Bears

Rooting Interest

Rooting Interest

Friday, Jan. 22, 2010
12:35 AM

It happens every year at this time. You know. The winter blahs. The hectic, euphoric rush of the holidays is over and for most of us all of its remnants are put away leaving everything looking bare. (That is unless youre that person in the neighborhood that STILL has their Christmas light up!)

Add to that, the bills are coming in (The Jersey Shore Barbie and Situation Ken cost what?) and we are only two months into the 6 months of Chicago winter, things are starting to look bleak. Of course for me there is also another reason for the bad feelings this time of year. (Isnt there always?) Its the NFL Playoffs. For me theyve always presented the ultimate dilemma. Thats because I realize, once again, that my team is not going to win. That I understood this going in isnt much of a consolation. Its one of the great ironies of life I guess, that someone who is as big a fan of the NFL as I am would be tortured by its ending each year. Isnt that funny? (For all of you Cub fans out there: Zip it! Youve had enough other things, Jordan, to ease your pain!) That I now reside in a city that treats its only Super Bowl win 24 years ago as the second coming makes it only funnier. Doesnt it?

So as I watch the two games on Sunday, it will be with tempered enthusiasm. Dont get me wrong, its my favorite day of football of the year. Im not feeling sorry, I think, jealous, would be the right word. Because, as the fans of the two teams that win on Sunday will find out, being that close will make your head explode. For a fan, there is no rush like your team winning it all, and of all of the sports, I dont think it gets any bigger than the NFL. A win this Sunday puts your team in the Super Bowl and you have two weeks to get ready. It can be the most wonderful two weeks of your rooting life. For someone like me its a dangerous time, as Red would tell Andy, because there is hope. It only figures then, that losing a Super Bowl is the ultimate downer. I would think that would be especially true for three of the four remaining teams.

For as much as a Philadelphia Eagles fan has suffered, over and over, fans of the Jets, Vikings and Saints are right there with them. Ill include the Jets in this even though they have a Super Bowl victory, probably the biggest ever, because it was over forty years ago. A lot of broken dreams in forty years. An Eagles fan can relate. Besides which, in New York, Jets fans are looked down upon. Normally I would find it funny, and also look down on them, and I have, but them being so close has me thinking of how much theyve endured. (Am I getting soft?!) Realistically I would think that this is the end of the line for this years Jets. They remind me of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of Tony Dungy that ran into the Greatest Show on Turf in the 1999 NFC title game. That game was also one that featured the high-powered offense versus the brick wall defense, the tipping point being that the team with the defense didnt have much play out of the QB and could run the ball, sound familiar? That game ended 11-6 in favor of the team with the offense. This Jets team, like that Bucs one is offensively a couple of years away from being the team to beat. (Tampa took 3 more.) So for a Jets team that was 9-7 and basically lucked its way into the playoffs, its been nice, we have some lovely parting gifts. I have a feeling that they will make their presence felt before they leave, but it wont be enough.

On the NFC side is where it gets really interesting. These are two tortured franchises. High praise from an Eagles fan. In Minnesota, theyve lost FOUR Super Bowls. Ouch! Not only that, in 1998, the Vikings were 15-1 and in the title game, at home, and leading with 2:07 left in the game. Their kicker, Gary Anderson had a 38 yard field goal to give them a ten point lead and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Of course, he missed it. His only miss all year! Atlanta then proceeded to tie the game and then win it in over-time. Dirty Bird! I wanted to get sick when I watched that. A loss like that put a serious hurt on the psyche of a fan for a long time. The players change, time moves on and the hurt stays. That team never really recovered, good but not good enough, including the infamous 41-0 loss to the Giants in the title game two years later. And did I mention the 4 Super Bowl losses? Or the Hail Mary game against the Cowboys? Can you imagine whats going on in the minds of Vikings fans right now? I can!

On the other side you have the New Orleans Saints. 6 playoff appearances in 43 years! Thats more than broken dreams, its heartbreaking. Why would you be a Saints fan? (I know why!) Do you like pain and suffering? Are you in such a Mardi Gras haze that you dont realize whats going on? And who dat could forget the Aints of the early 1980s? Yes this is one team that even a hardened cynic like myself wouldnt have a problem seeing win, theyve earned it. Also I have to mention that on the Saturday night before the 2006 NFC title game between the Saints and Bears was one of the most fun nights Ive had in the bar in my 15 years there. There was a line out the door. Saints fans everywhere! They were singing and dancing, and yes, drinking to their hearts content. It was a sight to behold. And after what they had endured with Katrina, who could blame them? They were happy to be ANYWHERE, let alone watching their team one step from the Super Bowl. We know how that ended, but I had so many of them come back in on Sunday, after what I know as a tough loss, to thank me for how much fun they had. That is something Ill never forget.

So I guess you can tell what team Im rooting for. While Im at work, Ill be riveted to the TV and cheering on the game (and my side bets) with everyone else, but Ill also realize how much it means to three fan bases far away from here. I know that for any one of them, two more wins will mean more than winning a game. It will mean an end to a seeming lifetime of suffering. Yeah, Im jealous (and soft!). But, of course, if Indy ends up winning it all, theres going to be a familiar feeling in those three fan bases. Very familiar, trust me. Same as it ever was!

Bears early Super Bowl odds

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USA TODAY

Bears early Super Bowl odds

The oddsmakers in Las Vegas don’t think the Bears 2018 season was a fluke.

It took them a while to come around on Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky during the regular season, but a 12-4 finish and the NFC North crown was enough to earn them national respect heading into 2019.

Chicago is expected to enter next season as a legitimate contender. The early odds for the 2020 Super Bowl at multiple sportsbooks have the Bears in the top five.

The offshore site Bet Online has them tied with the New England Patriots and New Orleans for the third-best odds, behind the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Rams.

Super Book USA in Las Vegas is slightly less optimistic, giving Chicago 12-to-1 odds that are tied for fifth with the Los Angeles Chargers.

At this time last year, Super Book USA gave the Bears the lowest odds in the NFL for the 2019 Super Bowl at 100-to-1.

The team came a long way in Nagy’s first season, and expectations are already much higher for year two.

Five things we learned during the Bulls' West Coast road trip

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USA TODAY

Five things we learned during the Bulls' West Coast road trip

The Bulls finished up a difficult road trip on Thursday against the Nuggets with an embarrassing 135-105 loss. They went 0-5 on the trip and now have lost nine straight games, giving them the second worst record in the NBA.

While it wasn't pretty, we're trying to take five things we saw on the trip.

Lauri Markkanen is a different player when he gets going early

Thursday was Lauri Markkanen’s best performance of the road trip, and unsurprisingly it came in the game where he attempted 10 first-quarter field goals. He went 6-for-10 in the opening 12 minutes, hitting three 3-pointers, driving twice to the basket for nice finishes and hitting a baseline jumper.

It was a sight for sore eyes for a Bulls team that has an incredibly low 91.4 offensive rating in first quarters under Jim Boylen; that’s worst in the NBA by more than 8 points per 100 possessions. It was also good for Markkanen, who is averaging 4.0 points on 36 percent shooting in first quarters this season. It’s by far Markkanen’s worst shooting quarter (he’s at 47.4%, 44.6% and 43.6% in the final three quarters) so to see him start quickly was a good sign.

He had two attempts in the first quarter against the Lakers, four against the Jazz and four against the Warriors. He doesn’t need to attempt 10 every first quarter like he did against the Nuggets, but he needs to start aggressive. It changes how he plays the rest of the night like it did Thursday.

Jabari Parker needs to be in the rotation until he’s dealt

Jim Boylen had his reasons for yanking Jabari Parker out of the rotation, and maybe they were warranted. But it’s also clear that the timing has been correct to put him back in the rotation, and credit to Parker for being ready in that moment.

In the final three games of the trip Parker was really solid offensively, shooting 17 of 27 while averaging 14.6 points. It was much needed for an offense that simply couldn’t keep up with opponents most of the time. They’re going

He’s got his warts, he doesn’t have a good positional fit and he definitely isn’t part of the future. But Parker’s return to the rotation should continue. If it isn’t to help the team competing and playing better it’s becoming a nice bump to his trade value.

We’re still waiting for Kris Dunn to put it together

No one is more happy to come home than Kris Dunn. It was a largely forgettable trip for the Bulls’ point guard, who after a 17-point, 7-assist night in Portland was invisible for four games. In five road games he averaged 8.6 points and 5.4 assists. He shot 36.7 percent and just never seemed to mesh with the rest of the offense. He has his moments, but far too few of them.

His lack of 3-point shooting and drawing fouls is beginning to be a real concern. We knew Dunn wasn’t an elite 3-point shooter but he was making a concerted effort to get to the basket more often this season. While he seems to be finishing better around the rim – and he had a thunderous dunk against Denver – he simply isn’t drawing fouls and getting to the line. That’d be fine if he was an elite passer in this offense, but he simply isn’t. He runs basic pick-and-roll fine and drops off to bigs on drives at times, but overall there hasn’t been a lot of “wow” from Dunn like we’ve seen from Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen – and even Wendell Carter – at times this season.

It’s going to be a long 37 games

The belief as the injury-plagued Bulls trudged along during the first month of the season was that, once healthy, there was simply too much young talent to think about the top of the NBA Draft. After all, teams like the Cavaliers, Suns, Knicks and Hawks had far more precarious short-term situations and the Bulls, playing in the East, would at least remain competitive and beat similarly talented teams.

While we didn’t exactly learn this during the trip, the reality is the Bulls will smack dab in the mix for the league’s worst record this season. With Kris Dunn, Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the starting lineup the Bulls are 1-12. Part of that is the schedule – 11 of those 13 opponents are at or above .500 – but there simply isn’t enough chemistry between these three for it to yield results. Add in the midseason coaching change and the difficulty that puts on a young team and you’ve got a recipe for a disastrous final 37 games.

That isn’t necessarily a bad thing –heard of Zion Williamson? – but it’s an unfortunate truth that the Bulls aren’t as far along as we thought they’d be. Rebuilds take time, and it appears the Bulls will have very little to show for when they enter 2019 training camp. The Bulls have the sixth easiest schedule to finish the year, including two games against the Cavs and two against the Knicks, but progress the rest of the way can’t be measured in wins and losses. It’ll be looking at the Lauri-LaVine-Dunn three-man lineup numbers, LaVine’s ability to work off Markkanen (when Lauri is looking for his shot) and Dunn’s aggressiveness on the offensive side of the ball.

Chandler Hutchison is finally getting consistent run

It might have been the front office’s doing, but credit to Jim Boylen for finally giving Chandler Hutchison consistent run. The Bulls rookie played 25 minutes or more in every game during the road trip, the first time he’s logged that many minutes in five straight games.

It was promising, too, that his best games came in the final three of the road trip. After logging big minutes on the road he didn’t falter, scoring 11, 12 and 12 points against Utah, Los Angeles and Denver. Hutchison had scored in double figures twice this season, and he’s now done it three consecutive games. The increase in minutes has helped, but Hutchison was also 15 of 25 in that stretch. He doesn’t do much creating but seems to be in the right spots at the right time. He also averaged 6.2 rebounds and had a steal in the last four games of the trip. He was a real bright spot.