Swami-ing the Bears Schedule Weeks 14-17

ImageAs we enter the final month of the monotony that is the NFL off season, I bring you my schedule preview for the last month of play. The last four games feature the second edition of divisional games and a confidence booster game sandwiched in between. This stretch of the schedule should prove crucial in the divisional race and to set the tone against two teams that will likely be in the playoff hunt.

Week: 14
Opponent:
@ Minnesota Vikings
Details:
By this point in the season the Vikes should have a healthy (Or is that unhealthy?) number of losses and will be looking to play spoiler for the other three teams in the division. If Christian Ponder can settle into a groove and Adrian Peterson returns to form, then they just might be able to do it against an emotionally charged team like the Lions, but the Bears are too experienced to take a week off at the end of the season. This one may end up being relatively close, but there is little chance that the defense will let extra breathing room slip through their fingers by giving up yards to a young offense.
Result:
Win
Key To Success:
Veteran leadership

Week: 15
Opponent: vs Green Bay Packers
Details:
Playing the Pack at home helps, but it doesn’t change Aaron Rodgers’ ability to destroy a secondary. Rodgers has thrown for 1489 yards against the Bears in the last three years, if the defense has one weakness it’s against pass happy teams with elite quarterbacks (go figure). The X-factor in this game will come from mother nature, a mid December tilt could turn out to be a blessing if the weather forces both teams to pound it on the ground. If that happens, then the Bears have a decent shot against the inexperienced defensive line of Green Bay, but counting on the weather at any point is absurd, much less five months out. If conditions hold, then the Packers win again to sweep the season series.

Result: Loss

Key To Success: Weather, defensive line

Week: 16
Opponent:
@ Arizona Cardinals
Details:
The Cardinals should come in with one of the least improved teams in the league next season after making few meaningful changes in free agency and drafting at an already strong position by taking receiver Michael Floyd in the first round. The problem is that they still have no one decent to throw the ball to Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald, as the three passers that were used by the Cards last year combined for a paltry passer rating of 73.9. A defense ranked in the bottom half of the league will pose no threat for a healthy Bear offense, and this one could turn into a laugher quickly. It will be interesting to see who can win the battle of the returners as Devin Hester will square off against electrifying second year man Patrick Peterson, who has the potential to keep his team close in games by securing good field position.
Result:
Win
Key To Success:
Special teams

Week: 17
Opponent:
@ Detroit Lions
Details:
There might be no better way to end the season than to see the Bears battle a talented divisional foe in a game that could very well have playoff seeding implications. The Bears step onto the turf at Ford Field to avenge the 24-13 embarrassment in Detroit last season. Unlike the Packers game, this one won’t be influenced by the elements, which should be just fine for Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. On the flip side  Matthew Stafford will have ample opportunity to gain yards through the air via Calvin Johnson or Brandon Pettigrew. The Bears must come out with an edge early and set the tone, and hopefully by the fourth quarter they can push the margin to a place where they feel comfortable taking out the key offensive players. The Lions could be out for blood at the end of the game like they were in Week 10 last year, however if the Bears can avoid any key injuries I don’t see any reason why they can’t beat the Lions like they did last year with timely defense and a consistent passing attack.
Result:
Win
Key To Success:
Early playmaking on defense

So if the games fall according to plan, the Bears can finish at 12-4 this year, a record that might win them the divisional crown and should guarantee the five seed in the playoffs. With a decent bill of health, the sky’s the limit for the ‘12-’13 Bears, and the Super Bowl is clearly not out of the question. Now all we can do as fans is watch, hope, and predict how things might turn out. This season just might be the one that sees Chicago football reign victorious once again.

Sunday Pulse-Rizzdiculousness

ImageI’m going to be doing a new topic on slow Sundays where I write a paragraph on all three of the teams that I cover summarizing their week and what it might mean for their future. You might say that im taking their sports pulse (eh, eh?).  Today’s segment includes Omer Asik, Anthony Rizzo, and, of course, Matt Forte.

Cubs- Right now things are as good as they might ever be in 2012 for Cubs fans. Top prospect Anthony Rizzo has gotten off to a promising start, five of the last seven games have resulted in victories, and the majority of the fans in the last series were from Chicago and not the opposing city. The best part about Rizzo’s early success is the timeliness of his hits- over the last two days Rizzo has hit a two run homer in a 3-2 win and an RBI single that turned out to be a game winner earlier today. Baseball needs its’ Jeremy Lin/Tim Tebow figure- who better than a young slugger on a bad team who had to overcome cancer? Rizzdiculousness could be right around the corner with a little help from the media.

Bulls-  This was a week of both good and bad news in Chicago basketball. On a positive note, the Bulls spent their Thursday night selecting Kentucky point guard Marquis Teague, a pick that experts loved. Teague has a lot of potential and fills an immediate need in the absence of Derrick Rose and wasn’t expected to drop to pick 29. The bad news is that the Rockets have offered restricted free agent Omer Asik a contract in the neighborhood of eight million dollars a year, according to Adrian Wojnarowski. The Blazers may also be interested, but either way, a team that will already be toeing the luxury tax line can ill afford to give that kind of money to a backup. Taj Gibson may end up as the only returning member of the bench mob with so little money to spend on bringing back players.

Bears- The only news in June in football isn’t going to involve the gridiron, and so the only piece of Bears news to report these days involves the Matt Forte contract situation. Most of the time when I see something regarding the battle between management and Forte I usually click away because I can usually have things summed up to me in a few words instead of reading multiple articles full of obvious analysis and sugar coated complaints. The negotiations took a slight turn this week when Forte all but admitted that he won’t hold out during the regular season. As long as he isn’t hurting the team when the games count, I can’t find too much fault with Forte being strategic in getting a new contract.

Sully Can’t Catch A Break (CoW 4)

Video

This week’s clip is a little late because I was hoping for a decent video of Anthony Rizzo’s first at bat, but all I found was footage from a TV that should have been unplugged long ago. Thankfully last night Andy Katz’ gaffe at the draft provided me with material that was equally good. Apparently Jared Sullinger’s issues go beyond a bad back.

Bulls Do Well With Teague

ImageLast night’s draft was one of the deepest in years and provided some entertaining moments to boot. This is the first year in a while where I could put myself in the shoes of nearly every team in the lottery and say that I would be happy with the young player(s) that my team selected. After that, most of the more successful half of the league took their turn at solidifying the future, with mixed results. There was the good (Thunder, Celtics) and the bad (Pacers, Heat, Andy Katz) and then, finally, the Bulls went on the clock at 29 and made a pick that most people put into the former category. Although I would have preferred that they picked Will Barton in the hopes that he could provide value for the long term, the Bulls took Marquis Teague and added flexibility in doing so.

Teague is a more talented option than C.J. Watson, even in his rookie season, and has a great pedigree playing alongside five other 2012 draftees at Kentucky and growing up as the younger brother of Hawks guard Jeff Teague. There are some issues with inconsistency, but his potential makes any risks well worth taking in the 29th spot. Whoever was going to step into Derrick Rose’s place and run the team during the regular season has some Shaq sized shoes to fill, and Teague appears to have as good a chance as any bargain option in free agency.

There is also the matter of the 3.4 million dollars that the Bulls can use on a shooter or defensive specialist by not picking up C.J. Watson’s option. Whether or not Watson really wants to return to the team will be put to the test- the team might still give him an offer, but it could be closer to the veteran’s minimum than the mid level exception that Watson might expect.  Either way, the Bulls now have the ability to shed 13.1 million dollars worth of salary that can be used to keep Omer Asik, sign Teague to a rookie deal at 2 million dollars or so, and hopefully sign a mid level guy who can be a combination of Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer. Or, if they strike out in free agency, they can bring one of those two back and maintain some chemistry with the bench mob. It looks like Marquis Teague is going to make the Bulls better before he even steps onto the floor at the UC.

The matter of who can back up the Kentucky product next season is a slight concern. John Lucas may be a fireball as an 11th guy, but he just isn’t going to cut it if he has to play 25 minutes a game. One option may be Kirk Hinrich, who has the flexibility to play both guard spots and stabilize the second unit if Teague becomes erratic. There may also be some veterans who are willing to take minimum contracts in order to play for a contender, provided management can convince them that Derrick Rose will return before the playoffs. They might even get lucky and have another rookie impress during summer ball- Scott Machado didn’t hear his name called last night, nor did Maryland sharp shooter Terrell Stoglin. Money may be stretched thin next year, but there are options. Not only that, but the Bulls got a pretty talented player as well.

When the Grizzlies chose Tony Wroten at 25, Teague took a tumble right into Gar Forman’s lap. He can shoot, he’s quick, and he’s full of potential. I have yet to see a publication that has given the Bulls less than an A- grade, and they only selected one player. The expectation is that he can anchor the bench mob for years to come, and just might be able to make the difference in the playoffs if the second team can run over the reserves on the Heat or Thunder. Simply put, the Bulls made a quality pick at the end of the first round once again. Home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs is attainable if Teague can perform like he should, and all things considered, that’s a pretty large jump in expectations.

Swami-ing the Bears Schedule Weeks 10-13

ImageIs it just me, or does the the start of the NFL season seem just as far away as it did when I started writing this series two weeks ago? This is a painfully slow time in windy city sports, but all that fans can do right now is look ahead and hope for the future. No surprises here, that is exactly what I am going to be doing. Here is part three of my four part look at how I expect the Bears to fare in the upcoming season. This chunk of the schedule features some interesting matchups that are a rarity for an NFC North team and a treat for a fan in search of great football. Wait, the first preseason game is still six weeks away? This is going to be a long summer…

Week: 10
Opponent:
vs Houston Texans
Details:
For those not familiar with the Texans, they can be best compared as the predecessor to the Lions in the AFC. No, they haven’t run into a rash of off the field issues, but they do have a talented quarterback that struggles with injuries, a game changing wide receiver, and solid defense that makes plays to tie it all together. It is far from a guarantee that Matt Schaub will be healthy at this point in the season, but assuming he is the Bears will have a stiff test on their hands. The key difference between the Texans and Lions is in the running game, where Houston possesses Arian Foster and Ben Tate, forming perhaps the best one two punch of running backs in the league. Despite being at home, the defense will have a tough time keeping points off the board, and the offense could struggle to keep up with a stout pass rush led by J.J. Watt and Antonio Smith. The Bears lose a heartbreaker when the offensive line can’t hold up in the second half.
Result:
Loss
Key To Success:
Offensive Line

Week: 11
Opponent:
@ San Francisco 49ers
Details:
After a tough game against the Texans the Bears must travel to the west coast to face the stout defense of the Niners, most likely causing J’Marcus Webb to have nightmares about being burned by defensive linemen for the rest of the year. As for the rest of the game, this matchup is a defensive enthusiast’s dream. Points will not come easy in the early going as the two defensive units battle to see who is the most dominant. This game will be a generational clash in the linebacking corps as proven greats Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs face off against young talents Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman. The difference should come in the second half, when Jay Cutler can settle into a rhythm and outplay Alex Smith. Smith is like Rex Grossman in some respects, inconsistent with a great defense to bail him out when the going gets tough. The Bears defense can relate, but now that they have a more explosive offense the Bears will win in ugly fashion.
Result:
Win
Key To Success:
Jay Cutler

Week: 12
Opponent:
vs Minnesota Vikings
Details:
I’m a fan of what the Vikings are building, especially on offense. Percy Harvin, Adrian Peterson, Christian Ponder, and Matt Kalil are great building blocks for a successful offense. They may be doing it slowly, but much like the Cubs they recognize that there is a lot of work to do and want to retool the right way. That being said, this year’s Vikings are still not ready to contend in a highly talented NFC North, primarily because of some losses on an already sub par defense. Provided Peterson is back from injury by Week 12, Minnesota should put a handful of points on the board, but defensively they will struggle to contain Brandon Marshall with a young secondary and linebacking corps. This should be an easy win as long as the defense doesn’t decide to take the week off completely.
Result:
Win
Key To Success:
Defensive Intensity

Week: 13
Opponent:
vs Seattle Seahawks
Details:
Some fans may have missed it in the heat of lamenting the lost season, but the Seahawks torched the Bear defense for 24 points and 286 yards of offense, with Caleb Hanie giving away two other scores. The awful play of the offense might explain the defensive lapse in most cases, but the Bears gave up 226 yard of passing to Tarvaris Jackson, a concerning number in any situation. Luckily the Seahawks’ offseason was generally quiet, and with a home crowd behind them it is unlikely that the Bears will lose for the second year in a row. I can’t reasonably pick the Seahawks to win here, but watch out, this game could be closer than most people think. The Bears need to pressure Jackson or whoever else ends up starting to eliminate any confidence that he may carry over from last year
Result:
Win
Key To Success:
Pass Rush

Record After 13 Weeks: 9-3

Not a bad mark heading into the final stretch of the season, look for part four coming next week to round out the schedule.

Bulls Draft Situationals

ImageThere are a number of different directions that the Bulls can take on draft night, and only those with inside information can truly have any idea where the Bulls might be headed with the 29th pick, if they even stay at that spot. There isn’t necessarily a clear cut option at the end of the first round, there rarely is so far down the line, but there are some guys who will fill a given role better than others. Here are the guys that would be the best selections for each route that the Bulls might take.

If they’re looking for a shooting specialist…
Take: John Jenkins G Vanderbilt
There’s no denying that Jenkins can shoot the lights out, he shot 44% from the college line last year and should transfer well with his lightning quick release. After playing three years in the SEC, Jenkins should come very NBA ready as a sharp shooter off the bench and can provide a cheaper option in that role than Kyle Korver for the Bulls. Jenkins is a high floor low ceiling guy who is one of the most popular options to land in Chicago in mock drafts, partly because not all of these outlets have paid attention to the impact that injuries will have on the team. A safe pick as a solid contributor off the bench.

If they’re looking for a point guard…
Take:
Marquis Teague PG Kentucky

If he falls past the Grizzlies at 25, Teague has a good shot at being around by the time the Bulls have the podium. Teague has less polish than Tyshawn Taylor but a much higher ceiling, and with C.J. Watson as a functional option they can afford to take a year to show him the ropes and become the next backup to Derrick Rose. Teague is super quick and can get to the rim, much like another Chicago point guard. A uniform skill set for guys running the offense could pay dividends on the offensive end. The question is whether or not the Bulls can afford to draft a redshirt type point man when they’re thin at the off guard.

If they’re looking to roll the dice…
Take: Will Barton G Memphis
Barton’s stock has soared after impressing scouts during recent workouts in addition to his impressive frame at 6’6” with a 6’10” wingspan. If he is still around at 29 the Bulls will undoubtedly be enticed by the Memphis product’s talents. Not only is Barton an outstanding athlete, but he also has a solid mid range game with the ability to expand his range even further. Consistency is a concern, but the positives appear to outweigh the negatives by far. Barton could turn out to be a steal at the end of the first round if he develops into Rip Hamilton’s successor in the starting lineup.

If they’re looking for a forward…
Take: Quincy Miller F Baylor
This was the hardest selection to make because Jeff Taylor projects to be a good fit into Tom Thibodeau’s system, but once again the potential of Miller slots him in as the best forward option at the end of the first round. A recent top ten recruit out of Chicago, Miller would most likely be in the lottery if not for knee issues that hindered him during his freshman campaign at Baylor. If he can stay healthy, Miller is a good athlete with range and the flexibility to play both forward spots, and could definitely give Luol Deng a run for the 3 spot in a couple of years. There is little chance that this pick will be made, however, unless Deng is shipped out via trade and the Bulls manage to hold on to their original pick. Otherwise Miller would have little impact as the fifth forward on a team that lacks guard depth.

If they’re all available…
Take:
Will Barton G Memphis
Barton just has way too much potential to pass up at this point. Jenkins may be more NBA ready, but to an extent the Bulls need to look beyond this year when making their selection. Barton has the potential to develop into the final piece of the starting lineup that will eventually need all hands on deck to beat the Heat. None of the other players available are going to develop into significant upgrades over what the Bulls currently have, and so Will Barton should be looked at as the primary target on Thursday night.