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

Bears announce training camp schedule

Bears announce training camp schedule

The Bears released their official training camp schedule Thursday morning. After reporting to Olivet Nazarene on Wednesday, July 26, the first of ten practices open to the public will take place the following day. The Bears will be based out of Bourbonnais for the 16th straight season. Training camp will go through Sunday, Aug. 13 before the Bears break camp and finish the preseason in Lake Forest. 

All practices are tentatively scheduled to start at various times during the 11 a.m. hour with the exception of Saturday, Aug. 13, which starts at 12:05 p.m. Those times are subject to change based on weather, and a varying set of schedules that John Fox and his coaching staff have set up, as they adjust to player and training staff preferences in hopes of reducing injuries. 

Also, new this season, fans wanting to attend practices must order free tickets in advance through the Bears website. Fans will not be allowed in without a ticket, and the first 1,000 fans each day will be given various souvenirs. The practice campus will be open to the public with tickets from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Here is the full training camp schedule:

After historically low turnover total in 2016, what can Bears do to get more takeaways?

After historically low turnover total in 2016, what can Bears do to get more takeaways?

Quintin Demps set a career high in interceptions last year by not doing anything different. And that’s the message he’s sending a defense that generated only 11 takeaways in 2016, tied for the lowest single-season total in NFL history. 

Demps went from picking off four passes in both 2013 with the Kansas City Chiefs and 2014 with the New York Giants to notching just one interception with the Houston Texans in 2015. In 2016, though, Demps intercepted six passes, broke up nine more and totaled 38 tackles. 

“Turnovers are like, it’s not something that you go get, it’s something you let come to you by doing your job first and then helping out,” Demps said. “And then you’d be surprised how they come to you by doing your job and being aware of when you can help somebody out. A lot of times when you get help is when you get picks and turnovers.”

The danger for a defense coming off a historically bad takeaway is sort of a whiplash effect, where there’s an over-emphasis on creating turnovers and not enough attention paid to, as Demps said, “doing your job.” There’s a fine line between being opportunistic and undisciplined.

“I tell my safeties all the time, we gotta tackle first,” Demps said. “Tackle first, don’t miss any tackles and then the picks are going to come. I promise you that.”

The Bears felt positively after signs of being more opportunistic as a defense during shorts-and-helmets practices in May and June, though if that was because of any real improvements or because the defense is usually ahead of the offense is hard to tell at this stage of the year. 

The offseason program was valuable for the Bears’ secondary in growing trust within a group that had — no pun intended — plenty of turnover after the 2016 season. The hope is that the offseason additions of Demps, Prince Amukamara, Marcus Cooper and Eddie Jackson will solidify the secondary and lead to something better than last year’s historically-low turnover total. 

“We’re still trying to build something, but the actual, real building happens in training camp because I think then you start to see the group start to get formed and yo know who’s going to go with the one’s, who’s going to go with the two’s, stuff like that,” Amukamara said. “So I think that starts to get formed. But I think with a lot of guys now, I think what that creates is competition and guys trying their hardest to make the team.”