Francisco.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Bears looked like one of the best teams in the NFC and they appeared to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender.
However, while the immediate reaction is wretch as a result of watching the last two games against Houston and San Francisco, the Bears have a chance to rebound and their season is anything but over.
They are still playoff contenders and they are in a large group of flawed teams who still have a chance to get to the postseason and make noise.
While the 49ers looked dominant last night, they also have issues.
Here’s a look at the flaws of all the contenders:
New England (7-3-0) – The Patriots are explosive on offense and have been one of the elite teams in the league for more than a decade. But the Patriots can’t cover opposing receivers. They picked up Aqib Talib from the Bucs prior to the trade deadline and he may help a bit, but opposing passers know they are going into fertile territory when they throw against the Patriots’ secondary.
Baltimore (8-2-0) – The Ravens have made great strides in their offensive game this year as Joe Flacco has become one of the better quarterbacks in the league. However, their signature has been their nasty defensive play. Ray Lewis is out with a torn labrum and the defense is no longer intimidating. The Ravens rank 25th in overall defense and the run defense is butter soft.
Pittsburgh (6-4-0) – The Steelers appeared to be surging before they played the Ravens in Week 11 because their defensive play has been excellent. They have the top-rated defense in yards allowed. However, when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went down with a rib/shoulder injury, the offense lost its momentum. Backup Byron Leftwich (ribs) is also injured, so the Steelers may be devoid of a passing game.
Houston (9-1-0) – The Texans are probably the most impressive team in the league on paper. They have the 6th-rated offense and the 4th-rated defense. However, special teams are simply abominable as the Texans do a poor job covering kickoffs and punts.
Denver (7-3-0) – The Broncos have come together extremely well and have taken charge in the AFC West under the leadership of Peyton Manning. However, the delicate balance that leads to success in the NFL took a big hit when running back Willis McGahee went down with a knee injury last week against the Charger. If the running game is no longer viable, the pressure on Manning will increase dramatically.
N.Y. Giants (6-4-0) – The defending Super Bowl champions are struggling as they prepare for the final six games of the season. Eli Manning is in the middle of a four-game slump and he may have a tired arm. The formidable-looking defensive line is not playing the way it can. The secondary has plenty of open spaces and opposing receivers have had no problems taking advantage.
Chicago (7-3-0) – The problem for the Bears remains the offensive line. This has been the issue for the Bears for several years. It usually gets exposed by teams like the 49ers who have excellent pass rushers. While the interior offensive linemen are serviceable, offensive tackles Gabe Carimi and J’Marcus Webb are simply awful. Jay Cutler can do everything well when healthy, but he has never demonstrated consistency in a Chicago uniform.
Green Bay (7-3-0) – Many NFL teams have picked up on the lesson that you need a running game to take pressure off the quarterback and make your offense run more efficiently. The Packers are not in that group. Cedric Benson was awful and Alex Green is not much better. Clay Matthews (hamstring) provides their defensive personality and if he’s not able to play, their pass rush suffers badly.
Atlanta (9-1-0) – Matt Ryan and head coach Mike Smith have heard all the criticisms. The Falcons will not be considered a legitimate NFL contender until they win a playoff game. They can’t do anything about that until January. However, the Falcons have a very ordinary offensive line. They are not as vulnerable as the Bears, but it is not a strength.
Tampa Bay (6-4-0) – Greg Schiano may have brought an immature college attitude to the job, but he is a highly skilled coach who has brought out the best in talented quarterback Josh Freeman. The Bucs are explosive on offense, but their pass defense ranks 32nd in the league.
New Orleans (5-5-0) – You would be foolish not to consider the Saints a legitimate contender at this point even though they are merely a .500 team. The Saints have won 5-of-6 after a horrendous start and they have perhaps the most explosive offense in the game. However, there is little room for error and the defense has made many of them. The defense ranks dead last in yards allowed.
San Francisco (7-2-1) – Based on their performance against the Bears, the 49ers have no weaknesses. However, they now have a full-blown quarterback controversy thanks to the remarks of head coach Jim Harbaugh who endorsed backup Colin Kaepernick and seemed to say he was equal to starter Alex Smith. If Smith is back under center, he is a game manager who does not have a good deep arm.
Seattle (6-4-0) – The Seahawks have a ferocious defense and an opportunistic rookie quarterback in Russell Wilson who has made big plays in clutch situations even if his team has the 32nd-ranked passing game. The Seahawks are 5-0 at home but just 1-4 on the road. If they make the postseason, they will likely have to win games away from home and they have not been capable at this point.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.