From Comcast SportsNetNEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Jim Harbaugh stepped to the podium, smirked a bit, and greeted his first news conference as a Super Bowl coach."We're super happy to be here," he said Sunday night as his NFC champion San Francisco 49ers arrived in the Big Easy for the big game."I think this team has the best focus on unity and winning I've ever been a part of."Considering that Harbaugh was an NFL quarterback for 14 seasons and a successful college coach before joining the 49ers, he knows something about winning.Under Harbaugh, San Francisco has been to two NFC title games and, now, to its first Super Bowl in 18 years. The Niners (13-4-1) will play Baltimore (13-6), coached by Harbaugh's older brother, John, in next Sunday's Super Bowl.He is certain his team is ready for the task as the 49ers seek their sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy; they are 5-0 in Super Bowls."These are uncharted waters for a rookie Super Bowl coach," Harbaugh said. "But that's exciting. It's a great thrill, and we have a desire to be in uncharted waters. We always strive for that kind of challenge."Earlier in the evening, with a team flag waving from an open window of their chartered plane, the 49ers arrived in a businesslike manner. The players calmly walked off the airplane -- no video recorders or cameras, no waves to onlookers.Most of the team's veteran players disembarked first, including center Jonathan Goodwin, who won a Super Bowl three years ago with the Saints."You get to go to the Super Bowl with your childhood team, so that's something special to me," he said. "So hopefully I can find a way to win the Super Bowl with my childhood team."Quarterback Colin Kaepernick, wearing a red wool cap sporting "49ers" on it, mouthed the words to a song on his headphones as he walked on the tarmac.He seemed just as relaxed 90 minutes later as he met the media."Pressure comes from a lack of preparation," said Kaepernick, who took over as the starter when Alex Smith got a concussion in November and has been sensational in keeping the job. "This is not a pressure situation. It's a matter of going out and performing."Harbaugh said the 49ers came to New Orleans on Sunday to simulate a normal week. He likened their trip to his strategy the last two seasons when the 49ers spent a week in Youngstown, Ohio, between Eastern games rather than return to the Bay Area.He liked the way the players and coaches bonded during that experience."Same approach," Harbaugh said. "Enjoy the moment and the preparation. I think our team enjoys that the most: the meetings, the preparation and then, especially, the competition."
Everything changed for the Bears after going up 17-3 last week against the Baltimore Ravens. Mitchell Trubisky’s 27-yard touchdown to Dion Sims was immediately followed by Bobby Rainey running a kickoff back 96 yards for a touchdown, then the offense was bogged down with three fumbles (two lost) on three consecutive possessions.
But Adrian Amos seemed to seal the game with his 90-yard pick six — that is, until Michael Campanaro ran Pat O’Donnell’s punt back 77 yards for what wound up being a game-tying touchdown after a two-point conversion.
The point is the Bears should’ve cruised to a comfortable win last week; a few critical mistakes didn’t allow that to happen. The Bears haven’t led at the end of the fourth quarter this year, a pretty strong indicator they haven’t played a complete game yet despite having two wins.
The Carolina Panthers have road wins over the Detroit Lions and New England Patriots this year, and only lost to the Philadelphia Eagles by five points last week (despite Cam Newton throwing three interceptions). The bet here is the Bears keep things close on the backs of a strong defense, but either can’t make enough plays or make too many mistakes to win.
Prediction: Panthers 20, Bears 16
"Of course," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said in the middle of the National League Championship — he would like his coaches back in 2018. Pitching coach Chris Bosio told the team's flagship radio station this week that the staff expected to return next year. President of baseball operations Theo Epstein didn't go that far during Friday afternoon's end-of-season news conference at Wrigley Field, but he did say: "Rest assured, Joe will have every coach back that he wants back."
That's Cub: USA Today columnist Bob Nightengale first reported Saturday morning that Bosio had been fired, the team declining a club contract option for next year and making a major influence on the Wrigleyville rebuild a free agent. Epstein and Bosio did not immediately respond to text messages and the club has not officially outlined the shape of the 2018 coaching staff.
Those exit meetings on Friday at Wrigley Field are just the beginning of an offseason that could lead to sweeping changes, with the Cubs looking to replace 40 percent of their rotation, identify an established closer (whether or not that's Wade Davis), find another leadoff option and maybe break up their World Series core of hitters to acquire pitching.
The obvious candidate to replace Bosio is Jim Hickey, Maddon's longtime pitching coach with the Tampa Bay Rays who has Chicago roots and recently parted ways with the small-market franchise that stayed competitive by consistently developing young arms like David Price and Chris Archer.
Of course, Maddon denied that speculation during an NLCS where the Los Angeles Dodgers dominated the Cubs in every phase of the game and the manager's bullpen decisions kept getting second-guessed.
Bosio has a big personality and strong opinions that rocked the boat at times, but he brought instant credibility as an accomplished big-league pitcher who helped implement the team's sophisticated game-planning system.
Originally a Dale Sveum hire for the 2012 season/Epstein regime Year 1 where the Cubs lost 101 games, Bosio helped coach up and market short-term assets like Ryan Dempster, Scott Feldman, Matt Garza and Jeff Samardzija.
Those win-later trades combined with Bosio's expertise led to a 2016 major-league ERA leader (Kyle Hendricks) and a 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner (Jake Arrieta) plus setup guys Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. and All-Star shortstop Addison Russell.
Bosio helped set the foundation for the group that won last year's World Series and has made three consecutive trips to the NLCS. But as the Cubs are going to find out this winter, there is a shelf life to everything, even for those who made their mark during a golden age of baseball on the North Side.