Cubs

Bears are confident on the upcoming season

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Bears are confident on the upcoming season

Many early publications are already projecting the Bears to finish third in the NFC North. Chicago finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs, while Green Bay (15-1) lost in the divisional round and Detroit (10-6) lost in the wild-card round. This ranking doesnt sit well with Bears fans or the team, especially after the 2011 playoffs evaporated with one injury.

The upcoming season could shape up to be a good one. I can hear the Peanut Gallery already shouting, Mills, you're a Bears homer!
Au Contraire!

For the Bears, 2012 is more or less about offensive accountability and consistency. If they can achieve this at a high level against their opponents, they will be a playoff team. If not, discussions of rebuilding with a new head coach will come into play as Lovie Smith would be entering a lame duck season in 2013. The offense could potentially be even stronger in 2013 if a good foundation is built in 2012.

The best comparison to the Bears' situation can be seen when analyzing the Baltimore Ravens. Since head coach John Harbaughs arrival in 2008, offensive accountability has been stressed. The Ravens have made the playoffs four straight seasons because their offense has come up big, bailing out what once was a feared defense. The Ravens' offense has also built leads in games their defense has not been able to hold on to. During Harbaughs first season in Baltimore, offense jumped from 17.2 points a game under Brian Billick in 2007 to 24.1 points a game under Harbaugh. The Ravens have hovered around that number ever since. The bottom line is Harbaugh has achieved his goal--the Ravens are a more complete team with greater consistency offensively.
Shaping Offense

Before the Bears reach the bye week during Week 6, they will play three teams with new head coaches installing new schemes, who are rebuilding with young quarterbacks (Indianapolis: Week 1, St. Louis: Week 3, and Jacksonville: Week 5). Much like the Bears' offense, these teams will be sorting things out early, defining who they are and what they can do. The Bears understand their other two opponents (Green Bay: Week 2 and Dallas: Week 4) very well. The Bears' defense will have to rise to the occasion like they normally do, but these, by no stretch of the imagination, are unwinnable games as many will predict. The Bears would then have the bye week to really start getting their offense humming smoothly.

The Bears could be re-living the fast start from 2011, but can they sustain it this time around? If Mike Tice can embolden the offense with a mindset of confidence and consistency rather than depressed and unpredictable chaos, the Bears will be dangerous in 2012.

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

Summer of Sammy: Sosa's 49th homer in 1998

It's the 20th anniversary of the Summer of Sammy, when Sosa and Mark McGwire went toe-to-toe in one of the most exciting seasons in American sports history chasing after Roger Maris' home run record. All year, we're going to go homer-by-homer on Sosa's 66 longballs, with highlights and info about each. Enjoy.

Sosa's 49th homer of the season came with a runner on 1st and one out, when Oriel Hershiser served up a high fastball that Sammy belted 415 feet into the last few rows in left-center field. 

Sosa would later start the game-winning rally in the bottom of the ninth, scoring the game-tying run on a Henry Rodriguez single through the right side of the infield. Jose Hernandez would step in the next at-bat and walk it off with a base hit that scored Mark Grace, as Sammy and the Cubs bested the Giants 6-5. 

Fun Fact: A 33-year-old Barry Bonds would hit home run No. 25, finishing the season with 37 homers. He would finish the next season with 34 dingers but would string five consecutive seasons with at least 45 home runs, of course hitting a record 73 home runs in 2001. 

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Michael Kopech prepares for The Show

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Michael Kopech prepares for The Show

Pete McMurray, David Haugh and Ben Finfer join David Kaplan on the panel and discuss the long-awaited arrival of Michael Kopech for the White Sox, Yu Darvish's short rehab start and Mitch Trubisky's second preseason game.

Plus, they discuss new NFL rules and when Eloy Jimenez could get his call up.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: