The Bears' moment in time

963325.png

The Bears' moment in time

Remember that crossroads in the Bears season I wrote about three weeks ago? That fork in the road after two straight losses to the Texans and 49ers? Its turned into the fork thats hovering the Bears body of work for 2012.

The opportunity to deliver potential knockout punches to two teams trying to stay in the playoff picture started well enough at home against the Vikings. But the failure to lock down that home game with Seattle has given the Seahawks momentum (and now, the fifth seed in the NFC, ahead of the Bears), and carried over into the Minnesota rematch.

The trends certainly aren't encouraging. The Bears face an arch-rival Sunday they haven't been able to beat lately. Then there are the health issues that were compounded in that Seahawks game, which leads me into one particular moment we'll have to keep an eye on as a potential defining moment of the year.

Chicago led Seattle 14-10 with just over a minute remaining, and had them facing 4th and 3 at the Bears' 48. They needed to top Russell Wilson and company, then take over, run the clock out and improve to 9-3. But Wilson completed a seven-yard pass to Zach Miller, and two plays later, they went ahead 17-14.

Fortunately (or was it, since they wound up losing anyway?), Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall worked their magic to set up the overtime-forcing field goal. Then came overtime.

Less than 2-12 minutes in, Tim Jennings suffered his shoulder injury, knocking him out of last week's game and probably this week's, too. Pro Bowl cornerback, gone.

Then, as Seattle's game-winning march continued, Brian Urlacher goes down for likely the rest of the regular season with his hamstring injury. That doesn't happen if he's not on the field for overtime - much less 10:36 of the final eleven minutes of the game.

So without Jennings and Urlacher, and with a ninth win turned into a fourth loss, the Bears go up to Minnesota, and lose again. Would the momentum - and the presence of Jennings and Urlacher for the Minnesota game - have made a difference in that outcome last Sunday?

Even if they'd still lost, they'd be 9-4 and still have a shot at the division title with a win this weekend. Winning both of those games - with those two players still in the lineup - instead of a split the last two weeks provides an entirely different outlook.

There's no telling where fate and the health Gods would've taken the Bears if they'd closed the deal and stopped the Seahawks with just 1:11 remaining two Sundays ago. I've also been around long enough to know sometimes strange things happen to certain teams despite cruel twists of fate, when there's so much on the line.

At this very moment, the Bears are still a playoff team despite everything that's happened leading up to that Wilson-to-Miller connection. They can still wind up in the playoffs even if they lose again Sunday. But those three hours this weekend could well determine whether the Bears can overcome some of the odds now stacked against them, and get back on track from a single moment that may factor into multiple off-season decisions.

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

james-franklin-1207.jpg
USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

Road Ahead: Blackhawks dealing with rash of injuries

CSN's Chris Boden and Tracey Myers have the latest on the Blackhawks in the Road Ahead, presented by Chicagoland and NW Indiana Honda Dealers.

From an injury standpoint, it's been a tough few weeks for the Blackhawks.

The Blackhawks are down two key players in captain Jonathan Toews and goaltender Corey Crawford, and now may be without defenseman Brent Seabrook who sustained an upper-body injury in Tuesday's victory over the Arizona Coyotes.

[SHOP BLACKHAWKS: Get your Blackhawks gear right here]

While the Blackhawks haven't had much luck on the injury front, their upcoming two opponents are in the same boat.

"You look at the New York Rangers, a very talented team, but this is what every team goes through every season. Your depth gets tested," Myers said.

Check out what else Boden and Myers had to say about the team's upcoming matchups in this week's Honda Road Ahead