At the top of the welterweight division (170 lbs), there is a group of fighters who have been at the top for a while. Recently, however, there has been a new group of fighters coming up the ranks.
Carlos Condit is the biggest example of this. He has spent his career being a fan favorite who hasn't been consistent enough to warrant legitimate title consideration.
But on June 12, 2010, he began to make a name for himself as a possible contender in the welterweight division with a stunning comeback stoppage over highly touted youngster Rory MacDonald, who, at 21, is one of the most promising up-and-comers in the 170 lb. division.
After getting dominated for the first two rounds of the fight, Condit came out with an urgency in the third round rarely seen by somebody who is clearly down in the fight. With that urgency, he dominated MacDonald en route to a stoppage at 4:53 seconds of the third round, just seven seconds before the fight would have ended and Condit would have been knocked down to 1-2 in the UFC.
Condit rode the wave of that victory into a shot as the Co-Main Event of UFC 120 against skilled stand up fighter Dan Hardy. In a brutal stand up war, he traded vicious shots with Hardy, but his shot landed harder and Hardy went down and didn't get up, ending at 4:57 of the very first round.
The victory earned him Knockout of the Night, at that time his second consecutive fight night award in his fourth UFC bout.
He was then given then undefeated Dong Hyun Kim, who was 14-0 at the time with one draw and one no contest. Condit finished that fight with a flying knee at 2:58 of the first round, earning his second consecutive Knockout of the Night award and third consecutive fight night award in total.
Condit is now set to fight UFC legend BJ Penn at UFC 137 in October, and a win will give the man who is just 27 years old, but still seasoned veteran, his first chance a UFC Championship shot.
The next fighter who has recently made a name for himself at welterweight has recently been given his first career lost against Condit.
Rory MacDonald made his UFC debut at Fight Night: Maynard vs. Diaz with an impressive first round submission over Mike Guymon.
After suffering his first career loss to Condit at UFC 115, he made a beautiful and dominant return over skilled veteran of the sport Nate Diaz, who he controlled with his wrestling for all three rounds including multiple throws, making Diaz look like a rag-doll.
Being just seven seconds from undefeated, MacDonald is one of the youngest fighters in the UFC and is fighting against another veteran in Mike Pyle in just a few weeks at UFC 133.
Another young fighter welcomed himself to the upper echelon of welterweights recently with a dominant victory over Thiago Alves. Rick Story went on a six fight win streak leading up to a recent decision loss, but still became a legitimate contender in those six fights.
Story's streak began at UFC 103 with a second round submission over Brian Foster. After decision victories over Jesse Lennox and Nick Osipczak, Story began fighting more veterans of the sport.
He TKO'd Dustin Hazelett at 1:15 of the second round at UFC 117, then won a unanimous decision over Johnny Hendricks at The Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale.
Then, Story got the fight of his career against dangerous Muay Thai specialist and top five welterweight Thiago Alves.
Story was dominant for most of the fight and took the best shots the knockout specialist could throw without even being wobbled.
He then took a fight on short notice against top middleweight contender Nate Marquardt, who ended up backing out of the fight due to high testosterone levels just days before the fight and was then replaced by Charlie Brennerman.
Brennerman won a decisive yet un-exciting decision, knocking Story down the ladder, but the fact that he stepped up to take a fight on short notice then had his opponent changed on him at the last minute will likely factor in to where Dana White places him after the loss.
Finally, there is one new contender who has made a name for himself in Strikeforce and was recently brought into the UFC to battle welterweight juggernaut Georges St. Pierre.
At 25-7 with one no contest due to testing positive for marijuana, Nick Diaz has gone on a 10-fight win streak that has lasted just over three years. In that time, he has wins over Frank Shamrock, Scott Smith, Hyato Sakurai, KJ Noons, Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos and Paul Daley.
His fight against Paul Daley, despite being ended at 4:57 of the first round, is being considered one of the best fights of the year and one of the best rounds of all time.
The back and forth battle saw both fighters get knocked down and nearly finished before Diaz landed a blow that dropped Daley and followed up with vicious ground n' pound to finish the fight just seconds before the round ended.
Diaz has been the only Welterweight Champion that Strikeforce has ever had, winning the inaugural title over Marius Zaromskis and defending it three more times, but will now vacate the belt to fight for the UFC title.
In his 10 fight win streak, he has finished all but one fight, which was against KJ Noons and was awarded as the Strikeforce Fight of the Year in 2010.
He also defeated MMA legend Takanori Gomi via gogoplata in a bout that was changed to a no contest because of marijuana, a drug that both Nick and Nate Diaz, along with multiple other fighters, have admitted to using.
Diaz will be the first out of this group of new contenders to fight for the title when he fights St. Pierre at UFC 137.
Diaz will not be the only one of these fighters to fight for the title, as each of these fighters have the potential to not only fight for the belt, but to also hold it.
I'm Joe W.
The Chicago Cubs have spent the past few years treading water in the middle of Major League Baseball. They haven't been going on tears, but they also haven't been at the bottom of the league.
Although this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it is something that is very frustrating for Cubs fans who want to get some sort of identity out of a team that refuses to give itself one.
That may be changing this year under new full-time manager Mike Quade. He is giving a young Chicago Cubs team some fire and might actually get them to play up to their full potential this season.
That being said, this is still a team that is going to have issues because of youth and they aren't exactly looking like World Series contenders this year.
Let's break down the Cubs position by position.
Infield: Geovany Soto C, Carlos Pena 1B, Darwin Barney 2B, Starlin Castro SS, Aramis Ramirez 3B
For as long as most Cubs fans remember, Aramis Ramirez and Derek Lee have been the stars of the infield. They held down the corner bases and were easily the two most popular players on the team.
Last season, Derek Lee was traded away and Aramis Ramirez spent a good chunk of the season on the disabled list and put up average numbers.
Thanks to this, there is a new sheriff in town, and his name is Starlin Castro. He came in last season as a rookie and played extremely well, now it is time for him to completely take over the reigns not only as shortstop, but as the face of the infield.
At just 21-years-old, Castro has the ability to become one of the most popular players in Cubs history if he stays with the team and lives up to his potential, which is seemingly limitless.
He has been playing very well this spring and has really improved his defensive game, something that should make Cubs fans giddy. Although there isn't much to look forward to this season, watching the development of Castro will be very interesting.
It will also to be interesting to see if Ramirez can get back on track after a down year last season. He is in a contract year and could be gone after the season and will likely be trying to get the best contract possible, so if he puts in the work he could have a big year.
A big surprise in this infield was the announcement that Darwin Barney will be the Opening Day starter at second base.
Barney took the job this spring from early favorite Blake DeWitt, who had issues both offensively and defensively this spring. Don't be surprised if DeWitt is able to prove his worth and get back the starting job though.
It seems likely that there will be a three man rotation at second base with Barney, DeWitt, and Jeff Baker all getting time.
Geovany Soto had a good season last year and has been one of the better offensive catchers in baseball lately, the Cubs are hoping that he can drive in more runs this season and Quade said he will possibly be moving him back and forth between the five and six spot in the rotation with Carlos Pena.
Outfield: Alfonso Soriano LF, Marlon Byrd CF, Kosuke Fukudome RF
Alfonso Soriano has had a very up-and-down career with the Chicago Cubs. When they initially signed him, he was a speedy power hitter with decent defense who could give the Cubs a jolt into serious playoff contention.
What he turned out to be was a streaky hitter who makes mental mistakes and is either loved or hated if you are a Cubs fan.
Expect much of the same this year, and for the next few years, as he is under contract until 2014 and he probably won't be heading somewhere else with his bloated contract.
Speaking of overpaid, underproductive players, Kosuke Fukudome came to America with hopes of being the next Dice-K. He ended up being just an average player getting paid the price of a superstar.
He has been very good at getting on base, but lived up to the hype that surrounded him when he first came to the Cubs.
He will be the lead-off hitter for the Cubs this season, which might be his final season in a Cubs uniform. His contract is up after the year and the Cubs will likely want to make room for Tyler Colvin to become a full time starter.
He has shown good power, hitting 20 home runs last season while playing a part-time role. Playing a full season should give him the time to become the legitimate home run threat the Cubs missed last season.
Marlon Byrd has been a good surprise for the Cubs since they picked him up. They were hoping for a good player to start, they got an All Star.
He has also been a good clubhouse guy who helps young players and doesn't get threatened when other players get playing time.
Starting Pitching: Ryan Dempster, Carlos Zambrano, Matt Garza, Randy Wells, Andrew Cashner
This is going to be the first time in years that Carlos Zambrano was not the Cubs starter on Opening Day, and it will hopefully turn out better than the disasters that have been Zambrano's last few season opening starts.
There is a silver-lining to the Zambrano demotion, however, as he has pitched better under less pressure to perform. After spending time in the bullpen, Zambrano came back stronger than ever for his last 11 starts of the season, going 8-0 with an ERA below 2.00.
If Zambrano can play at that level again this season, he might be able to earn the label as the ace of the rotation back.
Until then, Dempster's reliable pitching will lead this pitching staff. He has played very well the past few seasons after resurrecting his career in the bullpen a few years ago.
Matt Garza was the marquee signing this off-season for the Cubs. He spent the last few seasons in Tampa with the Rays, but will be making his debut for the Cubs this season.
Last season he went 15-12 with a 3.91 ERA, the Cubs are hoping that he can stabilize a rotation that has been up-and-down lately. As a young pitcher, the Cubs are hoping he can get near 20 wins this season.
Randy Wells had a break out season in 2009 when he had a 3.05 ERA and went 12-10, but last season he won just eight games and had an ERA of 4.26. If he can return to '09 form, the Cubs might have one of the better pitching rotations in the MLB.
The Cubs are also hoping for a surprise season out of rookie Andrew Cashner, who was drafted just three years ago in 2008.
He has a lot of power in his fastball, which hits 97 mph. If he can command that and his slider, he is in for a good rookie season.
Bullpen: Carlos Marmol, John Grabow, Sean Marshall
It seems like just yesterday when the Cubs were a closer away from a World Series. The Cubs now have a great closer and two dangerous set-up men and are no closer to a World Series.
Marmol has been streaky in the past, but it seems as though he has settled down and is ready to dominate as a closer.
He pitched very well last season and has every right to be mentioned with some of the best closers in the game right now with a good enough season.
Sean Marshall and a healthy John Grabow will allow the Cubs to not worry about a close lead in the seventh, as they are two extremely capable set-up men who can get the game into Marmol's hands no problem.
Kerry Wood continues to treat the Cubs like Michael Jordan treated the NBA, leaving then changing his mind and coming back. The bullpen is to Wood what the Wizards were to MJ, something to do to still be involved in the sport.
News from camp says that Wood has done a good job of working with young pitchers, however, and it seems like he might have been a good pick up after all.
The Cubs have been hanging out near .500 for what seems like forever. That probably won't change this season. The difference now is that we have young players to look forward to and expensive players leaving soon.
My prediction for this season is 83 wins, but a good feeling throughout Wrigleyville all season. Good times are ahead for the Cubs, it's just not going to be this season.
I'm Joe W.
Recently Zuffa, the parent company of MMA juggernaut UFC, acquired what is widely considered number two organization in MMA, Strikeforce.
With the purchase, Zuffa has to create something that every major sport has, but MMA doesn't. Two leagues competing against each other under the same banner and major championship event at the end of it all.
To do this, there would need to be a major restructuring of every contract in both the UFC and Strikeforce, and there would need to be a lot of work to make this happen. Here are the series of events necessary to make something like this happen.
Restructuring of Organizations
This would have to wait until Strikeforce's deal with Showtime is over, which means that this idea will need to wait a few years. But they could come up with a structure similar to other sporting organizations where the UFC is the main organization and there are two smaller conferences.
They could name these something like World Fighting Conference and International Fighting Conference (or something more aesthetically pleasing). This would mean that they would have two separate conferences within a main organization.
These conferences would only fight within each other much the way football teams face other teams from within their conference, pretty much the same way they do now.
The only difference is that they would have a championship event much the way that other sports leagues do, where you find out the best of the best. This will be explained in more detail later.
Restructuring Fighter Contracts
Before any of this can get done, you need to get the fighters on board. This is easier said than done, but it is something that is necessary if they plan to have something like this work.
Instead of signing fighters to multi-fight deals, they will instead be signed to multi-year deals. Each year, every fighter would be contractually obligated to fight three times barring injury. They will make money on a per fight basis so that the UFC isn't paying fighters to sit on the sidelines.
There would also be competition between the two conferences for fighters when a contract is up. They would be free to fight for whichever conference they want to and there wouldn't be an issue with having fighters not being able to fight the best because they are in different divisions, as the best would always be fighting each other.
One issue with this proposal is that it puts a lot of emphasis on winning and not on finishes, something that could result in a lot of decisions and point fighting, something the fans don't want to see. One way to combat this is finishing bonuses for every fighter that finishes a fight.
Right now, the UFC offers Fight of the Night, Knockout of the Night, and Submission of the Night bonuses, but these only go to a few fighters on a card per night. Adding bonuses for any fighter who finishes will add incentive for lower level fighters to not only win, but to look for the submission or knockout at all times because it will add money to their bank account.
It will also allow fighters who only fight to win and not for a finish to feel it where it hurts the most, in their wallets.
A Network Television Deal
This is something very important if MMA wants to be considered a major sport. It is also something important for a structure like this to work.
Although Spike has done a lot for the UFC, they only reach a very narrow area of the general public. By putting MMA on major network like Fox or CBS, fighting will be available to almost all who choose to watch and will create a much larger viewership.
There would still be Pay Per View events for championship fights, but something that would be great for MMA is to set up bi-weekly events on a network like Fox, NBC, or CBS.
The main structure for this would be to have a two championship months. These months could be April, August, and December.
In these months, there would be a fight card every week. The first week could be the championship fights for the current UFC roster, which would be on PPV. The next weekend would be the contender fight for the UFC roster which would be on network television.
The next week would have a PPV event with all of the Strikeforce champions defending their title, followed by a contenders card the next weekend on network television.
The reason that a network television deal is necessary is because you still have a lot of fighters who aren't fighting for a championship. These fighters will still be working their way up through the ranks and they could be fighting within their conference on network television.
They can create a set schedule where you know that there are going to be fights every two weeks or every week to create a regularity among fans. This is something lacking in fighting organizations, as they have fights at random intervals and it can become difficult to know when their fights are.
This is also a good way to get exposure for younger fighters working their way up, as they can be seen by a major audience on network television.
What about injuries?
Injuries are a big part of MMA and they keep champions from being able to compete. To combat this, if a champion is unavailable when their fights are scheduled, they will automatically give up their belt and have to earn it back.
This creates more competition and won't slow down the progress of the main season. Although this may keep certain fighters from becoming champion, it is a result of the business and there are still a lot of great fights available and a lot of high level fighters available to take their position.
Conference Championship events
As stated earlier there would be PPV events for all championship fights. To allow for regularity for championship fights, the current conference champion would be fighting against another fighter picked by that league much like happens now.
The next week would be contender week, as stated, where the winner of the fight would fight the champion of that division during the next championship month.
If an injury occurs where a fighter can't work, the conference would either pick a fighter or use a ranking system to decide who is next in line, depending on how they decide to work fight selection.
World Championship Event
This is the main perk of this system. Every major sport has a championship to chose the best team in the world, which is something that having competing leagues doesn't allow.
To create something like this, in December, there would be a huge card that would have the champion from each division from heavyweight to lightweight fight against each other. This would allow for dream match-ups that fans rarely get to see.
Here is what a current champion vs. champion event would look like.
HW: Cain Velasquez vs. Alistair Overeem
LHW: Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua vs. Dan Henderson
MW: Anderson Silva vs. Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza
WW: Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz
LW: Frankie Edgar vs. Gilbert Melendez
This is an event that would make big money for everybody involved and would give fans something to be very excited about. The fans would be spoiled, and the fight promoters would be buried in the money.
Legitimacy: By having a league where the best fighters are forced to fight each other, there is going to be less of an issue of which league has the best fighters because we will know definitively.
Exposure: By having a network television deal where you get to see some of the best fighters for free and on a channel that is available to the general public.
Great Fights: We have always wondered what would happen if one guy from an organization fought somebody from another organization, with this format, we will finally get to know.
Injury: This might keep some of the best fighters from being able to fight for the championship, but this is something MMA deals with now and something that won't go away under any system.
Please discuss this and add in your thoughts for ways to make a system like this work.
I'm Joe W.
The time has come again to begin looking ahead to the NFL Draft. The NFC and AFC Championship games have come and passed and most teams are in offseason mode right now.
So let's take a look, team by team, at who will go where in the 2011 NFL Draft.
First off, it's time to look at a team that was beyond horrible this season. They earned their number one draft pick and are lucky not to be the second team in recent memory to go 0-16.
During the 2010 NFL Draft, Jimmy Clausen fell way farther than anybody was expecting. (I personally enjoyed watching team after team make their picks and not hearing Clausen's name)
They gave him the opportunity to lead the team early in the season, and he was downright awful. People say that you need to give rookies time to develop, and Clausen definitely needed it.
He ended up throwing just three touchdowns on the season and helped lead them to the 32nd ranked passing attack in the NFL.
The running game wasn't bad, they ended up ranked 13th in rushing yards and their top two running backs broke the 4.0 yards per rush mark.
Their defense wasn't at the bottom of the league either, they ranked 11th in pass defense and 23rd in rush defense.
Overall, they have a lot of holes to fix if they plan on becoming contenders any time soon and they need to see if Jimmy Clausen is really their man for the future.
Without Andrew Luck in the draft, the Panthers actually have work to do when deciding what they want to do with their first overall pick.
They need a lot of positions and they need to figure out and a few players that fill those needs at the top of most people's mock drafts.
Da'Quan Bowers out of Clemson gives them the dominant pass rusher that they missed last season with the loss of Julius Peppers and a lot of people are projecting him to be the top pick.
Nick Fairley from Auburn is another guy who has been getting a lot of attention as a possible first overall pick. He would give the Panthers a presence up the middle and the way Ndamukong Suh played last season for the Lions gives them perspective on what a dominant defensive tackle can do for a team.
A.J Green makes a lot of sense for the Panthers from an offensive standpoint. No Panthers receiver broke 600 yards last season and Green could become a stud for the Panthers for years to come.
Overall, there a lot of ways that the Panthers can go with this pick and it's likely that we won't know for sure until the draft starts and we hear their pick's name called out.
Who They Pick: Da'Quan Bowers, DE, Clemson
Bowers is a going to be a force coming off the edge for years to come and they will likely want somebody to come in and take the role that Julius Peppers held for so many years.
They need to work a lot on their offense, but Bowers is not a talent that you can pass up.
I'm Joe W.
The Chicago Bears looked downright awful for three quarters of their final game of the season against the Green Bay Packers, but were able to keep it close and only lose by seven with a good shot to push for overtime at the end.
Their defense played outstanding and made the same Aaron Rodgers, who has been a postseason god, look like a below-average quarterback.
The stat-line of 244 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a 55.4 quarterback rating, something you don't expect out of somebody who is a top five quarterback in the NFL.
The defense obviously wasn't the problem, despite a few bad drives early in the game, they were able to settle down and shut down a Packers offense that is one of the best in the NFL.
The problem was the offense.
Namely Jay Cutler.
He somehow found a way to have a lower quarterback rating in his half of play than Todd Collins in his quarter. Keep in mind that Collins didn't complete a single pass.
Caleb Hanie tried to remedy the situation by mounting a late-game come back, leading the Bears to both of their touchdowns and throwing for 153 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late.
The big issue that most Bears fans have against Cutler after his poor performance against the Packers is his toughness, the way that he seemingly gave up and didn't want to play the second half of the game. It didn't help that Fox only told us that he had a knee injury and then spent a lot of the rest of the game showing him standing around on the sideline.
It turns out that the injury Cutler had was actually quite serious, an MCL injury, and he actually showed a lot of toughness by going out and attempting to play in the second half.
My issue with the Chicago Bears isn't Jay Cutler's toughness. In fact, it isn't Jay Cutler at all, I think that he is a good quarterback who can lead a team to the Super Bowl with some good pieces around him.
My issue is that (outside of Matt Forte), he doesn't really have any good pieces.
The offensive line, although improved throughout the second half of the season, is still a very big liability, and having your big name quarterback get sacked 52 times isn't something that a team that playing the NFC Championship game should have.
He got sacked at least four times in seven games, led by the horrible performance against the New York Giants where he was sacked nine times.
The Bears need to work through both the draft and free agency to try to fix their offensive line problems.
According to Football Outsiders, the Bears offensive line ranked 28th in run blocking and last in pass blocking, something that isn't surprising, but needs to be fixed. Among playoff teams, only Seattle had a worse run blocking statistically.
Pressure breeds bad decisions, and even while being sacked more than anybody else in the NFL, Cutler was able to cut down on interceptions and throw fewer than both Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
The second issue that the Bears need to fix, if they intend to give Jay Cutler the tools to thrive, is their wide receiving core. I'm not saying that they have to get rid of anybody because the players they have play very well.
The issue is that they don't have a clear cut No. 1 receiver. Johnny Knox played well this season and came just short of breaking 1,000 yards while ending the season tied for fifth in yards per catch.
Although Knox is good, I see him best being a No. 2 receiver for the Bears, with Earl Bennett in the slot. The Bears need to use free agency to try to find a top tier receiver who can give Cutler that big target he loves so much.
With guys like Vincent Jackson and Braylon Edwards possibly heading into free agency, the Bears need to pick up somebody who can be the leader of this receiving core.
With the offseason here, the Bears need to start looking at ways to improve their offense if they want to be able to make that next step and become Super Bowl champions again.
I'm Joe W.
The Chicago Bulls are having an outstanding season despite rarely getting to play with their inside players completely healthy.
They began the season without Carlos Boozer, their big off-season pick up. He wasn't there for the first month of the season, finally returning at the beginning of December against the Orlando Magic.
Shortly after that, however, Joakim Noah went down and hasn't played since.
In total, the Bulls have played just nine games with both Boozer and Noah in the lineup, and with Boozer hurt again they may have to play a few more games without either.
The Bulls are 7-2 when both Boozer and Noah are in the lineup, but they have still been able to go 21-12 without one or both of those players.
The reason for this is ESPN's top contender for MVP so far this season, Derrick Rose.
Rose has been playing out of his mind this season thanks to a developing a three-point shot and improved defense.
Despite no consistent shooter in the starting lineup, Rose has been able to put up numbers that most, if not any, in the NBA would be unable to put up with this current system.
The 22-year old point guard has been able to lead the Bulls through thick and thin, on offense and defense, and assert himself as one of the best leaders in the NBA.
He has been able to pull off eight assists per game despite only getting limited playing time from Kyle Korver, the Bulls best shooter.
Generally, Rose has to take the game into his own hands and push the pace, he routinely drives past defenders and works his way into the lane for the tough lay-up, and he usually makes it.
He has been able to help spread the floor this season too, shooting about 38% from three-point range this season, about the same range as other top point guards Deron Williams and Steve Nash.
On defense, he averages a steal per game and has at least one block in each of his last six.
But the scariest part about Derrick Rose's game is that he is just 22 and is constantly working to improve himself.
He came into the NBA as an average defensive player with a poor shot who could drive into the lane and get the ball to the open player, he is now a balanced player with great defense who can shoot and drive in the lane.
But the biggest barometer of how good you are in the NBA is how you do in just three categories. Points, rebounds, and assists.
Although Rose isn't the leader of any of these categories, when you add them up, he is better than any guard in the NBA, and yes, that is including players like Deron Williams, Kobe Bryant, and Dwyane Wade.
When you add in forwards and centers, he ranks fifth, but this is a statistic that favors big men.
If you look at efficiency rating, he is the fifth most efficient guard ahead of other stars like Rajon Rondo and Kobe Bryant.
The issue that most people have with Rose is that he turns the ball over too much, and while he is turning the ball over too much, it is somewhat usual for a point guard who controls the pace of the offense for his team to have a lot of turnovers.
Despite ranking fourth among guards in turnovers, he is joined in the top ten by Rajon Rondo, Russell Westbrook, Steve Nash, and Deron Williams.
As of right now, Derrick Rose is, without a doubt, a top ten player in the NBA and an MVP candidate, and although he might not be the best right now, he has the work ethic and natural talent to become the best of his time.
A lot of times with a young player, people will say to give him five years and he will be one of the best of the game, I say give it two and he will be right there at the top.
I'm Joe W.
With the Philadelphia Eagles surprising loss to Joe Webb and the Minnesota Vikings, the Chicago Bears are secured at least the #2 seed in the playoffs and still have an outside chance at the top seed (if the Vikings can beat the Eagles, the Carolina Panthers have a shot against the Atlanta Falcons).
But although the Bears have clinched a bye week, they still, as Rodney Dangerfield would put it, don't get no respect, at least from most people.
This is mostly from inconsistency from Jay Cutler and a shaky at best offensive line, but the Bears are a team that, when firing on all cylinders, is just as dangerous, if not more, than any team in the NFL.
Let's take a journey through why the Bears should be your sleeper pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Jay Cutler has been outstanding as of late. After throwing 26 interceptions last season, he has come back big time to play with more consistency and has thrown just 14 interceptions, tied for the second fewest in his career.
Out of his last five games, he has had over a 100 quarterback rating in four of them, throwing 12 touchdowns and just four interceptions over that span, plus another rushing touchdown.
Another reason that he can lead the Bears through the NFC in the playoffs is his mobility, something rare in quarterbacks. He can extend a play, elude defenders looking for a sack, and take off and gain good yards if necessary (he has at least 10 yards rushing in nine games this season).
The Bears have been in search for a gunslinger quarterback who can take charge and lead their offense since their inception, and with Jay Cutler under center, they may have finally found their guy.
The offensive line
The Bears offensive line has been a big weakness for the Bears in the past, and a huge drawback early in the season, but they have begun to mesh and their ability to stay healthy has been a huge help in a season where a lot of teams are experiencing big injury problems.
Over the last three games, Cutler hasn't been sacked more than twice, and Matt Forte has had at least five yards per carry each of the last two games.
Although this ragtag bunch doesn't have all the same players expected at the beginning of the season (Chris Williams has slid to left guard and J'Marcus Webb has played surprisingly well at right tackle), they have learned how to play with each other and are a serviceable offensive line.
Another perceived weak spot for the Bears coming into the season has worked itself out as the season has gone on.
Johnny Knox has solidified himself as the top receiver, as he is currently on pace to break 1,000 yards and he has scored three touchdowns over the last two games.
Earl Bennett has become a decent number two receiver and a favorite target for Cutler, he has a catch of over 20 yards in seven of the last nine games.
Devin Hester has been a surprise at wide receiver. Although he still isn't great, he can stretch defenses and is a threat to score whenever he is on the field and has made some spectacular catches this season. Add to that his resurgence in the return game and Hester is a dangerous man.
The Bears brought in Peppers to be their big splash in the offseason and create a pass rushing presence off the edge, something that they were lacking without Alex Brown or Adewale Ogunleye.
Although he's on pace to be below the 10-sack mark, he's still been a force in both the pass and run games defensively.
He has two interceptions and forced three fumbles this season, he's also blocked a kick this season.
Despite his old age, Urlacher is having one of his best seasons in recent memory. His season off last year may have been a great thing for his career, he's been healthy and he's been a force that was missed big time last season.
He's currently on pace to have the most tackles he's had since the Bears went to the Super Bowl in 2006. He also has three and a half sacks, two forced fumbles, and an interception.
He's the leader that can take over a game defensively and single handedly stop an offense.
The Bears let him out of the grasp once before, but they need to hold on to Chris Harris like he's the best player in the NFL, as he has finally brought stability to the safety position not seen since the days of Mike Brown.
His five interceptions, more than the Bears got from both safety positions last season. He's also a solid run stopping presence, something the Bears needed this season.
The Bears have a habit of drafting people in late rounds and having them become productive members of the team early in their careers. They have been able to do this again and have also found some gems from teams as well.
I've already talked about J'Marcus Webb, Johnny Knox and Chris Harris having breakout years, but there are more players on the team contributing above there potential.
Tim Jennings has taken over for Zachary Bowman and played better than he ever has, and chances are the Indianapolis Colts are kicking themselves for letting him go.
Israel Idonije has been the player everybody hoped Mark Anderson would be, giving the Bears a solid defensive end opposite Peppers.
Matt Toeaina has been a good presence up the middle, helping take some pressure off Peppers as well.
They have proven that they can win
The Bears have won a lot of games that people have made excuses for, either due to injuries, "lucky calls," and poor performances, but they fact is that they are winners.
They are 7-1 over their last eight games, their only loss coming against the insanely good New England Patriots. They have wins against the Green Bay Packers, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Jets, and they are 5-0 in their division.
They have proven time and again that they can win, and they are going to be tough for anybody that they meet in the playoffs, so nobody should be surprised if you see them in Dallas.
I'm Joe W.
After the Bears played the Dallas Cowboys in Week Two, I wrote that the Bears seriously need to fix their offensive line if they want to be contenders.
Last week, I wrote about how the Packers shouldn't be blaming their loss on themselves and that the Bears deserved that win by forcing a lot of those penalties.
I'm pretty sure that with the way the Bears offensive line played against the New York Giants, Jay Cutler is wishing that everybody on the Bears offensive line took a page out of the Packers book and just held their assigned player when he was going to get a hit on Cutler.
Unfortunately, I'm not even sure if that would have kept Cutler safe.
He was sacked time after time, nearly breaking the record for most sacks in a game. Jay Cutler didn't even come out for the second half with reports coming out that he was diagnosed with a concussion.
Unfortunately, Bears journeyman back-up Todd Collins didn't fair any better, or last any longer, behind center.
Notice how the word unfortunately is being used a lot, that will become a theme.
How the Game Went Down
I missed the start of this game, but when I jumped into the game about five minutes in, the onslaught had already begun on Jay Cutler and his position as a redeemed quarterback.
Luckily for the Bears, their defense is seemingly back to 2006 form thanks to surprisingly good play by players like Israel Idonije and Tim Jennings.
The Giants looked like it was going to be total domination early by going on a 76 yard drive, but the Bears defense stiffened up and held the Giants to a field goal, making the game 3-0.
From that point on, the game was largely three-and-out by each team with the occasional turnover and a lot of sacks. At one point, the Bears began a drive on the two-yard line and a safety seemed like a foregone conclusion, but they were able to get out with a zero yard drive and a punt from the end zone, a true victory for this offense.
The Giants set a record with nine sacks in the first half, breaking the record of eight. They had their sights set on a record which they are already tied for, which is 12 sacks in a game, but they stalled at 10.
Two plays before halftime, a sack by Aaron Ross ended up giving Cutler a concussion, which lead to Todd Collins entering the game.
After playing most of the second half, Collins eventually left the game with an injury of his own (he might have just been tired of getting hit) which lead to Caleb Hanie entering the game, an event that always creates confidence in a fan base.
The Giants offense looked just as lost as the Bears until Ahmad Bradshaw found his stride and became the first running back to figure out the Bears defense.
He began to slash through the Bears defense and eventually scored a three-yard touchdown in the third quarter.
The Bears were able to put up three points and make it a seven point game, but the Giants drove back down the field again, ending in a Brandon Jacobs touchdown.
Two weeks ago, the Dallas Cowboys were destroying Jay Cutler with blitzes and Mike Martz made the correct adjustments to let Cutler get the ball out to an open receiver without taking a hit.
Last week, the Bears offense was completely out of sync in the first half and they made the right adjustments to come out in the second half and win the game.
This week, after an abysmal start, the Bears coaching staff seemed content to stick with the game plan like it was Rex Grossman.
It wasn't just the offensive line's fault, however, as Jay Cutler routinely had open receivers on short routes that he completely ignored while looking for the long ball.
But the biggest problem for this Bears team is how atrocious the offensive line is. Unlike in the past where teams have gotten pressure on Cutler with blitzes, the Giants were able to rush four and set Cutler on the ground literally play after play.
The only saving grace for the way the Bears played is that maybe, just maybe, Caleb Hanie is starting next week, as he completed three of four passes and was the only Bears quarterback without an interception.
He even hit Johnny Knox for a 26-yard completion.
The Bears defense was outstanding once again, and even though they were torn up late in the game, it's almost completely forgivable as every time they stopped the Giants, the offense would end up only being on the field for a minute before going back to the sidelines.
Tim Jennings, as mentioned earlier, played very well today, as did the entire Bears secondary. They held Eli Manning to just 195 yards and no touchdowns.
Zachary Bowman showed up a few times in this game, none bigger than when he simultaneously saved a touchdown and forced a turnover after a big Ahmad Bradshaw run that was certainly headed for the end zone.
Julius Peppers continues to earn every penny as he forced a fumble, had a sack, and batted down a pass.
The Bears have some serious issues to work on if they want to be competitive and all of the good feelings from their Monday Night Football victory over the Packers have now been washed away but this Sunday Night Football embarassment.
Next week they will be taking on the Carolina Panthers as they hope to correct at least some of the issues that they had this week, but they may have to do so without Jay Cutler, depending on how serious his injury is.
I'm Joe W.
Week Two of the NFL season has all but been wrapped up and it's time to take a look around at the big stories from Sunday's games.
Michael Vick Needs to be a Starter in the NFL
Andy Reid has a lot of thinking to do when Kevin Kolb makes his return to the lineup next week. Michael Vick has come in and not only looked like the Vick of old, but a better version of said Mike Vick.
After tearing up the Packers defense last weekend, people wondered if the Lions would be able to contain the man who can get yards through the air or on the ground.
The short answer was no, no they couldn't.
Vick backed up his Packers game by completing 21 of 34 passes for 284 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, putting him at three touchdowns and no interceptions on the season. He also added 37 yards on the ground along with some plays where he used his feet to keep plays alive.
While Vick has never been known as an accurate passer, he is still 37 of 58, which means 63.7% of his passes have been completed, a higher rate than any other year of his career.
The problem is that while he is putting up these numbers, Kolb was everything short of impressive in his time as a starter, going five of 10 for 24 yards and fumbling once. Vick came in and gave a team that was stuck in the mud hope, and that is something that might be lost when he finds himself back on the bench for most of the game.
Philadelphia is not a very forgiving town, and if Kolb comes in and isn't as good as Vick has then there will be a lot of angry Eagles fans when they return to town in Week Four against the Redskins.
The Eagles sent away Donovan McNabb for Kolb to take over the reigns and lead this team, but if somebody else can do so better, it would be foolish for Andy Reid to stick to his original plan when he drafted Kolb in the second round of the 2007 Draft.
Are the Minnesota Vikings Not as Good as Advertised?
When Brett Favre decided not to retire, it was thought that the NFC North was going to be a two-horse race between the Vikings and Green Bay Packers and that the victor was going to be favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
Now, that thinking may have changed as the Vikings were unable to get anything going offensively en route to a 14-10 loss at the hands of the Miami Dolphins.
Now, the man who was thought to be the savior of the Vikings is the one coming under fire after a lackluster Week One and downright awful Week Two.
Against the Dolphins, Favre completed 22 of 35 passes for 225 yards. Not too bad right? Then you factor in the zero touchdowns to three interceptions and you get a completely different portrait of the game Favre had.
Although adding Jackson would give the Vikings a legitimate weapon, that wouldn't be until Week Five, as the NFL has said that they would reduce Jackson's suspension from six games to four if he were to be traded.
This, however, leaves the Vikings without a real number one receiver for the next two weeks, and by then, it may be too late to get back into the race in the NFC North.
The Chicago Bears Run Defense may be the Best in the NFL
The Chicago Bears were able to hold their opponent under two yards per rush for the second time in two games this season, both times against teams with seemingly outstanding running games.
In Week One, they held Jahvid Best to just 20 yards on 14 carries. While it may have seemed that Best just wasn't all he was hyped up to be, he went off against the Eagles for 78 yards on the ground and 154 yards through the air, totaling 232 yards and three touchdowns on the day.
Next week, the Bears will be playing a Packers team that is without it's starting running back. Although they likely won't be able to hold a third team under 40 yards rushing, it is likely that they will do a great job against the run again.
San Diego Chargers Don't Let Chiefs Hold Them Down
After being on the wrong end of a 21-14 letdown last weekend against the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers were on a mission to prove that they weren't stuck in a rut against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
They did so in a big way by making Pro Bowler David Garrard look like a rookie, intercepting four of his passes and forcing two more fumbles.
Although it was a sloppy game all around (the Chargers had their fair share of turnovers as well), the Chargers went home with a decisive 38-13 victory.
Joe Flacco Continues His Struggles Against Top Defenses
Joe Flacco went from facing the team that finished first in defense last season, to facing the team that finished fourth. It showed again, with Flacco throwing four interceptions to one touchdown and only throwing for 154 yards.
The acquisitions of Anquan Boldin and T.J Who's-Your-Mama were supposed to create more weapons for Flacco to throw to as improves for his third season in the NFL.
Instead, Flacco has just one touchdown in two games compared to five interceptions. If the Ravens expect to be at the top of the AFC and make it to the Super Bowl, they need Flacco to get out of his funk and get back to using all of his weapons to lead the Ravens to victories.
Are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers For Real?
Josh Freeman has been the breakout star of this Bucs team, throwing four touchdowns to just one interception through the first two games.
This early start, however, has been helped by playing two of teams expected to be at the bottom of the league in the Cleveland Browns and Carolina Panthers.
But nobody can take away the 2-0 start from this young Buccaneers team and even though it wasn't against the most stellar competition, it is still more than anybody expected.
I'm going to try to break down some of the biggest stories from around the NFL every week, so make sure to check back next week to see what happened on Sunday.
I'm Joe W.