The NFL is out here with just no respect for the New Mexico Bowl.
The college football schedule has officially evolved into bowl season, and while that means a delightful array of MAC/Conference USA tilts, it also means it’s time for the NFL to expand its schedule. Week 15 will bring the start of Saturday games in the pros, pushing the league’s influence to four days a week.
Saturday’s slate of games may not have the star power of Sunday’s Patriots-Steelers showdown, but each will have playoff implications. First up, the Bears will travel east to Detroit with hopes of playing spoiler to the Lions’ postseason hopes — and potentially saving head coach John Fox’s job.
Then the Chargers, 7-2 in their last nine games and riding a four-game winning streak, can earn the top spot in their division by beating the Chiefs in one of the league’s most hostile environments.
With that in mind, here are six reasons to skip the Camellia Bowl and watch some NFL action instead on Saturday.
Matthew Stafford played through a hand injury last week to deliver an epic performance
The Lions are in can’t-lose mode after a 7-6 start has left them on the precipice of the playoff hunt, and Stafford is keenly aware of that. After leaving a Week 13 loss to the Ravens with a badly bruised throwing hand, he roared back seven days later with a 381-yard performance in a razor-thin victory over the Buccaneers. More importantly, he led his team 49 yards in a late two-minute drill that allowed Matt Prater the opportunity to kick a game-winning field goal with 20 seconds left.
Stafford has suffered through an up-and-down season, but he remains one of the league’s steadiest players when the clock is ticking down. Since arriving in the league in 2009, he’s led 26 fourth-quarter comebacks — more than any other quarterback in that timeframe. One more on Saturday will keep his team afloat in the NFC standings for another week.
Mitchell Trubisky is showing signs of life for the Bears
Chicago has brought its rookie quarterback along slowly, starting Mike Glennon early in the season and then relying heavily on the team’s running game once Trubisky was inserted behind center. After throwing just 48 passes in his first three starts, he’s ramped up to 80 attempts in his last three games — throwing for 520 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions in the process.
His best performance as a pro came last week in a 33-7 win over Cincinnati. Trubisky completed 25 of his 32 passes for 271 yards in the biggest blowout of the Bears’ season to date. If he can bring that kind of confidence with him to Ford Field, his offense could wind up spoiling Detroit’s playoff hopes.
Tarik Cohen might be a wizard
Cohen has emerged as an electric Swiss Army Knife tailback after falling to the Bears in the fifth round of this year’s draft. He’s tallied 347 rushing yards as Jordan Howard’s backup in the backfield while adding 41 receptions as an important safety valve for Trubisky.
More importantly, he may be the Bears’ most electric punt returner since Devin Hester.
Through 13 games of his NFL career, Cohen has run for two touchdowns, caught one, returned a punt for one, and he even threw a touchdown pass for the Bears. If there’s one player to watch during Bears-Lions, it’s the diminutive rookie from North Carolina A&T.
The Lions are wearing Color Rush uniforms, and they’re actually good
The 4:30 p.m. ET matchup between the Lions and Bears on Saturday is technically a Thursday Night Football game. And Thursday Night Football means Color Rush uniforms.
Most Color Rush uniforms will sear your retinas. The Lions are one notable exception, and they’ll bust them out for Saturday’s game.
The Lions’ colors are blue and gray, which immediately exempts them from having to wear some color like dog vomit yellow (bless your hearts, Jaguars) or pumpkin orange (we’re looking at you, Broncos). They’ve got a leg up on every other Color Rush option from jump.
But the understated gray with blue accents they went with is maybe the best Color Rush combination out there.
— Detroit Lions (@Lions) December 15, 2017
No matter what the Lions end up doing against the Bears on Saturday, we know one thing: They’ll look sharp doing it.
The Chargers can claim their destiny by taking the AFC West lead
Los Angeles got off to an 0-4 start in typically heartbreaking fashion, losing three of those games by a combined seven points. That poor performance was unsustainable, however — the Chargers had too much talent to keep losing, and their regression back to the mean has them competing for an AFC West title.
The L.A. defense boasts three legitimate superstars between the pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. They’re bolstered by the cornerback who has as many interceptions and pass breakups (12) as receptions allowed in his last eight games, Casey Hayward. Together, they’re powering the league’s third-ranked passing defense.
Philip Rivers is having a mini-Renaissance on the other side of the ball thanks in part to the return of Keenan Allen. With his No. 1 wideout healthy once more, the veteran quarterback has cut his interception rate by more than half while playing better crunch time football than he had a decade before. With those two forces combined, they’re now just one win away from taking over the top spot in the division.
That won’t be as easy at it looked two weeks ago, because …
The Chiefs are looking like the team that crushed opponents en route to a 5-0 start
The Chiefs got a 26-15 win against the Raiders in Week 14 that reminded us of the days where they actually played good football. They dominated in all three phases of the game, including 400 yards on offense.
The offense had shown signs of life in the previous week, when Kansas City put up 31 points against the Jets. But the defense couldn’t keep it together and gave up 38. If the Chiefs are truly back to their early-season form, then that’s great news for NFL fans.
There wasn’t a team more entertaining to watch in the first five weeks of the season. The Chiefs were making big plays on both sides of the ball, and weren’t turning the ball over. Whether or not you’re a fan of the Chiefs, you can appreciate some well-played football like that.
It should be a good game against a Chargers team that’s riding a four-game winning streak — but one that has lost seven straight times to Kansas City.
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