If form through the first half of the National Football League (NFL) season is a guide, Sunday’s clash between the Houston Texans and the Chicago Bears could be a potential Super Bowl preview.
The Texans lead the AFC with a 7-1 record and the Bears have an identical record, bettered in the NFC only by the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons (8-0).
Critics of the Bears point to their relatively easy schedule so far and the way they struggled against the toughest team they have had to face so far this season - the Green Bay Packers who beat them 23-10 in week two.
Certainly, the Bears face a much tougher second half to the season with the San Francisco 49ers, the Minnesota Vikings [twice], the Seattle Seahawks and the return with the Packers in their next six games.
“You don’t win anything when you start 7-1 but it helps,” said head coach Lovie Smith this week.
“We don’t have a lot of injuries and I feel like our arrow is pointing up....we are pleased where we are,” he added.
The Bears have the sixth-ranked overall defence in the NFL and that success has been complimented by the success of wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
The Bears traded for Marshall from the Miami Dolphins in the hope that he could re-kindle the relationship he enjoyed with quarterback Jay Cutler at Denver and the gamble has paid off.
Marshall is ranked fourth in the league among wide receivers having put up 797 yards and scored seven touchdowns, three of them in last week’s 51-20 crushing of the Tennessee Titans.
“He’s doing a great job for this offence. He’s attracting a lot of attention and he’s still able to play at a high level, catch balls and make things happen on a Sunday,” said Cutler.
Cutler, though, will have to contend with Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who leads the league in sacks (10.5) and also has 10 pass break-ups.
The Bears’ offensive line has not always given Cutler the best protection possible and they will need to be well aware of the threat Watt poses, especially given his current level of confidence.
“I see opportunities for sacks against every offensive line. I’ve watched the film, you see opportunities, you get excited,” said Watt.
Also Sunday, unbeaten Atlanta heads to archrival New Orleans; Houston is at Chicago; Denver at Carolina; San Diego at Tampa Bay; Oakland at Baltimore; the New York Giants at Cincinnati; St. Louis at San Francisco; the New York Jets at Seattle; Buffalo at New England; Tennessee at Miami; and Detroit at Minnesota.
Dallas (3-5) at Philadelphia (3-5)
The Cowboys and Eagles were going to challenge the Giants for NFC East supremacy. Instead, they face off Sunday in what might be dubbed the Flop Bowl: a pair of 3-5 teams with deep-rooted problems.
What once was a matchup of high-profile teams that offered plenty of excitement and big plays, Cowboys-Eagles now looks like a Keystone Cops movie. Or maybe the Three Stooges.
It’s difficult to tell which of these supposed contenders has been more inept. Philadelphia has scored a meagre 133 points, but Dallas isn’t much better with 150. The Eagles displayed their weakness at tackling in last Monday’s debacle at New Orleans, and the Cowboys have had similar fundamental problems all year.
Both teams are turnover machines, too. Michael Vick can’t hold onto the ball, but neither can Dallas’ receivers. Vick and the Eagles have 19 giveaways, including an absurd 10 fumbles. The Cowboys also have turned it over 19 times, with Tony Romo leading the NFL with 13 interceptions.
“Right now, there are a few things we need to take care of,” said Eagles coach Andy Reid, who has never been more criticized in his previous 13 seasons. “You focus in on the job at hand. You don’t get past that. You don’t start going past and thinking about records, futures, and all those things.
“There is no time to think about those things and the guys are worrying about getting themselves better to win football games. That’s number one. That’s where I sit.”
The arrows are flying at Romo and the rest of the Cowboys just as regularly.