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Playoff Prognosis: Saints at Seahawks

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Playoff Prognosis: Saints at Seahawks

Saturday, Jan. 8, 2011
10:36 a.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The Seattle Seahawks made dubious NFL history of a sort by becoming that largest home underdog in playoff history when the New Orleans Saints were installed as 10-12-point favorites despite their playoff game being staged in one of the most difficult venues of all for a visiting team.

But when you get in the playoffs, you get one of those hats, and your records not on there, it says Division Champion, said Herm Edwards, ESPN analyst and former NFL player and coach. No one really cares about the below .500 record. We care, but it happened, so now they have to go play.

Good thing for them is that theyre playing at home. Theyre the team that everyone has frowned onThey are a team that has to use their advantage at home. Theyve got to use that crowd.

The reasons for this game shaping up as a Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson situation are pretty simple: Seattle not only is 7-9 but its nine losses have all been by 15 points or more. Seattle did, however, upend two teams with winning records: Chicago and San Diego.

The problem there is that the Seahawks were on their way to a 4-2 start when they put up those victories. When Seattle went to New Orleans in late November, the Seahawks were crushed 34-19 by a Saints team that did not have Reggie Bush, Jeremy Shockey and Pierre Thomas yet still saw Drew Brees throw for 382 yards.

Matt Hasselbeck (hip injury) will start for Seattle, he does have Super Bowl and playoff experience, and he did ring up more than 300 passing yards when the two teams played this season.. But he threw 12 touchdown passes vs. 17 interceptions.

Hasselbeck, 35, could be playing in his final game as a Seahawk. The organization made massive changes starting right from the outset of the offseason, beginning with new head coach Pete Carroll, and the process of coming together has been difficult.

I think the guys weve brought in have really helped us, talented, pros, guys you can count on, Hasselbeck said. Its been kind of fun in a way

New Orleans has taken hits in the running game with injuries to Thomas and Chris Ivory, who combined for 7 rushing touchdowns and nearly 1,000 yards. And perhaps most notably, the Saints are one of only three teams in the playoffs with a minus-turnover ratio (minus-6).

Seattle, however, is one of the other two at minus-9. (Indianapolis is the third).

The Seahawks leading rusher, Marshawn Lynch, managed all of 573 yards on the season, the obvious reason why Seattle ranks 31st in rushing yards for 2010. We need to get our running game going, Carroll said. We need to crank it up and he can be a big factor in that as well as the guys up front.

If Brees slips up and commits a turnover or two that hands the Seahawks a short field, the Saints could be in trouble. That may be enough for Seattle to threaten but the firepower even with a New Orleans team speckled with injuries is too much.
New Orleans 27 Seattle 20

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.