By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Tonight marks the fourth beginning of the Chicago Bears season, after the draft, rookie camp and training camp. Expectations are high from both the organization and the fans, as well they should be. This team believes it can win now. Bears faithful believe the first preseason game matters. It all has the makings of quite the mix of veteran apathy and blind fan excitement.
Preseason records are important. A 4-0 or even 3-1 team can ride that momentum into the post-preseason and be already gelled as a unit. Go 2-2 or worse? Might as well get the golf clubs re-gripped now. But a team should be measured more than on just wins and losses. Ask Dick Jauron. So here's what to look for in tonight's Bears-Eagles matchup and to take beyond the quest for a preseason championship.
Condensed Jay Cutler
I don't mean literally, like he's curled up in a ball or something (though it wouldn't surprise me). The starting (for now) quarterback generally doesn't see much time on the field in the first preseason game (ha, like Cutler's regular season, amirite?). Therefore, Cutler will only have about one opportunity to show us if he's ready to lead this team to a Super Bowl. A poor showing in these two or so pass attempts should be a red flag for anyone considering entering Cutler into any conversation about being elite other than at luring kids to his van with some candy.
Pat O'Donnell is the Bears' sixth-round pick, so he probably has Mike North's airtight giardiniera can seal of approval. The rookie punter has already become this year's Sanzenbacher of the foot, and he's Irish American, which is a plus.
But coach Marc Trestman, a guitar player himself, is a bit of a hipster and probably isn't swayed by rock star status alone. Tress Way is so indie that he took a last name, cut it in half and made it his whole name. That's the kind of weirdness you want that Adam Podlesh never brought to the table. (Little known fact: Brad Maynard raised ferrets.) O'Donnell will likely get the call after Cutler's only series stalls, but later opportunities could pave the way for The Tress Way to the Heart of the Abyss to play at noon on a Friday at Lollapalooza for years to come.
Coming back from injury, the Bears safety has a lot to prove.
One of the quiet leaders on this team, Bennett should have a major impact not just during plays but also in the huddle and sidelines as he calms and nurtures the sure-to-be nervous rookies. And probably Cutler.
Jimmy Clausen vs. Jordan Palmer
Fans do love guys named Jordan in this town, so it's no wonder Palmer sits as the No. 2 quarterback on the depth chart as of now. And fans around here also love investing in something that is overly glorified and ultimately useless. Hence the large Notre Dame contingent in Chicago. That bodes well for Jimmy Clausen. Tonight will be a big step to see who has the inside track on being able to captain a sunken ship if one of the two ever actually has to start a regular-season game.
No. 3 receiver
Marquess Wilson's broken collarbone (which shouldn't matter since defenders can't tackle him from it but whatever) will keep him out for a while, leaving a hole at a spot where you need to block a defender while Cutler ignores you. There's a ragtag bunch out there that includes Eric Weems, star of Def Jam's How to Be a Player Josh Bellamy, McDonald's spokesman Micheal Spurlock and prodigal son Greg Herd. All are hungry for that spot. Except Spurlock not literally if you saw his movie.
He's a 14-year veteran who really has nothing to prove.
3rd-string vs. 3rd-string
The real analysis is born when you watch a guy who is third on the depth chart perform against his equally buried peers. It's well-known football math — the Enderle Transitive Property, if you will — that a third-string guy who does great against another team's third string would do very well against the second string and would do pretty good against the first string. Look for a guy to emerge as a game-changer — perhaps a Derricus Purdy picks off an errant pass from Matt Barkley, or maybe there's some great pass protection by Ryan Groy. These are the kinds of names you need to keep in your arsenal for Monday's sports talk radio calls and shouting matches at the bar.
The point spread
My "friend" currently has the line at Bears -1 and the total at 42, but I'm going to wait until closer to game time because such a volatile matchup like this one is sure to smack those numbers around like a two-game suspension between now and kickoff. If I had to bet, though, I'd go Bears and the under. Philadelphia hates Santa Claus and probably scoring in "meaningless games," and Robbie Gould has a kid to feed now. Bears 23, Philly 17.
All in all, it should be a fun night of gridironing. Don't let the haters tell you that you're putting too much stock into this game. Always remember that your positive energy, even in your house wearing a jersey, translates to the field.
You can follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe.
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