In this installment of CBCSports.ca's weekly NFL chatter, the guys discuss the impact Jay Cutler's injury will have on the Chicago Bears, the impending NFC East showdown between the Giants and Cowboys, Tebowmania, and the sliding Cincinnati Bengals.
Another quarterback went down this past weekend. This time the Chicago Bears lost Jay Cutler for possibly six weeks with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Can the Bears overcome the loss of Cutler?
Tony Care: Yes. Let's look at the overall picture. Coach Lovie Smith said Cutler should be ready for the playoffs. The Bears have won their last five games largely off a great defence and strong running game. Cutler has also been a big part of it, but his passing attempts were been cut down so he wouldn't take a pounding. Backup Caleb Henie proved in the NFC championship game against the Green Bay Packers last year that he can move the ball and score points. He won't be asked to carry the team, just make the throws when he has to. I believe the Bears will make the playoffs, leaving the door open for Cutler's return.
Jesse Campigotto: Cutler isn't a great quarterback, but when it comes to injuries it's all about who the replacement is. In this case, it's Caleb Hanie, who you might remember from his semi-effective cameo in last year's NFC title game. After Cutler went out with his infamous knee injury, Hanie came in to face a tough Green Bay defence and completed 13 of 20 passes for 153 yards, a TD and an interception. Not terrible, but don't forget Hanie was an undrafted free agent out of Colorado State who's attempted 14 passes over three seasons as a pro. Too bad for the Bears, who were proving a lot of skeptics (including me) wrong this season.
Jason Davidson: I don't know if they can. Losing Cutler is massive. But talk about the pressure being on backup Caleb Hanie now. Hanie saw action in four regular-season games in 2010, completing eight of 14 passes for 66 yards and he threw an interception. Hanie did do okay coming on in relief of Cutler during last season's NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers, going 13 of 20 for 153 yards and a touchdown. However, he did throw two costly picks which basically secured the Pack's berth in the Super Bowl. Luckily for Lovie Smith and company, the next three games are against AFC West opponents and they got the Seattle Seahawks after that. If they can hold the fort, I see a wild card spot awaiting Cutler upon his return.
With their second straight loss the New York Giants now find themselves in a tie atop the NFC East with the Dallas Cowboys. The division has basically come down to a two-team race. So which club ends up standing at the end of the season?
Jesse Campigotto: Back on Oct. 20, I placed a bet on Dallas (at the time 2-3) to win the division at odds of +275. Today, Dallas is even money and favoured to beat out the Giants, who are at +175. How? Because of one of the most overlooked factors in sports: strength of schedule. New York's fast start (and the Cowboys' sluggish one) were both misleading because of the relative quality of teams they'd played. Now their schedules have flipped. Since I made that bet, Dallas has beaten doormats St. Louis, Seattle, Buffalo (who's in free fall) and Washington, and lost to Philly. The Giants beat Miami and New England, and lost to San Fran and Philly. The Cowboys can open up a lead over the next two weeks as they face Miami and Arizona while the Giants play New Orleans and Green Bay. Still, the division may come down to the two games still to be played between Dallas and New York.
Jason Davidson: I still like the Giants' chances over the Cowboys in the long run, regardless of the opponents remaining on their respective schedules. Yes, the Giants are taking on the Saints in New Orleans next Monday night followed by a home date against the Green Bay Packers but in the end, it all comes down to Week 14 in Dallas and Week 17 at home. It's starting to look more and more like a 9-7 record wins the division doesn't it? In either case, I like the Giants' chances more than the Cowboys. Eli Manning will bounce back.
Tony Care: Some will point to the Giants' murderous schedule down the stretch as some kind of advantage to the Cowboys, who have it easier. However, this will come down to the pair of head-to-head matchups between the two teams, ending in a Week 17 clash in New York. The team that protects its quarterback the best will prevail. Both Eli Manning and Tony Romo have been sacked 19 times to this point, although New York has an edge in team sacks (31-26). I like the Giants' defensive line a little better so I'm going with the G-Men.
Remarkably, Tim Tebow has guided the Broncos to a 4-1 record, thus putting Denver in a position to contend for the AFC West crown. Is it finally time to believe in Tebowmania?
Jesse Campigotto: You know who's not getting enough credit? John Fox. So many head coaches these days insist on fitting players into their system, without regard for those players' skill set. It would have been easy for Fox to plug Tebow into a conventional offence and, when he inevitably failed, Fox could throw up his hands and blame the previous regime for its misguided use of a first-round pick. Instead, Fox realized that the only way to win with Tebow was to install this goofy, college option read-offence that Tebow ran so successfully at Florida. For years we've heard that this won't work in the pros, but didn't they say the same thing about the Wildcat? Hats off to Fox and the Broncos for having the guts to try something different.
Tony Care: I've been one Tebow's biggest critics so you know where I stand. There's no way he continues to survive completing less passes than I did while attempting throws to first base on our CBCSports.ca softball team. But don't take my word for it. Hall of Famer and Broncos executive vice president of football operations John Elway - you know, the guy that makes the decisions on these matters - was asked during a weekly radio appearance if his team is anywhere near settling its quarterback situation. His response? "No." Enough said.
Jason Davidson: Just because of a few dramatic late-game drives, I'm not jumping on this Tebow bandwagon. They are making this guy out to be the second coming of John Elway in the Mile High City for crying out loud. Tebow has only completed 56 of 125 passes this season. Nothing special. I just don't believe that you should only focus on fourth quarter numbers. Now if he pulls another rabbit out of the hat Sunday against the freefalling Chargers in San Diego, maybe I'll change my mind on this one. But it was only a few weeks back Tebow and company were demolished 45-10 at home against the Detroit Lions.
The Cincinnati Bengals have lost two straight games to their two biggest division rivals - the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. What does this tell us about the Bengals?
Jason Davidson: What it tells us is that they have been overachieving for much of the season. Andy Dalton has been solid in his rookie season but in the end, it won't be enough to finish ahead of the Ravens and Steelers. However, I will point out one advantage that Cincy has right now: Four of their last six games are at home and if they can take advantage of that, anything can happen. After all, the Bengals have been full of surprises this year. No one seems to be missing Carson Palmer, that's for sure.
Tony Care: It simply means that the Bengals have a little ways to go, but that shouldn't take away from the impact of rookies Andy Dalton, A.J. Green, and the No. 6-ranking defensive. The 6-4 Bengals still have a shot at gaining a post-season berth. It won't be easy as Cincy still has games against the Steelers, Texans and Ravens. But the last two seven-point losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore showed the Bengals can hang with the big boys.
Jesse Campigotto: It tells us they've arrived at the toughest part of their schedule. Cincy had it easy to start the season, beating Cleveland, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Indy, Seattle and Tennessee, and losing to Denver and San Fran. The back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Baltimore were their first big tests, and despite the defeats I think they passed. Cincy lost by a touchdown both times, and they were in both games to end. With a lot of mediocre (or worse) teams trailing them for the final wild-card spot (Denver, Tennessee, the Jets, Buffalo), the Bengals still look like a playoff team to me. If A.J. Green can return quickly from injury and Cincy can win one of its remaining three "tough" games (at Pittsburgh, home to Houston, home to Baltimore) I like their chances.
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