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Schedule about to take tough turn for Bears

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Schedule about to take tough turn for Bears

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) The Chicago Bears breezed through the first half of their schedule in good shape, leading NFC North at 7-1. Things are about to get much tougher.

Houston visits Sunday night in a matchup of two of the league's best teams, and then comes a game at San Francisco next week between NFC contenders.

To that, coach Lovie Smith said, bring it on.

``I don't want the guys to start thinking, `Hey, let's hold on, something bad's going to happen,''' he said Monday. ``We're a 7-1 team. You are what your record says you are and we're a 7-1 football team. We're a good football team. We're excited about playing the Texans. Each game as you continue to win, the stakes go up a little bit higher.

``We realize that and we're going to embrace it,'' he added. ``We're going to embrace this national stage that we have this Sunday night. I see our team getting better and better. We haven't peaked yet.''

They sure looked good dismantling Tennessee, scoring the most points for Chicago since 1980 on their way to a 51-20 win.

They got four forced fumbles from Charles Tillman, and their seventh interception return for a touchdown when Brian Urlacher ran one back, extending their single-season record. They also matched one set in 1942 with their seventh defensive touchdown, and they kicked the romp off with a franchise-record 28 points in the first quarter even though their offense got off to a clunky start.

It didn't matter because the defense forced three turnovers in the first 13 minutes, leading to 14 points, and Corey Wootton returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

``Right now, we're talking an awful lot about our defense,'' Smith said. ``But before this season is over, hopefully this week, it's going to shift where we're going to be talking an awful lot about the weapons we have and the offensive plays that we're making. You can look at that yesterday.''

The Bears found their stride on offense in the second half and wound up with 358 yards after being outgained 145 yards to 136 through the first two quarters.

Jay Cutler threw for 229 yards and finished with a 138.1 rating.

Brandon Marshall had 122 yards and three touchdowns receiving. Matt Forte ran for 103 and a score, but the Bears are going to need more at the start if they're going to get by the rest of the way.

``It took a little bit of time,'' Cutler said. ``I think we shortened up some of our routes, just tried to get the ball out quicker, get it in the receivers' hands and get some rhythm that way.''

Only one of the remaining games is against a team with a losing record at the moment and none are against a defense ranked lower than 13th. The next two weeks, the Bears will be facing top three defenses, with Houston ranked third and San Francisco second, meaning the offense could be in for some more difficulties.

``We're not there yet, but we are taking steps forward I think,'' Forte said.

It still hasn't clicked quite the way the Bears envisioned after that busy offseason.

The Bears rank 25th overall on offense and 29th in the passing game, not quite the way they drew it up.

Marshall, their big acquisition, has been everything they thought he would be with 797 yards and seven touchdown catches. He already has more yards than last year's leading receiver Johnny Knox, who had 727 in 14 appearances before a season-ending back injury.

But protection continues to be an issue.

Only Aaron Rodgers of Green Bay has been sacked more times than Cutler, who has absorbed 28 this season. Tennessee got to him three times and he took several more hits, although Smith said the line wasn't to blame for most of that.

Otherwise, he liked what he saw from the offense, particularly in the second half of that game. They'll need more of that with the schedule taking a tougher turn.

``I know we have the Texans next, and I have an idea of some of the other teams we have coming up,'' Smith said. ``But I think this team has enough veterans in the room to stay focused. They know how we do things. They're not looking too far, one play at a time.''

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Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

The NFL started taking into account a new factor when putting together its schedule this year. The concept is called rest disparity. It stems from a complaint made by the Giants last year. And, of course, when the Giants have a cold, the NFL sneezes and immediately does whatever it takes to cure the cold. 

Here is how Peter King laid it out this morning on the MMQB:

Last year, I heard the Giants were not pleased with their schedule because they felt they were too often playing teams more rested than they were. In consecutive October weeks, they played teams coming off byes, for instance. The NFL calculated a figure for every team based on the number of combined days of rest for their foes or for the team, calculating, for instance, in those two weeks, the Giants were a minus-14 (minus-seven for each of the foes, Seattle and Denver, coming off byes). In all, by my math, the Giants were a league-worst minus-22 in “rest disparity.”

So the schedule makers worked to minimize the rest disparity this year. According to King, the worst rest disparity in the league this year is minus-11. The Giants are minus-eight. 

The question that Redskins fans will have immediately here is if the Giants’ rest disparity was reduced at the expense of the team in burgundy and gold. The answer that will surprise many is no. 

The Redskins rest disparity in 2018 will be either minus-one or zero. The variance is due to the possibility that their Week 16 game in Tennessee will be flexed to a Saturday game (see details here). If the game stays on Sunday, they will be at minus-one in rest disparity. If it gets moved, they will have had exactly as much rest over the course of the season as did their opponents, in aggregate. 

If you're interested in the nitty-gritty, here is how it breaks down. In eight or nine of their games, they will have had the same amount of rest as their opponents. They play one game coming off of their bye, a Monday night game in New Orleans. The Saints play the previous Sunday, giving Washington a plus-seven in days of rest. That is canceled out when they play the Falcons in Week 9 after Atlanta’s bye. 

Due to their Thanksgiving game, they get three extra days off going into their Week 13 Monday night game in Philadelphia. Two weeks later the Jaguars will have those three extra days of rest when they host the Redskins, having played on Thursday in Week 14.

They lose a day relative to their opponents coming off of those Monday night games against the Saints and Eagles. The Redskins get an extra day prior to visiting the Giants in Week 8 as New York has a Monday night game in Week 7. 

So far, that comes to minus-one in rest disparity. That will remain in place if they play the Titans on Sunday, December 23. If the game is flexed to Saturday, they will gain a day of rest on the Eagles in Week 17, zeroing out the rest disparity for the season. 

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Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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