Moon: Seven keys to the Bears' schedule

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Moon: Seven keys to the Bears' schedule

The Bears 2012 schedule is laid out, but how will a player be looking at it?

The standard bromide is of course we look at them all the same, one game at a time." Thats not exactly true. Take it from one former player.

Matt Bowen had a solid NFL career thats now moving into a solid media phase, with work for a number of outlets including CSNChicago and also the National Football Post. He listed for NFP some of the filters through which he viewed schedules so lets apply those to the new Bears schedule and evaluate:

Opening day opponent

Thats where the offseason focus will be, right on through training camp and preseason. Its Indianapolis, same as in 2008, the last time through the AFC South for the Bears, but this time, no Peyton. Somebody at Halas Hall is probably already working on cut-ups of Stanford game film.

No NFL game can ever be considered truly easy. But a home game against a team coming off a 2-14 season presumably with a rookie starting his first NFL game is one you dont lose if you want to be taken seriously for the rest of the year.

The first quarter

Coaches including Lovie Smith talk of the season in terms of four-game units. All 16 do count the same in the final total, but getting off to a bad start puts added pressure to recover on the rest of the season.

But a good start also insures absolutely nothing. The Lovie Smith Bears have opened 2-2 or better in five of his eight years. In 2005 they recovered from a 1-3 start to earn a playoff bye. Their 3-1 start in 09 made the slide to 7-9 the more painful.

The Bears open with Indianapolis at home. The Packers draw San Francisco at home in week one and the Bears four days later. The Bears will have prime-time games at Green Bay and Dallas in the first quarter, plus St. Louis. This is a winnable first quarter.
Monday Night games

Most players love the solo time on center stage, but Matt points out that the catch becomes the following week, particularly if you have a road game. And if the MNF contest was away, youre not getting off a plane until very early Tuesday a.m.

Throw in a Thursday game which the Bears have in Week 2, at Green Bay and you have a squirrely start. At least the trips is a short one.

The NFL thought the Bears were worth five prime time games three on Mondays, one Sunday and one Thursday. This means a lot of choppy practice weeks.

Warm and cold conditions

Lets cut to the chase: When do you play at Green Bay? And for the Bears, when do they go to the Valley of the Sun?

This breaks well for the Bears. They play at Green Bay in September, at night. They play at Arizona in December. Theyre at Jacksonville in October. Those are good weather venues.

No at Buffalo or at New England to worry about for cold. You can bet that the Texans and anybody else with an indoor home has already IDd exactly when they have to come to Soldier Field.

Travel

The Bears have the geographic good fortune of being centrally located. But they do have road games in Arizona and San Francisco, the latter involving leaving on Friday for some teams.

Among the five prime-time games are ones at Green Bay, Dallas and San Francisco. Decent frequent-flyer miles but.

Off week

When the break falls is important in terms of rest. Its ideally near mid-season. If its early, the year is long after it, with more games and no off week for recovery (and its an off week, not a bye).

The Bears are off in week six after playing at Dallas and at Jacksonville. They come out of the off week hosting Detroit. Youd like the rest a couple weeks later perhaps but this is pretty good placement for a recovery week.

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

Michal Rozsival, Jordin Tootoo extensions give Blackhawks flexibility at expansion draft

The Blackhawks agreed to one-year contract extensions with defenseman Michal Rozsival and forward Jordin Tootoo, the team announced Tuesday.

Rozsival's deal is worth $650,000 while Tootoo's deal carries a $700,000 cap hit, according to ESPN's Pierre LeBrun.

The move gives the Blackhawks two players eligible to be exposed during this summer's expansion draft.

NHL teams must expose two forwards and one defenseman that have played at least 40 games in 2015-16 or more than 70 in 2016-17, and they must be under contract in 2017-18.

[MORE: The Blackhawks' 9-1 February by the numbers]

Rozsival and Tootoo meet those requirements, which means the Blackhawks can now protect Ryan Hartman, who is also eligible.

They are allowed to protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goaltender or eight skaters (regardless of position) and one goaltender. 

Rozsival, 38, has one goal and one assist in 16 games this season, often serving as the team's extra defenseman. Tootoo, 34, has no points in 36 games.

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

NFL Scouting Combine represents opportunities — good and bad — for Bears

The NFL Scouting Combine convening this week in Indianapolis isn't really the high point of pre-draft assessing being done by NFL teams. Those evaluations have been going on for many, many months — on college campuses, at bowl games — and will go on with Pro Days and selected visits to team headquarters.
 
But what it does represent is two things: a chance for teams to probe for detailed medical information on some 300 potential draftees, and a case study in savvy brand marketing by the NFL that has become its own hot-stove league on steroids (hopefully not literally for any of the participants).
 
Covering the event 25 years ago, representatives of the three Chicago-area newspapers comprised one of the two largest media contingents (the other being New York's) going about the business of football reporting after the sport had largely moved off the sports-front with the wrap-up of the Super Bowl. No TV, no internet, and the Combine operators really didn't want media around for what was set up as a purely team-centric.
 
Now the NFL has created a media event that keeps it in news prominence at what had always been a dormant calendar nadir for pro football, with not only some 1,000 media members and outlets welcome, but also with fans able to attend events like the 225-pound bench press and 40-yard dashes, whose results were once something that reporters dug around for as news scoops.
 
But beyond the observed events, including group media interviews for the majority of athletes, individual draft stocks will be affected by vertical jumps, cone drills and such. And by interviews with individual teams, which are still private. (For now. Somehow, it's not beyond imagination that someday even those will be televised, in an NFL guise of "transparency" or something, but that's for another time.)
 
Strengths, weaknesses and the QB conundrum
 
One annual refrain are the assessments of the overall draft class, what positions are its deepest, its weakest, an evaluation that carries some weight because invitees to the Combine include underclassmen, which the Senior Bowl does not.
 
But a danger within the process is exactly that — the "weight" assigned to results, particularly the on-field ones. On-field evaluations are the best indicators, but the right on-field ones were there on playing fields and now tape, not inside Lucas Oil Stadium this week.

[RELATED - Which direction will Bears go at pick No. 3?]
 
Combine performance has affected drafts rightly and wrongly over the years.
 
ProFootballTalk.com's Mike Florio has made an excellent case for players declining that test for reasons of confidentiality. And frankly, if teams have a problem with a player declining the test, then teams and the NFL need to do a better job of keeping the results in-house, particularly given that correlations between the Wonderlic and NFL success are questionable at best.
 
But some player or players will move up or slip down on draft boards because of drill work. That may be unfortunate for the player, and for the teams.
 
QB or not QB
 
It is at this point that the Combine becomes increasingly relevant to the Bears, or at least to those trying to discern what realistic chances exist for the Bears to address their well-documented areas of need (quarterback, tight end, cornerback, safety).
 
An inherent problem at this stage is the difficulty in arriving at a right decision, particularly at the paramount position. NFL Network draft expert Mike Mayock did some checking that illustrates the issue.
 
Between 2007-14, teams selected 21 quarterbacks in the first round. Nine of them are no longer even in the league, and only a handful have achieved something close to the coveted "franchise" distinction: Matt Ryan in Atlanta, Matthew Stafford in Detroit, Carolina's Cam Newton, Andrew Luck in Indianapolis and Joe Flacco in Baltimore. Only Flacco has won a Super Bowl.
 
"It gives a pretty good feel for the 'hit' rate of franchise quarterbacks in the first round," Mayock said on Monday.
 
"My message to NFL teams is, 'you've got to keep trying, keep on swinging.'"
 
Whether the Bears take a swing at a franchise quarterback at No. 3 is still many weeks off. But Mayock didn't endorse making that swing at that point.
 
"I don't have any quarterbacks anywhere near the Top 10," Mayock said. "That doesn't mean I think there's no talent there, because I think there are four quarterbacks that have first-round talent. In my order I had for my initial Top 5, it was [DeShone] Kizer, [Deshaun] Watson, [Mitch] Trubisky, [Patrick] Mahomes. All four of them have holes in their games.
 
"I don't think any of them are ready to start Week 1."
 
More to come over the next week. Make that "weeks."