That’s a little London history for you right there, boys and girls. London, England got the nickname ‘The Big Smoke’ shortly after the great smog of 1952—thank you Wikipedia. But how about we forget all that and get on to the main event; the coolest sporting event across the pond since Germany and Japan were not invited to the 1948 Summer Olympics (Ah yes, America never saw so many gold medals in gymnastics). That is, the Chicago Bears at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers!
No, the truth is that I really don’t much care for the idea of my Bears having to play a game half-way across the globe during the regular season. But it does, however, provide a once in a lifetime opportunity for the many Chicago Bears fans in the London area. One such fan told me that Bears are easily the most supported team from the States in the UK. Which is why, even though the game is technically a home game for the Bucs, the crowd could be all BEARS.
The last two meetings between the Bears and the Buccaneers have gone into overtime with each team coming away with a victory. Again this year, these two teams look to be pretty evenly matched, with the Bucs at 4-2 and Bears at 3-3. Neither team has gotten off to the start they were looking for, nor has either demonstrated particularly potent offensive/defensive performances.
Tampa Bay, however, is currently leading the NFC South by one game, above the New Orleans Saints; not too far behind are the Atlanta Falcons. If the Bears want any shot at making the playoffs this season, it looks as if it’s going to have to be through one of two Wild Card positions. Beating the Bucs now, could turn out to be a tie-breaker come late in the season. That’s right I’m going to say it: This is now the third ‘must win’ game in a row for the Chicago Bears.
And here’s how I think they get it done:
Jay Cutler looking for third consecutive top-notch performance—Jay hasn’t thrown an interception now through two straight games. Not a great accomplishment, I know. But he has only thrown four through six games all year, putting him on pace for 10.6 this season. That would be Jay’s lowest INT total for a complete season since joining the league. The Bucs defense is currently allowing 276 passing yards per game while having allowed 10 TDs through the air this season. But, similar to the Bears defense, the Bucs are opportunistic and can make an inexperienced QB pay. I’m looking for Jay to look like a pro on Sunday.
Bears offensive line has to take a humble approach—Against the Vikings top-ranked pass rush last week, the Bears offensive line looked to be one of the better groups in the NFL. Granted, Mike Martz went into max-protect much of the day. And the Buccaneers certainly do not boast a ferocious pass rush. With just 10 sacks on the season, they’re still five below a Bears defensive line that has struggled to get pressure in recent weeks. And that’s exactly why the offensive line cannot go to sleep on these guys by letting their success vs. Minnesota get to their heads.
Julius Peppers really is a freak (no offense)—Let me spell this out for you: Peppers sprains his MCL against the Detroit Lions in Week-5, continues to play in that game, starts and finishes Week-6 against Minnesota, has a great game, and keeps himself off the injury report all week leading up the Buccaneers game. MCL sprains typically hold a player out of participation for 1-3 weeks. Peppers seems to have healed overnight and skipped the recovery time altogether; which is key, because the Bucs have not allowed many shots on Josh Freeman this season. This Sunday, they will be without starting center Jeff Faine. Double-teaming Peppers and inserting a backup center should create some opportunities for other guys along the Bears line, who are desperate to create some havoc.
The return of Earl the Pearl—Jay’s favorite target and the most complete receiver on the Bears roster is set to make his first start since Week-2. I’m not expecting fireworks necessarily, but I do expect the Bears to put Bennett in the mix often. According to folks close to the team, the Bears coaches are finally as high on this guy as Bears fans have been for years, and they have plans to use him. Coming back from an injury can make it tough to get into a rhythm, but Jay and Earl have been working together for quite some time. I don’t envision an issue there.
The numbers say Devin Hester should not be a factor. But then again—The Bucs have one of the better punters in the NFL in Michael Koenen. But despite his leg strength and directional skills, he’s still under direct orders to not give Hester any opportunities; he’s just the type of kicker to be able to execute those orders. Not only that, but the Buccaneers boast one of the better coverage units in the league as well, allowing just 18.4 yards per kick return and 6.3 yards per punt return. But then again, wouldn’t Devin Hester love to hold yet another title as being the only NFL player to have returned a kick or punt for a TD in London? Me thinks so…
So what’s my prediction? I’m taking the Bears in close game, 27-23.