Holiday Cheer!

Holiday Cheer!

Wednesday, December 30

Now that the stress of the Christmas part of the holidays is over, I can concentrate, or should I say re-concentrate on sports. Besides Team Frankie O in the fantasy football playoffs I havent had as much time for the sports world. Well that ends now!

Ive always considered the New Years holiday as kind of like my Opening Day. All of the frustrations of the past year are gone and I hit the reset button. As always, I have great anticipation, and am convinced that, finally, this is the year. Now usually I open up on the road because Im at work, but this year Im off so Ill open at home. And I couldnt have picked a better year. New Years Eve is stacked with bowl games and Ill probably catch most of them, in between snacks.

But a game Ive been waiting for since the hockey season started will be on the 31st this year. The New Jersey Devils are coming in to play the Blackhawks and this will be a real test. Over the last 15 years or so, or when Martin Brodeur became their goaltender, the Devils have been good, but then there is a year when they have the look, usually it ends with them hoisting the Cup, three times in fact. Well, they have that look again. It all starts with Brodeur. I dont think that most people could name 2 other people on their team, but with Brodeur, who cares? They start with him and build the team out. Whos 2 behind the Hawks in goals against? The Devils. Whos tied with the Hawks for most points? The Devils.

Who has beaten the defending Stanley Cup Champion 3 times, in their own building, by a combined score of 12-1? Thats right, you guessed it, the Devils. Theyve got the look all right. One thing in the Hawks favor though, is that the Devils are on the second night of a back-to-back (Pittsburgh again, this time in New Jersey), and their 4th game in 6th nights. They should be a little tired, but then again, there is that guy in net. I cant wait for the game. It will make a statement to the league about both teams. And, I know, a little early, but if youre dreaming the big dream, this could be the team that ultimately stands in the way.

After a couple hours of sleep, it will be right back to the sofa for an early, for a nocturnal bartender anyway, trifecta of 2 bowl games and the Winter Classic starting at 10:00 am. (How do people get up that early?!) First up is Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Like Ive said here many times, Im a fan of Coach Pat Fitzgerald and love how his teams play. They dont quit. I think its time for them to get the schools second bowl victory and first in 61 years, especially after their heart-breaking loss last year in over-time in the Alamo Bowl. Go Cats!

Then, near the end of the NW game, its time to watch two of MY teams, unfortunately I dont feel good about either one. At noon, Penn State takes on LSU in the Capital One Bowl and the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Boston Bruins in Fenway Park in the 3rd Winter Classic hockey game.

Any time a team from the Big 10 takes on one from the SEC, there is concern. With PSU this year, the two times they played tough, fast defenses, (Ohio State and Iowa) they looked over-matched and got spanked. LSU is very tough and physical on the defensive side, and like most SEC teams, scary fast. This could get ugly. One thing though, Joe Paterno owns the all-time record for bowl wins (23) and this is because, given time, he can come up with a game-plan to play anybody. Thank goodness hes had plenty of time, (7 weeks) I hope hes been staying up late!

As for the Flyers, theyve had a tumultuous season to say the least. Carrying the weight of high expectations, they started out good, then, out of nowhere fell apart. (Sound familiar?) This led to their coach getting fired. It was a classic case of getting rid of the nice guy, players coach, and replacing him with the stern task-master. Theyre probably having lots of fun in their clubhouse these days. NOT! It seems to be working though, theyre on a little winning streak, and actually went into Boston and beat the Bruins 3-1 two weeks ago. Ill keep my fingers crossed. But the thing about the game, obviously, is watching them skate around in Fenway. It looked awesome here at Wrigley last year and I wouldnt expect it to be any less so this year. Will there be Chow-dah at the end of the bench to help keep the players warm?

After the inevitable afternoon nap, Ill be ready for the Granddaddy. Doesnt matter whos playing, Ill always watch the Rose Bowl. Does any other football field look better on TV? Someday Ill have to go and check it out for myself.

Then its time for the soap-opera that will be the Sugar Bowl. Whats superman going to do next? Deliver a baby at halftime? And, whither Urban Meyer? Do you think the announcers will talk about the game at all? Keep Tom Brennaman away! Im glad the games on New Years Day though. I like that Im able to watch almost all of the big-time traditional bowls, since for the BCS they spread them out, but theres still a part of me that misses the log-jam of games that used to occur on the 1st. I'll just have to make do with the 5 games that are on, stretching out for 13 hours, finishing off with the Sugar Bowl, which will provide the perfect background noise for me to doze off to.

I cant wait. The two-day New Years sports feast will be the perfect way to start the year and, most importantly, help me get my sports swerve back on! And, not a moment too soon, because the NFL playoffs are less than 10 days away, and Ive got to be ready for that heartbreak!

Happy New Year!

Morning Update: White Sox snap losing streak, Cubs blown out by Cardinals

Morning Update: White Sox snap losing streak, Cubs blown out by Cardinals

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Three Bears necessities toward going 3-0 in Jerry's house

Three Bears necessities toward going 3-0 in Jerry's house

The Bears have won both times they've played in Jerry Jones' gargantuan pigskin palace. But that was in 2010 and 2012, the last two times this franchise finished with a winning record. The home team has lost eight straight times there. This matchup actually provides some hope for the offense (despite Jay Cutler's absence), but uncomfortable thoughts defensively, considering Danny Trevathan and Eddie Goldman will be sidelined, with safety Adrian Amos and nickel back Bryce Callahan (concussions) potentially joining them.

1. Tag Hoyer

...with a red non-contact jersey. Not possible, you say? Okay, well this scuffling offensive line needs to get in synch. And quickly. Like the Bears, the Cowboys have just four sacks so far this season. But they did deliver nine hits last week in D.C. on an already-rattled Kirk Cousins. Rod Marinelli's no-name, suspension-thinned defense has allowed fewer points than the Bears. The added concern is Hoyer's lack of work with the only player opponents must game-plan for: Alshon Jeffery, who worked primarily with Cutler throughout training camp. And who knows how much Jeffery (knee) worked at full-speed in practice this week, being held out of Thursday's workout completely. So....

2. Hand off, dump off

There is no time like now to establish the running game. There's Hoyer trying to get comfortable. There's the 4.75 yards per rush the Cowboys defense is allowing. There's the need to keep the Cowboys' offensive weapons off the field against the Bears' banged-up D. Between Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Ezekiel Elliott, and the best offensive line in the NFL, no matter Dak Prescott looks so comfortable. And when the Bears need to mix up their attempt to pound on the ground, get Zach Miller and Eddie Royal involved with quick-hits through the air.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

3. Fill up the half-empty glass

Whether this is Dowell Loggains being unable to adjust and be creative enough to the opposition's counter moves, or a coincidental breakdown in execution, the Bears' offense has scored zero points after halftime. We signed off on Houston's talented defense two weeks ago. Three turnovers on the first four possessions lost momentum Monday night. Loggains and company need to find a way to anticipate, execute, and dictate at a much higher level over the final 30 minutes.

**Join Alex Brown, Lance Briggs, Jim Miller and Chris at 6:30 p.m. Sunday night on Comcast SportsNet for "Bears Pregame Live," leading you right up to the 7:30 kickoff on NBC. Then as soon as the second quarter ends, log on to CSNChicago.com for "Bears Halftime Live," as Jim and Chris break down the first 30 minutes and go over adjustments. And immediately after the game ends, switch back to CSN as the four guys are joined by former Bears coach Dave Wannstedt for 90 minutes of reaction, analysis, live press conferences and locker room interviews from Dallas on "Bears Postgame Live."**