NFL Network giving Lovie motivational fuel for Cutler, Marshall?

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NFL Network giving Lovie motivational fuel for Cutler, Marshall?

Coach Lovie Smith has long been adroit at finding motivation in disrespect -- media, public, whoever -- for his teams. He may have been handed something to get Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall fuming and its being provided by none other than NFL players themselves.

Neither Cutler nor Marshall are among the Top 100 players compiled by NFL Network and being revealed in blocks of 10, now down to its final 10.

The motivational fuel here is that its drawn exclusively from voting by current NFL players, so media and fan popularity are factored out.

That should make it arguably the most credible of all the Top-Whatever rankings (one recently listed the top 10 NFL Jerks according to one media member; Im not sure Id like to see the players rating of Top 10 media jerks but thats for another story).

So Cutler, who endured a tsunami of doubt and criticism after his knee injury in the 2010 NFC Championship game, has been dissed again by his peers.

Tim Tebow is on the list (No. 95); Joe Flacco is on the list (74); Cutler is not. Not among the 10 quarterbacks already revealed and not including Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, presumably in the Top 10.

Cutler may not be a Top-10 quarterback yet. But Tim Tebow?

And Marshall, who ranked No. 61 last year, caught 81 passes for 1,274 yards and 6 TDs last year, is off the list entirely.

Hakeem Nicks is on the list (No. 90). Marshall has never caught fewer than those 81 passes in any of his last five seasons; Nicks has never caught more than 79 in any of his three seasons.

Jordy Nelson is on the list (80). Nelson never caught more than his 68 of last season. He scored 15 TDs in 2011 after three straight years with 2.

But Marshall is not.

Could be that player voting is every bit as a popularity contest as fan voting is, something that Steve McMichael and others have espoused.

So the players conclusion is that there are at least 13 quarterbacks better than Cutler (Tebow, Romo, Flacco, Vick, Rivers, P. Manning, Stafford, Newton, E. Manning, Roethlisberger, plus presumably the Big Three).

Vick is on the list but told a Philadelphia sports station that he considered his No. 70 spot a joke.

Eli Manning hasnt scoffed at his No. 31 ranking but teammate Justin Tuck has, and used the same four-letter word to describe Mannings spot.

Manning was left off the 2011 Top 100 list altogether, so maybe peer disrespect is a mighty motivator.

Best guess is that Lovie Smith will find out with Cutler and Marshall.

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Nikola Mirotic, Bulls show some moxie in road win over Bucks

Whacked on his ailing left hand by Khris Middleton, Jimmy Butler shook off the pain to hit a rare triple in transition while Middleton was complaining for a foul a couple possessions later.

Butler then darted into the passing lane for a pass intended for Jason Terry like a linebacker jumping into the flat for an interception, then trotted down for an uncontested dunk to give the Bulls an unlikely 17-point lead.

For the man who claims he’s the best football player in the NBA, playing through the pain and doing so with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling, Butler may finally have some believers to his boasts.

Not only did the Bulls avoid a season sweep to the Milwaukee Bucks with a resounding 109-94 win at the BMO Bradley Center Sunday afternoon, they restored a slight sense of pride after looking like they had none of it Friday night in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.

Butler scored 20 with a career-high 13 assists in a grinding 39 minutes, but he could play the role of a semi-closer, making those big plays in the fourth when the Bulls pulled away.

Instead, it was March Madness as Nikola Mirotic played up to his career numbers in his favorite month on the calendar, drilling five triples on his way to 28 points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes.

Mirotic and Rajon Rondo helped the Bulls to a decisive double-digit lead in the third quarter with Rondo scoring 14 of his 18 points in the period, hitting a triple, getting into the lane for layups and dishing out a few of his eight assists.

It was an offensive masterpiece for the Bulls, a prospect that seemed highly unlikely given the opponent and the way they played coming into Sunday’s contest. And with the Bucks getting Giannis Antetokounmpo going early along with Middleton, it looked like a nightmare of a different kind was in store for the Bulls.

But Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg wasn’t about to let an instant replay occur, having seen his own version of a “Nightmare on Madison Street” Friday night against the woeful 76ers when his backups let time stand still for minutes at a time, squandering a double-digit lead.

Hoiberg decided not to mess around with the second unit as the Bucks began pulling away in the same manner the 76ers did Friday night. He brought the starters right back in when the lead ballooned to 45-33 at the 8:29 mark.

Then the Bulls went to work to finish the half, with a 23-10 run, along with starting off the third as efficient as they had been in awhile against a worthwhile opponent, shooting 14 of 21 in the period to take a 91-79 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.

Mirotic was seven of eight from the field before halftime and his first miss of the third—a 30-foot triple that went wide right, wound up in a 3-point opportunity for Rondo, who scooped the ball and scored on a layup while being fouled.

It was that kind of afternoon for the Bulls, a team that can’t seem to decide who they want to be on a nightly basis—making it that much harder for an opponent to predict, that much more difficult to eliminate from the playoff conversation.

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night

MESA, Ariz. – The Cubs expect Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell to be ready for Opening Night, downplaying any health concerns about their All-Star middle infielders. 

One week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, manager Joe Maddon spent part of Sunday's media session saying how he had no concerns with his World Series MVP's stiff neck and his franchise shortstop's stiff back.

"You can tell with 'Zo,'" Maddon said at the Sloan Park complex. "He'll come around and let me know specifically if he feels it's going to be anything longer than that. He's talking either tomorrow night or the next day."

Zobrist, who spent nine seasons with Maddon's Tampa Bay Rays, hasn't appeared in a Cactus League game since March 19. Maddon also signaled Russell is close to returning to action after being a late scratch from Friday's lineup.

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Not like this, but the Cubs already planned to schedule extra rest for Zobrist, given his age (36 in May), the playoff stress on his body from back-to-back World Series titles and emerging options like Javier Baez on a mix-and-match team. 

All along, Maddon hasn't worried about finding enough at-bats for Baez, knowing that injuries are inevitable and the Cubs have insurance policies up and down the roster that should pay off across a 162-game season. But in this case, it doesn't sound like the Cubs are testing that theory with Zobrist and Russell.

"None of this stuff is really threatening," Maddon said. "The trainers have no real strong issues with anything. It's almost like you'll be overly cautious right now. And that's all we're doing."