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Week 11 Judgements: Bears are going nowhere without Cutler

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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1. So Chicago beats San Diego, and the big winner is ... Green Bay. Or San Francisco. Take your pick. All I know is that with the loss of Jay Cutler -- out an expected 6-8 weeks with a broken thumb on his throwing hand -- the Bears aren't going to the NFC Championship Game. With him, I thought they could. The guy was playing the best football of his life, and the Bears were white hot. In fact, they had the look of a team that could pose a problem to Green Bay in the playoffs and/or beat San Francisco. Not anymore. Because now they're no longer a two-dimensional offense. They're Matt Forte, defense and a quarterback -- in this case, Caleb Hanie -- who better not screw up. I know, Hanie looked decent in last season's conference championship game, but that was one half. This is nearly one half of a season, and there's a reason he's No. 2. Good luck, Chicago. You're going to need it now.

2. The heat is on offensive coordinator Mike Martz again to devise something, anything that takes the heat off his quarterback. Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice did a masterful job with Cutler, reducing his sacks to five over the last five games -- including another shutout Sunday, his second in the past three games. A year ago, he didn't go one regular-season start without being sacked, but Martz and Tice found a solution. Now they're going to have to find a quarterback in Hanie ... or call Kurt Warner.

3. New England not only wins the AFC East, it may not lose again. And its defense -- particularly its pass defense -- will look a lot better in January than it does now. So that makes the Patriots the AFC's Super Bowl favorite, right? Not exactly. No question, their defense is going to get better against opponents like Kansas City, Miami, Indianapolis and Washington, or, more specifically, against Tyler Palko, Matt Moore, Curtis Painter and Rex Grossman. But read the fine type: There's not a top 15 quarterback in there, nor is there a quality opponent. In fact, none of their last six opponents has a winning record. Yes, the Patriots' defense will improve its last-place standing, but don't be deceived. We won't know how good/bad these guys are until the playoffs.

4. The New York Jets may make the playoffs, but, sorry, Rex, they're not going to the Super Bowl, and here's why: They can't win on the road, and that's a problem when you're a wild-card entry. The last two years the Jets were 15-7 on the road, including 4-2 in the playoffs. This season they're 1-4. Check, please.

5. After watching replays of Jermaine Gresham's non-touchdown, I'm convinced the NFL needs to do something, anything to address the Calvin Johnson rule. I mean, when is a catch a catch? Once I knew. Not anymore ... and I think I have company. It took Ron Winter's crew five minutes to sort this out, but, according to the Johnson rule, I believe they got it right. Yeah, I know, it looked like a catch to me, too, but the rule says it wasn't. So get rid of it. Please.

6. And there, people, is the most compelling reason Houston makes the playoffs without Matt Schaub. There's no competition in the AFC South.

7. This is how bad it's gotten for San Diego's Philip Rivers: He had two games last season with two interceptions and three in 2009. He has seven in 10 starts this year and hasn't had a game without a pick since the Oct. 2 win against Miami.

8. So now the Miami Dolphins are out of the Andrew Luck Sweepstakes. My question: Will owner Stephen Ross want USC's Matt Barkley or Oklahoma's Landry Jones "in the worst way," too?

9. The New York Giants are tied for first in the NFC East, but they're in deep, deep trouble -- and I can explain in one word: Rushing. They can't do it. A sound running game and solid defense have been the backbone of this team for years, but not this year. The Giants entered Sunday's game as the league's 29th-best rushing attack, then produced 29 yards in 17 carries -– an average of 1.7 per. That won't cut it, guys.

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10. When Colts owner Jim Irsay tweets that "it's very possible 18 back at full strength n and we take future QB high in the draft," read the tea leaves: Vice-chairman Bill Polian saw what he thought he'd see at Stanford last week. Andrew Luck, I'd line up a realtor in Indianapolis now.

11. Lost in Tebow-mania is the job Denver's defense has done. Tebow's fourth-quarter heroics are possible only because his defense keeps opponents close. In three of Denver's last four victories the Broncos allowed 38 points -- an average of 12.7 per.

12.Watching Jake Locker operate in the second half vs. Atlanta, I can't imagine he doesn't start the rest of the season -- but that's not what coach Mike Munchak said. "I don't think you make a change based on someone playing a couple of quarters of [good] football," he said. I agree. But Locker isn't just someone; he's the eighth pick of the draft, and he was chosen to be the Titans' starter. The only question was: When would he be ready? I think we just got our answer.

13. Oakland not only wins the AFC West, but they'll go deep into the playoffs. I mean it. Carson Palmer makes them dangerous, and while I was skeptical what he could do coming off the couch to play, the last two weeks convinced me he's the right man in the right place. Keep in mind, each of those wins were achieved without Darren McFadden, the Raiders' top playmaker. And keep this in mind, too -- Oakland is 4-1 on the road, losing only when it blew an 18-point lead to Buffalo the second week of the season. The knock on the Raiders was that they couldn't win non-division games. Well, this just in: They're 4-2 against opponents outside the AFC West.

14. Ray Rice carries five times, and Baltimore loses to Seattle. He carries 20 times, scores twice, and the Ravens beat Cincinnati. This is not a difficult game to understand, people.

15. Good news for Thanksgiving ratings: All six teams playing Thursday are coming off victories.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Dallas as the NFC East favorite. The Cowboys' next two opponents are Miami and Arizona, a combined 6-14; the Giants' next two opponents are New Orleans and Green Bay, a combined 17-3. The Cowboys can run; the Giants cannot. When the two meet Dec. 11, Dallas should be in first place in the NFC East.

2. Detroit playing from behind in the second half. The Lions outscored Carolina 35-8 in the second half. What's the big deal? Detroit outscores opponents 191-74 in the second half this season and three times has rallied from 17-point deficits to win.

3. Todd Rundgren on ESPN. The man is more than A Wizard/A True Star. He's the voice you hear when Bang the Drum All Day is played after Packers' TDs, which means he gets a lot of air play in Green Bay. Todd and football is an odd mix, but then again I never thought I'd see him touring with Joe Jackson. Todd isn't Odd; Todd is Godd.

4. No Lambeau Leap by Green Bay's B.J. Raji after scoring on a 1-yard run. The NFL is all about player safety. Raji is about fan safety. On behalf of everyone in the lower seats, thank you, B.J.

5. Kevin Smith's return to Detroit. I thought the guy was washed up. Apparently, so did everyone else. In fact, the guy was out of work and signed only because the Lions ran out of options after the Ronnie Brown trade went kaput. I'd say he made the most of a second chance. He ran over, around and through Carolina for 140 yards, had another 61 in catches and scored three times. Good for him. Either he's a testament to how bad Carolina's defense is or someone in the Player Personnel Dept. messed up.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. The NFL schedule. Green Bay this week becomes the second team this season to play three games in 11 days (San Diego was the first), and, sorry, but that's not in the best interests of player safety. It's time the NFL looks into scheduling Thursday games around byes.

2. Adrian Peterson exiting the field on a cart. This one needs no explanation. The guy's the Vikings' best player. With him, at least they're a threat; without him, another loss waiting to happen.

3. Jay Cutler's injured thumb. Jay Cutler's injured thumb. The guy is playing so well, I honestly believe the Bears could make it to the conference championship game again ... but not if Cutler is sidelined for a significant amount of time. This is a more devastating blow than what happened to Houston's Matt Schaub because I'm not sure the Bears overcome the loss to make it to January. I know Houston can and will.

4. What's going on -- or not going on -- with Tennessee running back Chris Johnson. One week after he produces a season-high 130 yards rushing, he gains 13 yards on 12 carries. Swell. I know he missed training camp, but sooner or later the guy has to start playing like an elite back, right? I'm waiting. So is Tennessee.

5. Ryan Fitzpatrick's November funk. In three starts this month, he has one touchdown pass, seven interceptions and three losses. "The last three weeks have not been fun," Fitzpatrick said after the Bills' latest loss. Buffalo fans tell me injuries are the root of the problem -- particularly injuries to the offensive line and receivers -- but injuries are part of the game, people. Green Bay had a raft of them last year, particularly on defense, and still won a Super Bowl.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Philadelphia wide receiver DeSean Jackson. In an NFL Network interview, he said he believes he's a top-five wide receiver. Yeah, well, how about acting like one? The guy makes a 50-yard catch, then flips the ball at Giants' defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and taunts the Giants' bench. Brilliant. He's penalized, the catch is wiped out and the ball is returned to the line of scrimmage ... which happened to be the Eagles' 2. It is genius moves like that that kill a club and make me think this guy won't be with Philadelphia next season.

2. San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson. He's a good player, not a good MMA contestant ... and the sooner he understands, the better off the 49ers will be. I know he was provoked by wide receiver Early Doucet, but show some restraint, Dashon. Four swings is not what I call restraint. Goldson was tossed, and he should have been.

3. Those seven (maybe eight?) guys on Green Bay who missed LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run. Maybe this is overly critical, but the Packers' defense misses a lot of tackles. I saw it when the Pack played in San Diego, and I saw it again when Blount ran over just about everyone for a 54-yard score. Yes, it was a great run, but the Packers gain an assist.

4. Carolina coach Ron Rivera. The Panthers have had leads in six of their eights losses, but their defense has collapsed. Rivera coached the league's top-ranked defense a year ago; not anymore. Simply put, Carolina's defense stinks. "We put on a clinic in how to lose a game," quarterback Cam Newton said after the latest loss. I'd say that just about sums it up.

5. The NFL Network's Michael Irvin. When he says, "I believe Tim Tebow can take this team to the Super Bowl," I want an explanation. Like Irvin, I like how Denver is playing with the guy –- especially with coach John Fox changing his offense to suit Tebow's unique talents. But Super Bowl? Super Bowl?

JUST ASKING BUT ...

  • Why has it taken the league so long to fine Rex Ryan?

  • Is this 2008 all over again in Buffalo?

  • Do the Bears make the playoffs?

  • Is Von Miller in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, too?

  • Is this the start of another second-half meltdown by the Giants?

NUMBERS

0 -- Third-down conversions for Buffalo in 12 attempts

6 -- 100-yard kick returns this season, one short of single-season record

7 -- Interceptions by rookies Cam Newton and Andy Dalton

10 -- Consecutive games with Aaron Rodgers producing a passer rating of 110 or better

12 -- Straight quarters without Miami allowing a touchdown

25 -- Ray Rice touches

32 -- Straight games where San Francisco hasn't allowed a 100-yard rusher

72-10 -- Margin of defeat for Buffalo the past two weeks

2003 -- Last time San Diego lost five straight

MY TOP FIVE

1. Green Bay

2. San Francisco

3. New Orleans

4. Chicago

5. Houston

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Indianapolis

31. St. Louis

30. Washington

29. Jacksonville

28. Arizona

NEXT WEEK'S THREE BEST GAMES

(Thurs.) Green Bay at Detroit -- Finally, a Thanksgiving game in Detroit that means something.

(Thurs.) San Francisco at Baltimore -- Jim vs. John Harbaugh, with father Jack in the middle.

(MNF) New York Giants at New Orleans -- Road keeps getting steeper for Giants.

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