Late October Football: Bears Hunt, Falcons Flight, and ND Burning Its Way to LA.

Midpoint of the NFL regular season and the most compelling game this week is tonight, when the Chicago Bears host the Detroit Lions.  If Chicago wins they’ll have put some serious space between them and the rest of their division and conference.  While the Atlanta Falcons are undefeated at 6-0 and coming off their bye week, no one outside of Atlanta thinks they are serious contenders to thrive in the playoffs.

Matt Ryan has never won a big game in his life.  In college he never got to a BCS game. Ryan had a shot at the Orange Bowl if he could only beat Syracuse in Chestnut Hill on a Saturday afternoon. He didn’t; BC got crushed (43-13) and Ryan watched it like I did on the big screen.

Running around Matt Ryan’s hopes for a BCS game in 2004

Later in his college career the ACC title game eluded him because he could never get over the hump of “Beamer Ball” and the Hokies, in much the same way that Peyton Manning could never get over Steve Spurrier and the Gators in the late 90’s.

Matt Ryan is at the helm of the winningest team right now but we have seen this before. Two years ago his Falcons came into the playoffs 13-3 and were destroyed by Green Bay in a one-and-done situation. The nail in the Falcons’ coffin was Ryan’s 65-yard pick six to Tramon Williams to close out the first half.

My view here isn’t to bash or take anything away from young “Matty Ice.”  He does have a great running game and a solid defense at his disposal.  I just question how real a team they are, given that they were in the same position two years ago. The only thing Falcons fans should be considering is the weakness of their division. The NFC South is mediocre at best, and the Saints are somehow clinging to life after a dreadful start, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the Saints march into the Georgia Dome and flood it with six touchdowns before the Falcons know what’s happening. It could very well happen. Matt Ryan gets paid a lot of money to play and win big games, not to waste the limited chances he gets to be a remarkable quarterback. The jury is still out on whether or not Mike Smith has that type of signal caller.

The real sporting focus on any pitch will be on Norman, OK when Notre Dame tries to cement itself as national title contenders. The Irish survived BYU on Saturday after being two touchdown favorites, but a win is a win and the television executives at Disney were probably popping champagne when time finally ran out. ABC owns Notre Dame’s road games, and it currently hold the television rights to games in Norman and then Los Angeles in a couple weeks. If Notre Dame can somehow keep Bob Stoops’ offense at bay on Saturday night then the Irish catapult to the top 3 of the BCS regardless of the score or other contenders’ games. Notre Dame is a national attraction, and for them to do well gets them preferred network treatment. The dream scenario for all the major networks is that Notre Dame wins this weekend, runs the table enroute to USC, and LSU upsets Alabama on November 3rd.  If that happens you’ve got the ND-USC matchup that’s pure ratings gold and for that weekend the NFL will feel like it’s taking its sister to the prom.

Expect the ratings of Saturday Night’s showdown in Norman to surpass Fox’s game of the Week that’s a rematch of the NFL season opener as Dallas hosts New York.