Axis Football 21 - title

Axis Football is still a tough game to review. It's a very playable game that I support and recommend, but without Maximum Football to make Axis look better by comparison, it's a lot harder to overlook Axis' flaws, limitations, and lack of large-scale improvement. There's forward progress and noticeable changes, but still so many long-standing issues. The slow rate of progress is much more forgiveable than Madden, however, because the developers at Axis Games do not have access to hundreds of programmers and animators, or billions of dollars in cash. Progress is slow and steady, and that's pretty much all we can ask for given the company's limited resources.

If you're looking for a remarkably different game, then you'll be disappointed. Axis 21 feels largely identical to Axis 20, which felt largely identical to Axis 19 If you like Axis Football and are OK spending $30 to play more of it, then you'll get your money's worth.

Axis Football 2021 still looks and feels very similar to previous years.

Customization is the focus in 2021

The primary focus of development for Axis 21 seems to have been in its customization options. Previous iterations offered only limited options for customizing teams and uniforms, but Axis 21 has a much more extensive customization suite. Team uniforms and logos can be edited, and whole new uniforms can be created. Team playbooks and play-calling tendencies can be edited. Even the field is customizable.

About the only things that are missing from this customization suite are the ability to create or modify stadiums, and a playbook editor. Maybe we'll see those next year.

The customization suite is much more extensive this year.

This more advanced customization suite should hopefully draw in some of the crowd that got left in the dust when Maximum Football was canceled. If you're a fan of customizing teams and uniforms, and you haven't played Axis Football before, then 2021 might be the year to hop on the Axis Football bandwagon.

Another nice inclusion in this year's customization suite is the ability to update team rosters, which means I could modify my roster to match my roster from several seasons into Axis 20's Franchise Mode, instead of having to start over with the same initial roster that I've been using since 2018. It's a lot of work though to modify every player on my team (let alone the entire league), and I opted instead to just randomize my roster and go from there. Randomizing the roster is, I think, also a new feature in this year's game. I wish Axis would include the ability to import last year's Franchise rosters so that I can have a sense of continuity and progress between releases, without all the tedious busy-work on my end. Being able to import team customizations from year-to-year would also help reduce the prep work required by the user, and allow us to get right into enjoying the game.

Using the roster editor, I can re-create my team from last year, but it's a lot of busy-work.
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Chicago Bears alt logo

A lot of my initial excitement for the Bears' potential in 2021 has been dampened by a lackluster preseason. It didn't matter whether Andy Dalton was playing quarterback or Justin Fields, the offense struggled to move the ball.

Most of this was due to poor offensive line play. I didn't get to watch the games live, but I looked up as much highlights and play-by-play as I could later in each week, and what I saw showed that all the Bears' quarterbacks were constantly under pressure. There was very little time to stand in the pocket and throw. The running game wasn't particularly dominant either, and the Bears had to endure a lot of three-and-outs.

Dalton looked fine when he had time to throw, but he rarely had time and wasn't able to make things happen while under pressure. Fields seemed to have the better preseason, but this was mostly owing to his ability to get out of the pocket and run for yardage and first downs. He had very little time to throw as well and didn't exactly look spectacular throwing the ball. Though he did make some very nice improvisational plays in the final preseason game against the Titans.

Bears 2021 preseason - Andy Dalton pressure
- photo by Nam Y. Huh, Associated Press
Bears 2021 preseason - Justin Fields pressure
- photo credit unknown
All the Bears QBs had to struggle with constant pressure.
Justin Fields at least has the mobility to get out of the pocket and make something happen.

There is a lot of popular demand to start Fields in the regular season, but I'm not so sure that is a good idea. If this offensive line cannot play better in the regular season, I would worry about the long-term health of Fields. He would likely take a lot of sacks and have to run and expose himself to lots of hits.

A big reason for the offensive line struggles is that the Bears are short at left tackle. Their other big-name draft pick was tackle Teven Jenkins, who may miss most (if not all) of the season after having back surgery in the summer. The Bears were so confident that he's be able to step in and start his first year that they released their previous starting left tackle, Charles Leno Jr.. With Leno (perhaps their best pass blocker last year) gone, and Jenkins out indefinitely, pass blocking is probably the single biggest area of concern.

Teven Jenkins - photo credit BearsWire
Teven Jenkins' injury is straining the O-Line.

Yes, the Bears did win 2 of their 3 preseason games, so perhaps that is something to be optimistic about. The defense played well in 2 of those 3 games, and the offense did do just enough to take and hold a lead. But most of that success was against backups after the first quarter was over.

As far as preseason stand-outs, receiver Rodney Adams and tight end Jasper Horstedd had some exciting and explosive plays. I think Adams will definitely earn himself a position on the team, even if it's in a rotational receiver role.

Honestly, as excited as I am to see Justin Fields leading this team, I do worry that maybe this isn't the best situation for him. Unless the Bears can shore up their offensive line with a free agent signing or two, or a trade for an upgrade at one or both tackle positions, starting Fields might just be setting the poor kid up for failure.

I have tickets to the Bears road game against the Raiders in October. I suspect that Fields will be the starter by that time, especially if the Bears offense under Dalton is as bad at converting third downs as they were in the preseason. But I also worry that if he is starting by that time, that he might not finish the season.

Allegiant Stadium
Photo by Orlando Ramirez, USA Today Sports
I'll be seeing my first ever NFL regular season game in-person when the Bears visit the Raiders in October.
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Monday, February 8, 2021 01:00 PM

Maybe Tom Brady is that good after all?

in Sports by MegaBearsFan

I've been a vocal "hater" of Tom Brady (and the New England Patriots) for many years. In fact, ten years ago, I wrote a post about how seeing the Colts playing without Payton Manning (who had been sidelined with an injury) proved that Manning is a better quarterback (and more valuable asset to the team) than Tom Brady. In the meantime, I've continued to maintain that the Patriots are just a very well-run and well-coached football team that would still be very successful even without Tom Brady. But Brady has now gone on to win four more SuperBowls since then, and yesterday, he did one of the things that we haters said would be one of the few things that would change our mind: he won a SuperBowl for a team other than the New England Patriots.

With his seventh SuperBowl victory yesterday, it's becoming increasingly hard to argue that he isn't the "G.O.A.T." (Greatest of All-Time). He is certainly the most accomplished player in NFL history. Despite this SuperBowl win, and despite Brady's success and accolades, his career is still loaded with "yeah buts".

Tom Brady has now silenced many of his doubters by winning a SuperBowl with a team other than the Patriots.

The best team in the worst division of football

First and foremost, he spent his entire career playing in the worst division in football. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills have consistently been among the worst teams in the league through the Patriots' 20-year dynasty. The Jets had a couple years under head coach Rex Ryan in which they were considered SuperBowl contenders, but their failures exposed them as more pretenders than serious contenders. It is only now in 2020 that the Bills are suddenly good, and the Dolphins almost put together a playoff-worthy record. And it just so happens that AFC East teams becoming good is the very year that Brady jumps ship from the Patriots.

Is Brady finally out of Belichick's shadow?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick have had a sort of "John Lennon, Paul McCartney" thing going on, in which people argued about whether they are as good on their own as they are together. Well now we finally got to see Belichick fail miserably at coaching a Brady-less team, and got to see Brady win a championship for a team not coached by Belichick. It's easy to see this as vindication for Brady (and many do see it as exactly that), but I'm still not entirely sold.

First and foremost, I point to 2008, when Brady was sidelined with injury, and Matt Cassel had to start the rest of the year. Cassel played exceptionally well, the Patriots went 11-5, and only missed the playoffs because they lost tie-breakers to the Dolphins (for the division title) and Ravens (for a wildcard spot). Cassel became the hottest free agent in the NFL that following offseason, and largely flopped at every team he played at since. The Patriots without Tom Brady were still playoff contenders.

Matt Cassel looked like an all-star and almost
lead Patriots to the playoffs in 2008.

We also saw the Patriots perform well during Brady's four-game "Deflategate" suspension in the 2016 season. The Patriots won 3 of those 4 games (convincingly) en route to a comeback SuperBowl championship against the Falcons. We've seen the Patriots be god without Tom Brady, multiple times.

We didn't see a Brady-less Patriots team again until 2020, which, of course, was the year of COVID. It's hard to really judge anything that happened this season because the whole thing was so topsy-turvy. The pandemic was disruptive to many teams' training camps, as it limited team activities. Almost every team had players opt-out of playing in the season altogether. Because of these disruptions to activities and rosters, it is very likely that otherwise good teams may have underperformed. One of the hardest-hit teams might have been the New England Patriots, which had to make due with six players opting-out, including two defensive starters and a starter on the offensive line. Furthermore, positive COVID tests for players (including elite defensive back Stephon Gilmore) caused further disruption to the Patriots' game and practice schedules. Despite all those problems, the Patriots were still only a couple games out of wildcard contention!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2020 11:20 AM

Is Chicago's Nick Foles experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan
Chicago Bears alt logo

When I wrote earlier this year about the Bears benching Mitch Trubisky in favor of Nick Foles, I said that I was surprised that Trubisky had been named the pre-season starter, that I expected Foles would eventually have the starting job, and that I was still surprised that Trubisky was suddenly benched in the middle of the week 3 game against the Falcons. It all seemed so indecisive. Trubisky had supposedly earned the job in training camp, was playing well, had lead a comeback victory in week 1 against the Lions, but was benched after a single mistake.

From my position as an un-informed spectator, the whole thing made no sense.

Then Foles came in and didn't exactly light up the scoreboard either. Foles lead the team to 2 victories, and it almost looked like the decision to change quarterbacks wouldn't hurt the team. Then the Bears' offense started playing far worse with Foles as starting quarterback, dropping the next six games straight. Granted, most of those 6 losses were against solid good offenses, such as the Saints, Packers, and Titans, and the Bears struggled to keep up. But Foles just wasn't looking good, and he wasn't helped by a stagnant run game while Tarik Cohen has been sidelined with injury. By the time of the week 10 matchup against the Vikings, I was starting to expect that a switch back to Trubisky probably should happen.

Mitch Trubisky has re-taken the starting job from Nick Foles. But was it too late to save the season?

That switch waited a few more weeks until the week 12 game against the Lions. The Bears still lost that game with Trubisky playing, but the offense did put up 30 points. The offense has also gone on to score more than 30 points in the Bears' 2 wins since, including a victory over the Vikings this past weekend that moved the Bears up to the top slot for playoff runner-up. The Bears are now 1 game behind the 7-seed Cardinals with 2 games left to play. They're also 2 games behind the Buccaneers and Rams, but only have a tie-breaker with the Buccaneers. Their victory against the Vikings puts them 1 game ahead of the Vikings (who are the only remaining team eligible for a wildcard berth). The Bears basically need to win both their remaining games (including a week 17 rematch against a Packers team that embarassed the Bears at the end of November), and then also hope that the Buccaneers, and/or Cardinals lose their last 2 games.

The most likely path to a playoff birth is if the Cardinals lose both their remaining games, and the Bears win both. That would give the Bears a 1-game lead over the Cardinals. The Cardinals' remaining games are a home matchup against the 49ers (coming off an upset loss to the Cowboys) and a road game against the Rams. Both are tough matchups for the cardinals, but very winnable ones. The 49ers also have nothing left to play for except pride and the satisfaction of maybe playing spoiler to a division rival.

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Monday, September 28, 2020 05:00 PM

Is Chicago's Trubisky experiment over?

in Sports | Chicago Bears by MegaBearsFan

Readers of my blog know that I was not a big fan of the Chicago Bears' decision to trade up in the 2017 draft to select Mitchel Trubisky. The decision seemed flat-out stupid considering how much money they had given Mike Glennon in the trade with the Buccaneers. Why spend so much money to trade for veteran QB, if you were planning to go all-in on a QB in the draft? It was especially non-sensical considering that Trubisky wasn't even the highest-rated passer in the draft.

This past offseason's decision to trade for Nick Foles initially excited me. That excitement turned to disappointment when head coach Matt Nagy announced that Trubisky would remain the starter. The move to pay for a high-profile QB in a trade, only to keep the under-performing incumbent as the starter wreaked of poor decision-making in the same way that the Glennon / Trubisky situation did 3 years ago.

Mitchel Trubisky has not been nearly as infuriatingly bad as Jay Cutler was.

It isn't like Trubisky is a horrible quarterback. He had a phenomenal 2018 season that lead to a Pro Bowl invitation. His 2019 season was a noticeable regression (possibly due to nagging injury), but it was never as bad as the worst Jay Cutler years. Remember that Cutler lead the NFL in interceptions multiple years during his tenure in Chicago that got three coaching staffs fired. Trubisky has not been that bad, and he is a big upgrade over Cutler.

But Foles seemed like an upgrade over Trubisky. Foles had, after all, lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl (as a backup to injured Carson Wentz). If the Bears made the trade for Foles, then I had to conclude that it meant they didn't have faith in Trubisky.

When Nagy announced that Trubisky had won the job in offseason competition, I expected that he must have looked damn good to have beat out Foles. In fact, Trubisky did look fantastic in the comeback win against the Lions in week 1. The offense then went on to struggle in week 2 against a bad Giants team, then appeared to falter again in the first half against the Falcons. Apparently, all it took was a single interception from Trubisky for the Nagy to decide to pull him out in favor of Foles.

I didn't get to watch the game because it wasn't televised in my region of the country. The highlights that I saw made it look like Trubisky was playing a good game up until that interception. The offense was moving the ball. They just weren't scoring points, and some of that is on the kicker for missing a field goal on the opening drive.

Trubisky was benched after botching the primary read on a dagger concept.

Even though the interception was a bad decision, there must've been more going on that wasn't in the highlights that I saw. I can't imagine that the one interception by itself was enough to replace the starter. Even though Trubisky ultimately is responsible for botching the primary read and throwing the drag route right into a flat zone defender who Trubisky is supposed to be keying off of (instead of the wide open deep in route), Jimmy Graham didn't help Mitch by running a lazy-looking route and carrying it right into the defender (as opposed to stopping and sitting in the hole of the zone). So this one wasn't all on Mitch.

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Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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