Bears

Moon: Bears - not Packers - will hoist Halas Trophy

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Moon: Bears - not Packers - will hoist Halas Trophy

Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011
Posted: 8:35 PM

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

Random thought: Do you realize that there are no teams in the Final Four from west of the Mississippi?

Somehow this week leading up to the Bears-Packers NFC Championship game has been more enjoyable without the silly rancor and venom flowing out of the two sides. The players dont hate each other or even really dislike each other. The coaches are the antithesis of Ditka-Gregg or even Halas-LombardiLambeau.

No, the point of the week is the Bears playing for a place in the Super Bowl. Theyre also playing for their own and Lovie Smiths place in Bears history, which is very close to being secure in the long term with his record and in the short term with a contract extension.

A win over Green Bay will give Smith his second trip to a Super Bowl in five years, something Ditka accomplished just once in 11, although he had the good sense (and team) to win his.

But is that going to happen?

I believe it is.

The reasons no

In a game likely to turn, like so many playoff ones do, on the quarterback, the Packers hold a significant edge. Jay Cutler has the capability of playing at a high level; his 111.3 passer rating, one sans interceptions, against Seattle said he can deliver a solid performance in a game of huge import.

But Aaron Rodgers has done the same, at higher levels, more often, against better opposition and in two different postseasons. He is simply a better quarterback as well as a better passer.

And as good as the Bears defense is, the Green Bay defense is as good, better even at allowing points. The Packers ranked No. 2 in the NFL, giving up 15 points per game while standing fifth-overall in passing yards allowed. The Bears are No. 4 at 17.9 per game and rank No. 2 in rushing defense at 90 yards per game, although running the ball is not the key element in the Green Bay offense.

But that is not the entire story.
The reasons yes

The Bears defense held the Packers to 10 points in Game 16, one that meant everything to Green Bay. The Bears played their starters but no player prepares as hard for a game of no consequence as he does for one of significance, and games often are won or lost in preparation, or lack of it. And that game was in Green Bay, on a good field.

Comparative scores arent always a true measure. To that point, the New York Jets, the team I expect to be in the Super Bowl with the Bears, the one that lost 45-3 to New England, took the Patriots to the shed barely a month later. But while it is obvious that the Green Bay defense has throttled the Chicago offense more often than not, its less obvious but accurate to say that the Bears defense has done its due diligence dealing with the Packers.

In their past five games the Packers have lost by 4 points on the road to the New England Patriots, then successively defeated the New York Giants, Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons to reach this point. All teams with 10 wins or more. They have played the best single five-game stretch of football by any team in the NFC to earn their place in the conference championship.

And as good as I thought the Packers would be going into this season (projected division champions), I have a difficult time seeing any team hold to that level of excellence under that much pressure that often.
And so

I dislike picking upsets, and the Packers are favored by 3-12 points, meaning basically by a touchdown given 3 points generally accorded for home-field advantage. And a run like the Packers have had over the past five games against very good opponents is too much to expect.

The Miami Dolphins scored 23 in beating the Packers. The Lions (26) and Vikings (24) scored 50 in losses to Green Bay. None of those teams had a quarterback the equal of Cutler, a true wild card in a championship setting, something he has not seen since high school.

The Bears will score more than all of them. And that will be enough.

Bears 28 Green Bay 21

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.

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

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USA TODAY

A significant first practice goes well for three Bears critical to 2018 success

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. — It’s a major Bears story until it isn’t, and in Friday's first practice of training camp ’18, the story was that Leonard Floyd, Kyle Long and Allen Robinson weren’t the story. 

Not even the weather was a story, as coach Matt Nagy continued the two-hour practice without interruption despite repeated torrential downpours. Whether this represented a soggy, wet chapter of Nagy’s campaign of physical practices and getting his team “calloused” is a question, but “It's just a part of what we wanted to do,” Nagy said, with a bit of a smile. “We weren't going inside. We were coming outside unless that (lightning/tornado) horn went off. So it was a good day. The guys fought through it.”

Getting through it was of franchise-grade import for three linchpins coming off significant injuries that cost them all or part of their 2017 seasons. All had been largely held out of minicamps and training camps, making Friday a de facto shakedown cruise for three players the Bears need at the elite levels projected for them.

Floyd practiced without the large brace he’d worn during minicamp work and which he admitted was an impediment to performance. Bears medical and training staff and Floyd have been pointing to this moment as the first step toward full health for the regular season.

“I basically, this whole offseason, I've been working on getting my leg right,” Floyd said on Friday. “I’m not really looking into who's playing where. I've been looking to get back healthy. ... Yeah, I'm able to go full force.”

Floyd’s pursuit speed was noteworthy as he ran down several offensive players with the football.

Players were not in pads, but Robinson similarly flashed, at one point making a difficult catch of a ball slightly behind him as he was tumbling to the ground. If he was holding anything back, it was not apparent in his cuts, routes and runs after catches.

“I feel great,” Robinson said. “It's been a process that we've taken a little bit slower, but I think that was for the best. It just was all about getting me ready for this time right here, so I feel great. I feel 100 percent.”

Long has been buffeted by injuries requiring surgeries over the past two years. The setbacks have taken him down from the Pro Bowl level at which he played his first three seasons.

But he turns 30 in December and is entering his sixth NFL season having missed 14 games the past two years after just one the first three.

“I’m feeling great,” Long said. “It’s really a lot of fun to get out here with my teammates and start camp without any limitations and be able to contribute from Day 1. It feels good. I spent a lot of time with our training staff. I got to know Andre Tucker really well, our new head trainer. He has done a tremendous job.

“You know, it’s Day 1 and I was out there at practice, and I got to hit other guys, and that was fun. I don’t look much into psychological hurdles. But a physical hurdle? Yes, it was. I had a lot going on this offseason. I’m just really happy to be out here.”

All was not good news physically for the Bears as inside linebacker Danny Trevathan and cornerback/special teamer Sherrick McManis were held out of practice after hamstring issues surfaced in their pre-camp physicals. Nagy said neither was considered serious but gave no timetable for their returns.