Moon: 49ers, Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

649056.png

Moon: 49ers, Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

My only miss through the NFC playoffs was the Green Bay loss to the New York Giants. Actually that was the only one on either side of the draw. This was a postseason for staying hard on the home teams, for a reason.

Home teams in playoffs win the preponderance of games. Playing at home is an obvious advantage, but thats really a little backwards.

The reason teams are at home in the playoffs is nearly always because they won more games in the season. Meaning: Theyre the better team. Thats why you ultimately win.

That will be the case Sunday as well.
Baltimore at New England - 2 p.m.

I have long been a Ravens appreciator. Ray Lewis is one of the dominant players of his age and Ed Reed is a close second. Terrell Suggs gives them an elite player in each area of a defense: line, linebacker, secondary.

The Texans were close in the divisional round but only because the Joe Flacco is not a dominant quarterback. Not a seriously deficient one (Suggs comments notwithstanding), and no quarterback has ever been so consistent getting to playoffs this early in a career.

But the Patriots are not the Texans.

New England is one of those rare teams in sport that truly begin each season with the mindset that anything less than a championship is a wasted year. Bill Russells Celtics, Magic Johnsons Lakers, Jordans Bulls, the Steel Curtain Steelers, the MontanaYoung 49ers, the (you pick one) Yankees.

The reason is simply that they are a team that functions perhaps better than any other at the highest moments. Tom Brady does that and with only occasional exception, so does Bill Belichick.

The Ravens are fully capable of storming the gates sufficiently to blunt and disrupt Brady, but seldom has he had the options he has now, particularly in the ranges involved. Deep threats will not be the problem for Baltimore; mid-range daggers, before Suggs can get past Matt Light at left tackle, will be, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Gonzalez along with Wes Welker are the consummate dangers in those underneath areas of the field.

The surprise will be if this game is a blowout.
Patriots, 20 - Ravens, 16

New York at San Francisco - 5:30 p.m.
An entertaining sidebar to this one is that only once previously have two No. 1-overall quarterbacks (Eli Manning 2004, Alex Smith 2005) playing each other in a conference championship. The only other time was when Vinny Testaverde quarterbacked the New York Jets against John Elways Denver Broncos in the 1998 AFC Championship.

Notably here, Manning (San Diego) and Testaverde (Tampa Bay) were not playing for the teams that initially drafted them. Nor was Elway (Indianapolis, then Baltimore).

For that matter, too, No. 1-overall quarterbacks dont necessarily even get to Super Bowls: Troy Aikman, Drew Bledsoe, Terry Bradshaw, Elway, Peyton Manning, Jim Plunkett. Paul Hornung reached the first one but he was a running back in the NFL.

Few matchups have as colorful a history as the Giants and 49ers, albeit most of it when the current players were just kids. This one is the same.

The best part of this game is that the Giants and 49ers right now are excellent teams. Both do things well on both sides of the ball, which is rare (see: AFC, BaltimoreNew England) and both are capable of excellence both running and throwing the football.

The Giants hold a huge advantage in Manning over Smith, and the single biggest factor in this game will be Smith if he flusters under pressure from Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and that bunch, and turnovers start, the New York offense will put up points off of short-field position that the 49ers will be hard pressed to match.

But this Alex Smith is not the one who languished under previous coaching (including Mike Martz). Jim Harbaugh has done something with Smith, Vernon Davis and that side of the ball that makes the whole better than the sum of the points.

The 49ers are good enough on defense to take away the New York running game and make the Giants one-dimensional. That in the end will be the difference.

49ers, 23 - Giants, 20

Bears announce additions to John Fox's coaching staff

Bears announce additions to John Fox's coaching staff

The Bears announced Monday several additions to John Fox's coaching staff in 2017.

Roy Anderson has been hired as the assistant defensive backs coach, Curtis Modkins has been named the new running backs coach and Jeremiah Washburn is the new offensive line coach. The team also announced that outside linebackers coach Clint Hurtt's contract was not renewed.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

Anderson was the assistant defensive backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers last season, and spent his previous seven years with the Indianapolis Colts (2012-15) and Baltimore Ravens (2009-11). He replaces Sam Garnes.

Modkins has 22 years of coaching experience, and also spent the 2016 season with the 49ers as the team's offensive coordinator. His previous stops include the Detroit Lions (2013-15), Buffalo Bills (2010-12), Arizona Cardinals (2009) and Kansas City Chiefs (2008). Modkins replaces Stan Drayton.

Washburn served as the Miami Dolphins assistant offensive line coach last season, and spent his previous 14 years with the Lions (2009-15), Ravens (2003-08) and Carolina Panthers (2002). He replaces Dave Magazu.

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

Kiper: Deshaun Watson would be a stretch at No. 3 for Bears

If you haven't heard, the Bears are in the market for a quarterback.

It's no surprise that finding a long-term solution at the position will be at the top of GM Ryan Pace's to-do list as it's likely Jay Cutler has played his last game in a Bears uniform.

The Bears have a bevy options this offseason as they're saddled with the No. 3 selection in the 2017 NFL Draft, and have over $54 million of salary cap space — before roster cuts and an added $8 million in roll over money.

Having the 3rd overall pick, the opportunity is going to present itself for the Bears to nab one of the draft's top quarterbacks or add to their young defensive core with a player like Alabama defensive end Jonathan Allen (who ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has the Bears selecting in his latest mock draft) or LSU's Jamal Adams (Kiper Jr. also has him as a possibility for the Bears).

If quarterback is the choice, that's where the real debate begins.

The 2017 draft marks one of the rare years where there isn't a consensus No. 1 quarterback. The four signal-callers likely to hear there name called within the first two rounds are UNC's Mitch Trubisky, Clemson's Deshaun Watson, Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer and Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes.

Who comes off the board first? That may change 100 times between now and Thursday, April 27.

Despite only starting one year at Chapel Hill, Trubisky has the strongest case to be the first quarterback taken. Trubisky threw for 3,748 yards and 30 touchdowns and added 308 yards on the ground and five rushing scores in his first full year as a starter in 2016.

If the Bears have their eyes set on Trubisky, they may have to pull off a trade as Kiper Jr. doesn't see the former Tar Heel lasting to the third pick. In his conference call on Thursday, Kiper Jr. said it's Trubisky's dream to play for his hometown Cleveland Browns, and sees him in play for both the Browns at No. 1 and the San Francisco 49ers at No. 2.

Would the Bears pull the trigger on Watson if Trubisky is off the board? Kiper Jr. believes Watson would be a stretch for the Bears at No. 3 and right now he sees Watson as a fit with the Buffalo Bills at No. 10. Kiper Jr. had a second-round grade on Watson before he shined on the big stage in the College Football Playoff. Watson's stock catapulted back into the first-round mix after he torched Alabama for 463 yards and four touchdowns en route to leading Clemson to a National Championship.

By selecting a defensive player at No. 3, the Bears could still have the opportunity to draft their quarterback of the future in the second round. Kiper Jr. believes both Mahomes and Kizer will be available on Day 2 where the Bears hold the 36th overall selection in the draft.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

What happens if the Bears don't come away with one of the draft's top quarterbacks? They could look toward free agency or the trade market.

The downfall of the free agent market is that the best available option is former Tampa Bay Bay Buccaneers quarterback Mike Glennon — he hasn't started a game in almost three years. You can cross Kirk Cousins off the wish list because there's a better chance of Brett Favre coming out of retirement and leading the Browns to a Super Bowl in 2017 than the Washington Redskins letting Cousins walk in free agency. The Bears also could elect to bring back two of their own unrestricted free agents in Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley, but neither would provide an ample long-term fixture at the position.

One of the most intriguing players available on the trade market is New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. The connection between him and the Bears runs deep as Garoppolo starred at Rolling Meadows High School in the Chicagoland area and played his college football at Eastern Illinois — the same alma mater as Pace — before he was selected by the Patriots in the second-round of the 2014 NFL Draft. In limited snaps backing up future Hall of Famer Tom Brady, Garoppolo has shown potential to be an above-average NFL quarterback, but unless the Patriots step down from their rumored asking price of a 2017 first-round pick and more, trading away the No. 3 pick would be too high of a price for the Bears to pay.

The Bears could explore the possibility of trading for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo to serve as a stopgap and help groom a young quarterback, but bringing in the veteran Romo — just four starts since 2014 due to various injuries — would be a lateral move, and the Bears would likely be better off keeping Cutler for another season.

With less than two months until the start of free agency on March 9, we'll finally get our first clue then as to which direction the Bears will go at quarterback this offseason.