Moon: 49ers, Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI

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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

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Mark Sanchez officially signs with Bears

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, Chris Emma, Seth Gruen and Danny Ecker join David Kaplan to discuss the Mark Sanchez signing. Does this mean the Bears won't draft a quarterback in the 2017 NFL Draft? 

Later, the White Sox named Jose Quintana their Opening Day starter, but lose Carlos Rodon and Todd Frazier to injuries. 

Finally, Robin Lopez is back after serving a one-game suspension. The panel looks at the Bulls matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

Noise around QB Mark Sanchez misses bigger, far more important goal for Bears ’17 offseason

The tumult around the Bears quarterback position this offseason – signing Mike Glennon, cutting Jay Cutler, not signing Brian Hoyer, now signing Mark Sanchez – was to be expected. (Well, not all the brouhaha around Sanchez; if there has ever been more hyperventilating around the arriving backup quarterback, it’s escaping my recollections of a quarter-century on the beat.)

All of that, and a lot of the noise around Mike Glennon is really missing a larger point. A couple, really.

GM Ryan Pace established fixing the quarterback situation as a top priority, something it has been just about since Jim McMahon left, with the exception of a few Jay Cutler years. Doing that to any meaningful degree with the castoff options available in free agency or via trades wasn’t ever going to happen. What Pace has done with the quarterback situation, however, is more than a little intriguing.

The quarterback additions and subtractions, coupled with also suggest a draft plan far from locked in on a quarterback. The signings of Glennon and Sanchez don’t mean the Bears have solved their quarterback position, but it does mean the Bears have positioned themselves with the distinct option of NOT taking a quarterback – this year.

But here’s the bigger point.

Even with the optimum quarterback solution unavailable – Pace arguably did go best-available in his and the coaches’ minds with Glennon and Sanchez, all derision aside – Pace’s goal needs to be building a team that can reach a high playoff level regardless of quarterback.

Meaning: defense. And while the 2017 free agent and draft classes did not offer must-have quarterbacks in most evaluations, there are those elite-level defensive talents, and every indication is that the Bears will look there, in the draft, and should be. It had that feeling when the Bears, with ample, money to spend, backed away from day one free-agency runs at a couple of pricey defensive backs. The Bears simply think they can do better for less in the draft.

A perspective: With a defense at its levels during the Brian Urlacher era, the Bears could reach the NFC championship game with what they have at quarterback now. They did, twice, with Rex Grossman and with Cutler. Sanchez got to AFC championship games in each of his first two seasons. The Bears reached a Super Bowl with Rex Grossman as their quarterback. They went 13-3 in 2001 with a solid-but-unspectacular Jim Miller as their quarterback. They reached the 2005 playoffs with Kyle Orton as their starter most of that year, and should have been in the 2008 playoffs with him as well. The Bears reached the NFC championship game in 2010 with Cutler.

There is a common denominator in all of these situations, and it is within Pace’s grasp, and that was an elite defense. Rex Ryan had one with the Jets and Sanchez, Grossman and Orton and Cutler had theirs with Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Mike Brown, Tommie Harris, Charles Tillman, etc.

Forget the quarterback situation for now. Nothing anyone, including Pace, can really do anything about it (other than land possibly Deshaun Watson, based on their turnout at his Pro Day).

But if Pace and his personnel staff do this right, they can lay in the foundation for something elite on defense that will transcend the quarterback, or at least allow the Bears to play more than 16 games in a season even if they do not have a great quarterback. With the Urlacher core defense, the Bears went to postseasons with four different quarterbacks.

The prime directive now for Ryan Pace is to create precisely that model again.