View from the Moon: It's not all about the Bears

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View from the Moon: It's not all about the Bears

Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted 10:09 a.m.

By John MullinCSNChicago.com
So there I was, looking through the paper and websites, and come to find out

There are other playoff games this weekend! Who knew?

Just kidding.

With all the local attention and debate swirling over Bears-Seattle Seahawks, ranging from matchups to seedings to whatever, the concurrent run-up to divisional playoff games elsewhere in the Lower 48 could have been overlooked.

Not by View from the Moon, however. Some will only matter if the Bears win a couple more games and the AFC winners matter because the Bears are looking at one of them in the Super Bowl. But those are worth a serious look because one will be of potentially vital interest to the Bears, and the other two are third-time grudge matches.

Indeed, one beauty of this postseason is the presence of blood feuds. Pittsburgh-Baltimore. NY Jets at New England. And if the Bears and Green Bay Packers win this weekend.

Actually, the Patriots may not consider the Jets worthy of feud status; who is, for that matter? But the Jets did get a lot further in the 2009 postseason, Rex Ryan is getting more pub than the Pats put together, so maybe just this once.

Ill hold off on assessing Bears-Seahawks until closer to game time. In the meantime:

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. CT

Easily the most volatile pairing in the 2010 postseason. Ravens pass rusher Terrell Suggs wearing a T-shirt bearing an insulting anti-Pittsburgh (the city) illustration. James Harrison taking time out from paying fines to obliterate someone in a Ravens helmet. Should be fun.

The all-important quarterback edge goes to the Steelers simply because of Ben Roethlisbergers experience and composure under postseason fire. Joe Flacco has been an under-celebrated nugget as far as reaching the playoffs all three years of his career. Flacco posted a 115.4 passer rating in the win at Kansas City, although two of his lesser games this season were against the Steelers.

But if Roethlisberger is a character question off the field, he has been anything but when hes on it.

Pittsburgh has never lost in the playoffs to a division opponent and beat the Ravens in the 2008 AFC Championship game. Neither team can be considered truly explosive on offense. On offense the Steelers ranked 14th in yardage and 12th in scoring. The Ravens were 22nd in yardage and 16th in scoring.

On defense, however, there are virtually no weaknesses. The Steelers ranked second in yardage allowed and No. 1 in scoring defense. The Ravens are 10th in yardage and No. 3 in scoring.

The key to a Baltimore win is the offense getting running back Ray Rice free. More than Flacco, Rice is the centerpiece of the offense, the No. 10 rusher in the NFL (1,220 yards, 4.0 per carry, and 63 pass receptions). Pittsburgh was the NFLs best against the run. Strength vs. strength.

More important than all of that, and where I think the game gets decided, is the turnover situation. One misplay or great play will decide this game. The Ravens were a plus-7 in turnover ratio; the Steelers were plus-17, second-best in the NFL. Sometime Saturday afternoon Harrison will force a fumble or Troy Polamalu will break on an interception and Pittsburgh will move into the AFC Championship game:
Pittsburgh 16 Baltimore 13

In the one the Bears and Chicago will be watching with the greatest of interest:

Green Bay Packers at Atlanta Falcons Saturday, 7 p.m.

The Falcons have been virtually unbeatable in the Georgia Dome since Matt Ryan came to town. Atlanta ranks fifth in points scored and allowed, meaning the Falcons can score and can stop people from scoring. They convert a staggering 46.7 percent of their third downs, best in the NFC and second only to New England 48.2 among remaining playoff teams.

The Falcons have elite fire in both barrels on offense. Roddy White led the NFL in receptions (115) and yards (1,389) and was second in receiving TDs (10). Michael Turner led the NFC and was third in the NFL with 1,371 rushing yards. Tony Gonzalez threw in 70 catches at tight end just for good measure.

But here comes Green Bay, the only team in the remaining eight ranking in the top 10 for yardage both gained and allowed, points scored and given up, and in turnover ratio. The Packers will give up rushing yards (18th ranking) and they dont run the ball as well as championship teams do.

But heres the thing: The Packers went through the New York Giants, Bears and Philadelphia Eagles in their last three games, must-win situations against winning teams with a combined record of 31-17 and allowed no more than 17 points to any of the three.

Aaron Rodgers directed his offense to 45 points in a losing playoff game last season and to 21 and a win this year. He is emerging as one of the NFLs true elite quarterbacks. Ryan has been in just one playoff game, losing a wild-card game as a rookie when he managed a passer rating of just 72.8 against the Arizona Cardinals.

The crucial edge in all three non-Bears playoff games is the quarterback. It is in this one, too.

Green Bay 21 Atlanta 20

New York Jets at New England Patriots Sunday, 3:30 p.m. CT

The Jets have garnered a disproportionate amount of media attention, some of it by design, some of it by New York. When Jets coach Rex Ryan declares a divisional playoff game the second-biggest game in franchise history, behind Super Bowl III but ahead of a conference championship (which he lost to Indianapolis last year), somebody has seriously lost their compass.

The Jets defeated New England 28-14 in Game Two but the Patriots put a 45-3 humiliation on the Jets when the teams met in Gillette Stadium late in the season, a far more relevant case study for the game at hand.

Based on the numbers, the simple reality is that the Patriots are better at virtually everything. The Jets out-rush New England per game and per attempt but in nearly every other offensive category, the Patriots are superior. The Patriots rank eighth in yardage per game; the Jets are 11th. The Jets are 13th in points per game; New England led the league in scoring. The Patriots scored more touchdowns passing (37) than the Jets scoring rushing and passing combined (34).

The Jets are stingier at allowing yards but the two teams are nearly even in the more important scoring defense, 313 points given up by the Patriots to 304 by the Jets.

But the numbers really do not contain the full picture.

Where this game will be decided is in one spot: quarterback. Tom Brady is the NFLs best; Mark Sanchez isnot. Bradys 111.0 passer rating led the league; only Matt Hasselbeck has a lower rating than Sanchez (7.3).

The Patriots led the NFL with a plus-28 turnover ratio due in no small measure to Brady throwing just interceptions all season and the New England secondary intercepting 25 passes. Only the Steelers (21) had more than 19.

What that translates into is one quarterback with a Super Bowl resume against one who is inconsistent and facing a defense that statistically may not be the equal of the Jets but is more opportunistic. The Jets are not good enough to shut down New England but the reverse is most certainly true.

And playoff games are most often decided by quarterback play. For that reason alone:

New England 30 New York 20
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Utah OT Garett Bolles

2017 NFL Draft Profile: Utah OT Garett Bolles

As part of our coverage leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft we will provide profiles of more than 100 prospects, including a scouting report and video interviews with each player.

Garett Bolles, OT, Utah

6'5" | 297 lbs.

Projection:

First-to-second round

Scouting Report:

"Because he's only played one year of FBS football and hasn't been able to fully fill out his frame over the last five years, Bolles will require a projection and conjecture than most of the tackles in this year's draft. He clearly has elite athletic ability and foot quickness, but his lack of core strength and ability to sustain blocks against power across from him is a concern at this time. While he has Pro Bowl potential for a zone-scheme team, his floor will be a little lower than you might like in an early round pick." - Lance Zierlein, NFL.com

Video analysis provided by Rotoworld and NBC Sports NFL Draft expert Josh Norris.

Click here for more NFL Draft Profiles

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

Why the Bears finally feel like they're in striking distance of a winning team

PHOENIX – Where the relationship between Bears GM Ryan Pace and coach John Fox goes beyond 2017 remains to play out with their third season together. At this point, however, despite a combined total of nine wins over their first two, the critical bond between coach and general manager appears both clear and solid.
 
Which is no small state of affairs with the growing pressure on both and the organization, pressure that will only intensify if the on-field fortunes of their team does not begin to dramatically reverse. And both know it. Losing doesn't build character, it reveals it, and the same applies to a relationship; if there are cracks, adversity of the kind the Bears have endured the past 32 games will widen and expose them.
 
That relationship has been the subject of speculation virtually since its inception, when Pace hired Fox following the end of his tenure with the Denver Broncos. Much of it centered around who was in fact making the final decisions on personnel and who was the advisor, with some positing that Fox was in fact the final authority if only because age, seniority and experience. The primacy of Pace, however, has become clearer with each decision and traces or shadings of any fractiousness are conspicuously absent.
 
"His people skills are tremendous," Fox said Tuesday during the NFL owners meetings. "His evaluation skills are very good. I think humility is always a great quality in this business. And I've seen that. He's the same guy. He hasn't changed. Sometimes people get [elevated] positions, whatever position that may be and they change. It's just how some people react. And I haven't seen that."
 
Pace, who recently turned 40, is by his own description wanting buy-in on decisions. In the cases of free agency, which have involved the high-dollar commitments designed to have immediate payoff, he has identified pro targets and involved Fox in the decisions.
 
Looking for an immediate hit at linebacker to upgrade the entire defense about this time last year, Pace targeted Denver leading-tackler Danny Trevathan. Fox was his first consult.
 
"Just having drafted [Trevathan] and seeing him develop and get better and his work ethic and his preparation and study habits and how he is as a teammate in the locker room," Pace said of what insight Fox provided. "Those were all things that were taken into consideration."
 
This year, with the max need of improvement, the franchise-grade decision was to make a change at quarterback. Jay Cutler effectively made the decision on himself and he was out. Whether Mike Glennon is or is not an upgrade will play out this year, but Fox was involved in and endorsed the decision to go in a decidedly less-experienced direction.

[RELATED - No signs Bears are locked into drafting a QB in 2017]
 
Pace had attempted in the past to trade for Glennon, which Fox agreed with. Fox had familiarity with Glennon from his time coaching in Carolina.
 
"I was in North Carolina when [Glennon] was playing [at N.C. State], actually," Fox recalled. "I was exposed to two guys there. A good friend of mine was the head coach at NC State. Both Russell Wilson and Mike Glennon were coming through at that period in time, so I got exposed to them, watching games and kinda following them.
 
"And obviously evaluating both of them coming out, they were in different schools then. So I had a high opinion of them then. And then really [Glennon] was talked about a little bit before this year as a potential guy to get, and then this year, being free and without any kind of compensation, we dove in pretty good and feel good about it."
 
Most expectations are that the Bears will not repeat a three-win season, and that an improvement from the first two years keeps both Pace and Fox in their jobs. Key players (Trevathan, Eddie Goldman, Kyle Long, Kevin White) returning from injuries, free-agency upgrades on both sides of the ball and a draft class currently with two picks in the first 36 point to perhaps the kind of turnaround Fox has produced (in years two) at Carolina and Denver.
 
Fox did not dwell on what the roster was or wasn't when he arrived, or on how much of an overhaul Pace needed to do when he took over from Phil Emery and brought in Fox to replace Marc Trestman. But the reality was there.
 
"Going back to a lot of the changes, we've had a lot of change," Fox said. "I think we're better for it. Unfortunately, you can't walk around with your chest out about that because of our record the last two years. But I have total confidence and [Pace] has done an outstanding job and will continue to.
 
"I understand you have to win. And I finally feel like we're in striking distance."