Cubs

NFC North - What You Need To Know

NFC North - What You Need To Know

Green Bay Packers (15-1, 560 Points For, lost in Divisional Playoffs): The Packers looked so sluggish in their playoff loss to the Giants, it's easy to forget just how dominant this offense was in the regular season. Aaron Rodgers has established himself as the best quarterback in the league, and fantasy owners appreciate that he'll run for a handful of yards and touchdowns every year, too. Perhaps a few of those cheapies at the goal will fade away with Cedric Benson in the fold, but make no mistake, Rodgers can pass his way to another MVP award either way. Although Greg Jennings is the de-facto No. 1 receiver here, he didn't even see 100 targets in 2011 - that's how much the Packers spread things around. No one thinks Jordy Nelson can score 15 times again, but his crisp routes and breakaway speed should give him a strong chance at 9-11 spikes. James Jones and Randall Cobb will struggle to get significant looks; Cobb has a big upside but didn't do much this summer. Jermichael Finley would be a star at tight end if he found a way to fix his ongoing drop problem. Look for another division title in Wisconsin, and at least 450 points. Bang the drum all day.

Detroit Lions (10-6, 474 PF, lost in Wild Card Round): Everything broke right for Matthew Stafford as a fantasy play last year: he stayed healthy and the Lions couldn't run the ball or stop anyone else from the scoring. Detroit wound up throwing the ball 66 percent of the time, the highest clip in the league. Head coach Jim Schwartz would like more balance in the offense (as anyone would), but the Lions don't have any special backs between Kevin Smith (ordinary vet), Mikel Leshoure (injury issues, drug suspension) and Jahvid Best (concussion problems, may not play again). Okay then, let Stafford line up in the shotgun and let it rip. Calvin Johnson is an uncoverable freak at receiver and a justifiable fantasy pick in the overall Top 5, and he'll get more help from Titus Young this year (try to snag Young as your fourth or fifth receiver). Tight end Brandon Pettigrew is a solid volume play, but he's not a dominator in the red zone.

Chicago Bears (8-8, 353 PF): The Bears were on the short list of Super Bowl contenders before Jay Cutler busted his thumb in November. A 1-5 crash landing followed, as a nation grimaced at the sight of backup QB Caleb Hanie. The front office did all it could to help Cutler for 2012, adding his old running mate Brandon Marshall in addition to RB Michael Bush and rookie WR Alshon Jeffery. Marshall should be a force between the 20s, but he never had big touchdown counts back in the Denver days with Cutler. He's a strong fantasy play but not a Top 10 wideout. Bush probably can poach 6-8 rushing touchdowns from tailback Matt Forte, but Forte will get his 1500-1800 total yards anyway, even behind a pedestrian offensive line. If you're looking for a safe back in the late-first or early-second round, Forte is a smart play. TE Kellen Davis has a some sleeper value in deeper leagues.

Minnesota Vikings (3-13, 340 PF): It's notable to see 340 points tied to a team that just won three games; the Vikings outscored 13 clubs last year. There's offensive talent here, and second-year starter Christian Ponder might be the most improved quarterback in the league. Percy Harvin is a Top 10 wideout if the migraines leave him alone, and TE Kyle Rudolph has breakout written all over him. No. 2 wideout Jerome Simpson can jump out of the dome, but he's on a drug suspension to open the year. No one knows what to expect from RB Adrian Peterson after his holiday knee blowout last year. He didn't take contact or play in any preseason games. You need a lot of nerve to select AP in the Top 25 - we'll pass on that option, thanks. Backup Toby Gerhart will be underrated in many leagues; he went for 4.9 YPC last year and caught 23 passes (three for touchdowns). Even if Peterson is able to start most of the season, Gerhart might be good enough to see 8-12 touches a week.

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

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USA TODAY

Breaking down where Cubs can turn NLCS around and beat L.A.

“Sometimes, you got to lay your marbles out there,” Jon Lester said Sunday night inside Dodger Stadium’s visiting clubhouse, before the Cubs flew home from Los Angeles down 0-2 in the National League Championship Series. “And you get beat.”

It will be extremely difficult for the Cubs to win four of the next five games against the Dodgers, starting Tuesday night at Wrigley Field. But the Cubs had the, uh, marbles to win last year’s World Series and have developed the muscle memory from winning six playoff rounds and playing in 33 postseason games since October 2015.

There is a cross section left of the 2015 team that beat the Pittsburgh Pirates and silenced PNC Park’s blackout crowd in a sudden-death wild-card game. While 2016 is seen in hindsight as a year of destiny, those Cubs still had to kill the myths about the even-year San Francisco Giants, survive a 21-inning scoreless streak against the Dodgers and win Games 5, 6, 7 against the Cleveland Indians under enormous stress.

There is at least a baseline of experience to draw from and the sense that the Cubs won’t panic and beat themselves, the way the Washington Nationals broke down in the NL Division Series.

· Remember the Cubs pointed to how their rotation set up as soon as Cleveland took a 3-1 lead in last year’s World Series: Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks would each give them a chance to win that night. The Dodgers will now have to deal with last year’s major-league ERA leader (Hendricks) in Game 3 and a Cy Young Award winner (Arrieta) on Wednesday night in Game 4.

“Obviously, we know we need to get wins at this point,” Hendricks said. “But approaching it as a must-win is a little extreme. We've just got to go out there and play our brand of baseball.

“Since we accomplished that, we know we just have to take it game by game. Even being down 3-1 (in the World Series), we worry about the next game. In that situation, we didn’t think we had to win three in a row or anything like that. We just came to the ballpark the next day and worried about what we had to do that day.”

· The history lessons only go so far when the Dodgers can line up Yu Darvish as their Game 3 starter instead of, say, Josh Tomlin. There is also a huge difference between facing a worn-down Cleveland staff in late October/early November and a rested Dodger team that clinched a division title on Sept. 22 and swept the Arizona Diamondbacks in the first round. Joe Blanton and Pedro Baez aren’t walking through that bullpen door, either.

“We’ve done it before. We’ve been there before,” shortstop Addison Russell said. “But this year’s a new year. That’s a different ballclub. We’re definitely going to have to bring it.”

· Outside of Kenley Jansen, can you name anyone else in the Los Angeles bullpen off the top of your head? No doubt, the Dodger relievers have been awesome in Games 1 and 2 combined: Eight scoreless innings, zero hits, zero walks and Anthony Rizzo the only one out of 25 batters to reach base when Jansen hit him with a 93.7-mph pitch.

But the Dodgers are going to make mistakes, and the Cubs will have to capitalize. Unless this is the same kind of synthesis from the 2015 NLCS, when the New York Mets used exhaustive scouting reports, power pitching and pinpoint execution to sweep a Cubs team that had already hit the wall.

“Their bullpen is a lot stronger than it was last year,” Kris Bryant said. “They’re really good at throwing high fastballs in the zone. A lot of other teams try to, and they might hit it one out of every four. But this team, it seems like they really can hammer the top of the zone. And they have guys that throw in the upper 90s, so when you mix those two, it’s tough to catch up.”

· Bryant is not having a good October (5-for-28 with 13 strikeouts) and both Lester and Jose Quintana have more hits (one each) than Javier Baez (0-for-19 with eight strikeouts) during the playoffs. But we are still talking about the reigning NL MVP and last year’s NLCS co-MVP.

Ben Zobrist is clearly diminished and no longer the switch-hitting force who became last year’s World Series MVP. Kyle Schwarber doesn’t have the same intimidation factor or playoff aura right now. But one well-timed bunt from Zobrist or a “Schwarbomb” onto the video board could change the entire direction of this series and put the pressure on a Dodger team that knows this year is World Series or bust.

“We need to hit a couple balls hard consecutively,” manager Joe Maddon said. “Once we’re able to do that, we’ll gain our offensive mojo back. That's all that’s going on.

“I inherited something from my dad, and that was patience. So you’ve got to be patient right now. You’ve got to keep putting the boys back out there. You keep believing in them, and eventually it comes back to you.”

· Maddon is a 63-year-old man who opened Monday’s stadium club press conference at Wrigley Field by talking about dry-humping, clearly annoyed by all the second-guessers on Twitter and know-it-all sports writers who couldn’t believe All-Star closer Wade Davis got stranded in the bullpen, watching the ninth inning of Sunday’s 1-1 game turn into a 4-1 walk-off loss.

By the time a potential save situation develops on Tuesday night, roughly 120 hours will have passed since Davis threw his 44th and final pitch at Nationals Park, striking out Bryce Harper to end an instant classic. Just guessing that Maddon will be in the mood to unleash Davis.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Should the Bears let Mitch Trubisky throw more?

Adam Jahns (Chicago Sun-Times), Ben Finfer (ESPN 1000) and Jordan Cornette (The U/ESPN 1000) join Kap on the panel. Justin Turner hits a walk-off 3-run HR off of John Lackey to give the Dodgers a 2-0 lead in the NLCS. So why was Lackey even in the game? How much blame should Joe Maddon get for the loss?

The Bears run the ball over and over and over again to beat the Ravens in overtime, but should they have let Mitch Trubisky throw the ball more?