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Broncos coach begs fans not to sell tickets to Steelers fans

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Broncos coach begs fans not to sell tickets to Steelers fans

From Comcast SportsNetENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Broncos linebacker Joe Mays was strolling through the grocery store earlier this week when he spotted a family decked out in Pittsburgh Steelers garb. The invasion of Pittsburgh fans has already begun. In his own neighborhood, no less. Wait until Sunday. Billed as Broncos country, this region will be transformed into Steelers territory with Ben Roethlisberger & Co. arriving in the Mile High City for a first-round playoff game. Pittsburgh fans have always traveled well for big games, doing their best to bring some home-field advantage on the road with their numbers and noise. That's why Broncos coach John Fox urged fans not to sell their tickets to Steelers supporters. The last thing Fox wants to see this weekend is a sea of yellow Terrible Towels in the stadium. "I would encourage all of them to keep their seats so to speak and not sell them to Pittsburgh fans, so our stadium remains as active and loud as it's been," Fox said. "More blue and orange as opposed to (black) and gold." Shutting out Pittsburgh's faithful probably won't happen. They were certainly a roaring bunch during the 2005 AFC Championship, rooting on the Steelers to a 34-17 win in Denver on their way to another Super Bowl title. The sight of so much black and gold on the road never gets old for Roethlisberger. "I think it kind of blows most people away," he said. "When you're on the road and you have guys on other teams that aren't used to seeing that, and all of a sudden they see the Steeler fans come in and their like, Holy cow, what's going on?' It's a pretty neat feeling." According to SeatGeek, a ticket search engine that pulls together listings from all major secondary ticket websites, Pittsburgh fans just seem to find a way to get their hands on tickets. A good portion of ticket shoppers scouring SeatGeek for deals for the playoff game are from the Pennsylvania area. "The Steelers simply are a massive road draw, and their fans come out of the woodwork to show up -- wherever they are playing," said Will Flaherty, the director of communications at SeatGeek. "We see it week in and week out whenever the Steelers hit the road in the NFL in terms of elevated secondary market prices, and this weekend is no exception to that trend." There may be even more tickets available from disgruntled Broncos season-ticket holders. Sure, this is the Broncos' first postseason appearance in six years, but the recent poor play of Tim Tebow, along with conservative, predictable play calling, has turned off some die-hard Denver fans. The Broncos had far more punts (nine) than points (three) in a loss to Kyle Orton and the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend. The Broncos' third straight loss nearly cost them a playoff spot, but they were bailed out when San Diego beat Oakland later Sunday. "That game was one step above watching paint dry," said Todd Tenenbaum, who's from Denver and has had season tickets in his family since the franchise's birth in 1960. "To watch the running back and quarterback bump into each other to see who can get up the middle first is just boring. "I'd rather stay home and watch Wizards of Waverly Place' with my kids." As for heeding Fox's advice, Tenenbaum said he's taking it under advisement. "Because of the value of the tickets and that most likely Pittsburgh is going to cream us, I'd rather sell to a Pittsburgh fan that I know," he said. "That way, they can enjoy the game. "I feel guilty about selling." Steelers fans often make road games feel just like Heinz Field. "I'm continually surprised and awed by that, particularly when we're out west," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got world championship-caliber fans, and that's why we work so hard to produce results on the field for them." Broncos running back Lance Ball can't get away from Steelersmania. He hears about it all the time since his brother is a big Pittsburgh fan. "He's on both sides. I think he'll wear a half (jersey of each)," Ball said, laughing. "Pittsburgh is one of America's teams. They've been around. They're a favorite, just like the Cowboys." As for the partisan crowd, Ball said it won't bother him. After all, the Broncos went 3-5 at home, 5-3 on the road. "I like playing in an away-game type of field," Ball said. "But we're at home. We have to take it like that. It's our house."

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

Bears receive Sports Illustrated's top offseason grade in NFC North

The Chicago Bears are less than one month from the start of training camp, but the praise for general manager Ryan Pace's offseason continues to pour in.

Pace and the Bears received an A for their offseason -- the best grade in the NFC North -- from Sports Illustrated. A big part of the perfect score was the overhaul at wide receiver.

Chicago had one of the weakest receiving groups in the NFL last season—the team ranked dead last in passing yards per game (175.7)—so that position was clearly an area of focus this offseason for general manager Ryan Pace. The additions of Allen Robinson from Jacksonville, Taylor Gabriel from Atlanta and Anthony Miller via the draft will boost a stagnant group, assuming Robinson returns fully healthy from last September’s ACL tear. If 2015 first-round pick Kevin White can stay healthy for a full season for the first time in his ill-fated career, it’s an added bonus.

Much is expected from the revamped group of pass-catchers even though none of them have an overwhelming history of production. Robinson had a dominant season in 2015 (1,400 yards, 14 touchdowns), but his last two seasons involved mediocre production in 2016 and a torn ACL in Week 1 last year. Gabriel's never topped more than 621 yards in a season and tight end Trey Burton has been a backup his whole career. Miller has yet to play a snap in the NFL and White, now entering his fourth season, is still looking for his first touchdown catch.

Mitch Trubisky has a lot of work to do once training camp kicks off. Not only must he master coach Matt Nagy's offense, but he must do so while building chemistry with all of his new receivers. Growing pains will happen, but the upside and expectations for the Bears in 2018 are higher than they've been in many years, and it's all because of a great offseason had by the front office.

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks 2018 NHL Draft capsules: Scouting reports and analysis

A recap of the Blackhawks' selections in the 2018 NHL Draft, and their scouting reports, including analysis from Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman and VP of amateur scouting Mark Kelley:

Round 1, pick 8: Adam Boqvist, defenseman

Round 1, pick 27: Nicolas Beaudin, defenseman

Round 3, pick 69: Jake Wise, center

— What you need to know: Wise, 18, scored 11 goals and dished out 32 assists in 38 games for the United States National Team Development Program last season. He also scored a goal and added four assists in seven games during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. Wise will play at Boston University next year.

— Scouting report: Wise is 5-foot-10, 194 pounds and is known to be an excellent skater. He's also responsible in his own end, which is a trait the Blackhawks always appreciate in their younger players.

— Player reaction: "I thought the Hawks were probably one of the teams I was going to go to for the longest time. I don’t know why, but I always had a gut feeling. And to go to the Blackhawks, it’s unbelievable. Unbelievable organization and I couldn’t be happier."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's just a really smart two-way centerman. He had a great start to the season and then he missed some time and it was ironic when he came back, it was the same time Jack Hughes joined the team and all of a sudden they had a No. 1 and No. 2 center and the team really took off."

Round 3, pick 74: Niklas Nordgren, forward

— What you need to know: Nordgren, 18, compiled 42 points (13 goals, 29 assists) in 28 games for Jr. A SM-liiga in the HIFK U20 league, and produced at a point-per-game rate in the playoffs with six goals and four assists in 10 games. He also reigstered 10 points (eight goals, two assists) in seven games for Finland during the Under-18 World Junior Championship. He plans to return to Finland next season.

— Scouting report: Nordgren is an undersized winger (5-foot-9, 170 pounds) but has the ability to score and can play in any situation.

— Player reaction: "Pretty exciting to get [drafted by the] Blackhawks, one of my favorites teams in the NHL."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He has great instincts around the net, he has a really good stick in traffic. I think if you look and track his goals you'll find they're goal scorers goals. He gets in the dirt, he's not afraid and he's just got a really great release."

Round 4, pick 120: Philipp Kurashev, forward

— What you need to know: Kurashev, 18, recorded 60 points (19 goals, 41 assists) in 59 games for the Québec Remparts of the QMJHL, and added one goal and four assists in six postseason contests. He also scored a goal and added two assists in five games with Switzerland during the Under-20 World Junior Championship.

— Scouting report: Kurashev is 6-foot-0, 190 pounds and is known to be a smooth skater who can blow past defenders during odd-man rushes. There are concerns about his effort level, but the package is there and that's what attracted the Blackhawks.

— Analysis from Kelley: "Really smart, skilled centerman but he's also really strong on his skates. We thought he had a really good year this year. We think he's better acclimated, we expect him to have a real good year this year coming back."

Round 5, pick 139: Mikael Hakkarainen, forward

— What you need to know: Hakkarainen, 20, accumulated 46 points (15 goals, 31 assists) in 36 games for the Muskegon Lumberjacks of the USHL last season, and added an assist in three playoff games. He was a member of the Chicago Steel for 16 games in 2016-17, where he recorded four assists. Hakkarainen will play at Providence College for the 2018-19 season.

— Scouting report: Hakkarainen is 6-foot-1, 194 pounds and can be an impact-type player and contribute on special teams.

— Analysis from Kelley: "I think what attracted us to him was, when you went and saw him play, he got on the scoresheet but even if he wasn't on the scoresheet you noticed him play. He played hard. 200-foot."

Round 6, pick 162: Alexis Gravel, goaltender

— What you need to know: Gravel, 18, had a 3.38 goals against average and .890 save percentage in 39 games with Halifax Mooseheads last season, and a 2.70 GAA and .917 save percentage in eight playoff games. 

— Scouting report: Gravel is 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, which immediately stand out because it's the kind of size and big frame the Blackhawks like in their goaltenders. His strengths include his quick glove hand and rebound control.

— Player reaction: "It's amazing. It's probably the best day of my life. I just look down and there's a Chicago Blackhawks logo on the jersey. It feels amazing. It's unreal."

— Analysis from Bowman: "Alexis is a guy we think has a lot of potential. And with goalies you have to be patient with them, they take a little bit longer [to develop]. But he’s got a lot of ability, he’s got the size to be an NHL goalie, and I think that’s part of it. We’re happy that he was there and we were able to get him."

— Analysis from Kelley: "He's going to have a great situation. They're going to host the Memorial Cup next year. We're expecting a peak year out of him. He's been a good goaltender. This year we saw him play some really good games. He's in a good spot. We like the opportunity for him."

Round 7, pick 193: Josiah Slavin, forward

— What you need to know: Slavin, 19, had 42 points (23 goals, 19 assists) in 60 games last season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, and two goals and one assist in seven playoff games. He is expected to return to the USHL before going to Colorado College in 2019-20. He is the younger brother of Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin.

— Analysis from Kelley: "We like the project there. We think where he is on the curve, he's gonna play another year and then go to Colorado College. We just like the whole project."