Tag Archives: 2011-2012

2011-2012 Chicago Bears Season Preview

The good old days...

Last season: The Bears finished last season far above expectations, losing to the rival/Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game. I can recall pundits predicting the Bears to win between four and seven games last season, finishing below the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings. The Bears, however, proved the doubters wrong and finished with a solid 11-5 record. But will a virtually better team repeat that record?

Key Acquisitions: RB Marion Barber, C Chris Spencer, S Brandon Meriweather, WR Roy Williams, TE Matt Spaeth, DT Amobi Okoye, P Adam Podlesh

Key Losses: C Olin Kreutz, TE Greg Olsen, RB Chester Taylor, TE Desmond Clark, DE Mark Anderson, DT Tommie Harris, S Danieal Manning, P Brad Maynard

Prime Games: Week 2 @ Saints, Week 3 vs. Green Bay Week 9 @ Eagles, Week 16 @ Green Bay

The Offense: Things are still looking bleak for the Bears’ passing game. Quarterback Jay Cutler was sacked 52 times last year, and management did little to improve the line to a sufficient level. Center Chris Spencer and right tackle Gabe Carimi (2011 first round pick) are upgrades over their formers, but what about the rest of the line? Cutler’s blind side has 2010 seventh rounder Jamarcus Webb and 2008 first rounder Chris Williams guarding it. Both are relatively slow and less-than-stellar at what they do, which means trouble once more. The Bears might get a little more blocking support at the tight end position, where 260 pound Kellen Davis takes the reigns away from the pass-catching Greg Olsen, who was shipped to Carolina.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz will need to continue running more run plays to keep the opposing defense honest and keep the pressure off of Cutler throughout the season. Martz needs to utilize the offensive line as the aggressors, because they sure don’t have the lateral quickness to be dropping back and defending the quarterback.

Former Dallas Cowboy Marion Barber looks to take place where Chester Taylor left off: goal-line duty. Taylor was somewhat of a disappointment, but in reality, I don’t think he was meant for the role. Barber is a big body, who will run over anything that touches him. We all remember this play, right? Starting running back Matt Forte will likely be the team’s best offensive weapon once again. Forte is lethal on the ground as well as through the air. It’s scary to think that he has only scored three touchdowns at the goal line in 28 attempts over the past two seasons, but still managed to find the endzone nine times all of last season. Can we say underrated?

The receiving corps looks meek, as usual. Number one target Roy Williams won’t scare away any opposing corners and neither will Devin Hester. It will most likely be Johnny Knox and Earl Bennett doing the brunt of the damage to teams second, third, and fourth string cornerbacks.

Offensive MVP: Matt Forte, RB

Forte will continue his great play in the backfield once again. Look for him to snag a bunch of catches once more, as Cutler will likely not have enough time to find an open receiver.

Offensive Breakout Player: Earl Bennett, WR

Yes, the Bears acquired wideout Roy Williams, but I think Bennett will be the Bears’ best receiver this season. Cutler and Bennett have an affinity for each other, and it will shine brightly this season.

Offensive Disappointment: Roy Williams, WR

Unfortunately, what is thought of as the Bears’ biggest signing will end up as one of their worst. Williams will likely never repeat his 2006 campaign which included 82 catches for 1,310 yards and 7 touchdowns, even with Mike Martz. Williams drops balls at an alarming rate, which won’t bode well with the fans. He also isn’t the most durable guy out there, so expect for him to miss a few games as well.

The Defense: Although weak in the secondary, the Bears are downright scary in the box. Management has done a terrific job of creating a ton of depth at the defensive line position to help out the Bears’ questionable corners. Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije teamed up for 16 sacks (eight each) last season, and that was with even less depth. Now the Bears have a fully-healthy Corey Wootton to clean up Peppers’ and Idonije’s mess. Don’t forget that they also drafted big Stephen Paea in the second round, who may or may not make an impact due to all the depth at the position. Also joining the tackles is former Texan first rounder Amobi Okoye. Okoye is a rare breed of human, as he went to Louisville at 15 years old and got drafted at 20. He’s in his fourth year in the league and is about the same age as most rookies and second year players. I think he can still mature into an even better lineman.

Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are becoming alarmingly older (Briggs is 30 and Urlacher 33), but both still have the wheels to create havoc for the opposing offense. Both of their quickness really benefits the rest of the defense and really complements the zone defense employed by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Strong side linebacker Nick Roach can also fly and subtly play a bigger role than you think.

Besides cornerback Charles Tillman, the corners are young and inexperienced. Tim Jennings heads the opposing side, but he will need some safety help in the Bears’ Tampa Two defense. Behind him is Corey Graham, the young Zackary Bowman and D.J. Moore. Hard-hitting safety Chris Harris and Major Wright look to create turnovers if they don’t get frozen. Harris will be solid, but as stated below, I’m not sure whether Wright will live up to expectations. He hasn’t boded well in the preseason, which leads me to believe he will be replaced by former Patriot Brandon Meriweather shortly.

Defensive MVP: Julius Peppers, DE

Not much to say here… Peppers is a team-changing player as evidenced by his play last year. As long as he stays healthy and determined, the Bears defense will look great.

Defensive Breakout Player: Corey Wootton, DE

The Northwestern product should thrive whenever he gets a chance on the field. Julius Peppers will create double teams, allowing Wootton to rack up tackles and sacks. Israel Idonije benefitted from the Peppers effect, and so will the more talented and youthful Wootton.

Defensive Disappointment: Major Wright, FS

Major Wright isn’t looking like a what the Bears’ faithful have expected. Yes, he has had limited playing time in the regular season play, but he has been looking downright awful in the preseason. I expect new safety Brandon Meriweather to replace him by week 3.

Prediction: Third place finish in the NFC North (8-8)

It hurts to say, but I believe that the Lions will finally surpass the Bears this year and vie for their first playoff berth since 1999. The offensive line will kill us once again this year due to all the talent at the defensive line position in the division. It’ll be hard to reproduce last year’s record, unless there are a bunch of injuries to key players in the NFC North. This is the NFL however, so anything can happen. For all I know, the Bears can end up going 16-0. This is an unpredictable sport.

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Your 2011 Fantasy Football Sleepers

Saints' TE Jimmy Graham can end up in the top 3-4 in the rankings

By Blake Pon

As I’ve stated before, I consider myself a fantasy guru. For as far as I can remember, I don’t believe I have ever missed fantasy playoffs in a league that I took seriously. I don’t finish in first place every year, but I sure as heck never finish below fourth place. A huge reason is for this is researching sleepers for the year. Sleepers can give your team a complete 180 degree turn mid-season. Last year, you saw guys like Brandon Lloyd, Hakeem Nicks, Mike Williams (Tampa Bay), and Darren McFadden go from undrafted/late-round draft picks to top ten fantasy studs. Doing your research is key, so I’ll help you out a bit by giving you my predictions on who can help you win your league.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints

Why you should draft him: The corpse of Jeremy Shockey is finally gone, and now the former University of Miami (FL) basketball/football standout has his chance to shine. According to ESPN, the Saints attempted 661 passes in 2010, the second most in the NFL. Not only that, but 23 percent of the time those passes were to the TE. It’s also important to note that in the last three games of the season, Graham had 11 receptions and four touchdowns. You can snag this guy around the twelfth round, and he’ll likely finish top five amongst TEs this year if all goes as planned.

Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers

Why you should draft him: In all honestly, you probably don’t even need to draft Hunter as he’ll likely be available in the free agents list. Frank Gore has only played a full season once in six years, so having Hunter on your team likely means he’ll get at least a start or two during the season.

Mike Thomas, WR, Jacksonville Jaguars

Why you should draft him: Yes, his quarterback situation is iffy, but Thomas still managed to catch 66 passes and snag four TDs playing behind Mike Sims-Walker. With Sims-Walker in STL, Thomas is in the driver’s seat in Jacksonville and should undoubtedly improve upon his impressive sophomore season.

Tim Hightower, RB, Washington Redskins

Why you should draft him: If you haven’t been following the pre-season, all you need to know is that Hightower has been absolutely beastly. He has averaged 6.8 yards per carry (albeit with only 25 carries) and has scored three times in three preseason games. Don’t forget that Coach Mike Shanahan has a knack for utilizing his runningbacks to their full potential, and frankly, it’s looking like Hightower’s year.

Delone Carter, RB, Indianopolis Colts

Why you should draft him: The rookie out of Syracuse is poised to become Indy’s goal line back due to his aggressiveness and physicality running the ball. Take a late-round flier on him, as he should be due around six to possibly even ten touchdowns this year, with the exception of low yardage per game. Javarris James even managed to score six touchdowns last year in the same role.

Mario Manningham, WR, New York Giants

Why you should draft him: Look, “Super Mario” may not be a sleeper, per se, but I think this is a guy who is very undervalued in almost every league. Eli Manning is due for at least 25-30 touchdowns per year, and we all know Hakeem Nicks won’t be getting every single one. Manningham is going in rounds 7-10 in a lot of leagues, and will likely finish ahead of a lot of the receivers going ahead of him.

Mike Sims-Walker, WR, St. Louis Rams

Why you should draft him: Sims-Walker seems to be the number one wideout in the promising Rams’ offense. Quarterback Sam Bradford is bound to have a breakout year, and Sims-Walker will be his top guy.

Deji Karim, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Why you should draft him: After news broke that Rashad Jennings will be out for the entire season, Karim looks like a solid flier in leagues with 12+ teams. We all know the deal with Maurice Jones-Drew, and if does end up going down, Karim’s value will skyrocket.

Jared Cook, TE, Tennessee Titans

Why you should draft him: As stated before, Cook was compared to the likes of Calvin Johnson when he got drafted in 2009. Cook stands at a tall 6-5 and ran a 4.49/40. Also, he now has Matt Hasselbeck in the pocket, and he loves his tight ends. Cook also finished the season strong, catching 15 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown in his final three games last season.

Josh Freeman, QB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Why you should draft him: Freeman has been going anywhere from rounds 6-10, which may look a little late by the end of season. Freeman is getting overlooked despite throwing only 6 INTs last year, which was second to only Tom Brady. Efficiency pays off in fantasy, and Freeman is exactly that.

Greg Little, WR, Cleveland Browns

Why you should draft him: The rookie looks to be starting along side Mohamed Massaquoi and can make for a viable slot receiver for the improving Colt McCoy. Should be drafted in late rounds of deep leagues.

Cleveland Browns Def/ST

Why you should draft them: The Browns might not be the most menacing defense out there, but looking at their first two month’s worth of match-ups, they look like a viable option for anyone in need of a defense. They play a weak Bengals team week one, followed by a Kerry Collins-led Colts’ offense, followed by the Dolphins and Titans. Weeks 6 through 8 have them facing Oakland, Seattle, and San Francisco.

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Chicago Bulls 2011-2012 Offseason Outlook

Coming off of a spectacular 62-20 regular season record, the Chicago’s new favorite team is poised to make an even deeper run in the upcoming season’s playoffs – if there is a season this year.

Ever since the NFL ended its long, grueling lockout, all eyes are now on the NBA. The Bulls are due to face the NBA Champion Dallas Mavericks on opening night, known as “Ring Night” to the champs, an event that will undoubtedly inspire and put a competitive fire in the Bulls’ hearts for the rest of the season. But before that, the NBA’s players and owners will have to come to some sort of collective bargaining agreement.

However, we here at Chi Side are going to ignore all of this lockout business, and proceed carelessly as if the Bulls were able to sign free agents or make trades as they wished. Here is what the Bulls have done and should do in the upcoming offseason:

NBA Draft

The Bulls had a few picks in this year’s NBA Draft, and used them to select spanish forward Nikola Mirotic no. 23 overall and Marquette forward Jimmy Butler no. 30 overall. Mirotic can’t leave his team in Spain until at least 2013, which is fine, considering he would rarely see the floor due to the amount of forwards the Bulls use. Both Mirotic and Butler are scouted as above average defenders who should fit well in the Bulls’ system. Butler is a 6-7 forward who may be capable of defending two to three positions and has been billed as a hard worker. His offensive game is still quite raw, though.

Free Agency

The obvious need for the Bulls is, once again, the shooting guard position. Derrick Rose can’t do it all by himself, and a shooting guard would take some of the heat off of him as well. In my opinion, the top three unrestricted free agents at the shooting guard position are: Jamal Crawford, J.R. Smith, and Jason Richardson. The problem lies in cap space. After signing guys like Boozer and Noah to huge contracts, is there any way to snag a top shooting guard during free agency? The answer is, simply, no.

Jamal Crawford got paid $10M last year by Atlanta. No way he can come here. J.R. Smith got paid $6.7M last year. He’ll probably demand more than that. Jason Richardson made an astounding $14M last year (one of the answers as to why we are locked out). Is a declining 30 year old worth that? No way. The salary cap last year was $58M and the projected one for 2011-2012 is roughly $54M. The Bulls are due to pay $61M this year. Finding the free agent SG of our dreams is going to be a problem.

It all comes down to the poor management in the last offseason. I mean, you can’t blame the Bulls for trying to win some games. The Carlos Boozer signing is what is truly killing us. Cubs fans may be familiar with this sort of salary debacle. Boozer is starting to look a lot like Alfonso Soriano (maybe not nearly that bad). But seriously, five years and $75M? That’s superstar money for someone who is merely a star, if that. Another downfall was the Joakim Noah extension. Fans covet Noah, and apparently so does the Gar Foreman. Honestly, Noah is getting slightly overpaid for what he brings to the team (five years, $60M). Yeah, the 11 boards and 1.5 blocks look nice, but we’re going to need more than 10 points per game and a little more durability. Although I suppose the lack of stud centers has something to do with that.

Want to hear something scary?

Derrick Rose is set to be a restricted free agent after this upcoming season. You know what that means? When the Bulls give Derrick that blank check, there will be less money to be spent on free agents this offseason and for quite a few after. The Bulls best bet in acquiring a stud SG may be to…

Trade

My dream scenario would be to trade Carlos Boozer, Keith Bogans, Taj Gibson, and a first rounder to Golden State for Monta Ellis and David Lee. In my head, I feel like this is nowhere near enough for Golden State to accept. A two-for-two trade of Boozer and Noah for Ellis and Lee actually works. But we all know Noah is pretty much untouchable, since we didn’t give him up for Carmelo Anthony during the deadline last year. All in all, Monta Ellis is probably out of the question unless Bulls management gets off of the Noah bandwagon.

Realistically, we can look at mid-tier SGs such as Memphis’ O.J. Mayo and Washington’s Nick Young. Young is a restricted free agent who made only $3M last season and had a career year (17 ppg). Young might demand quite a bit of cash, and the Wizards have the ability to match, so he’s not a sure thing. Mayo on the other hand, can be had via trade.

The Bulls have Charlotte’s 2012 first round pick, albeit it is protected. This means that if Charlotte misses the playoffs, the Bulls do not get it (lottery protected). If the Bobcats do make the playoffs, the Bulls get the pick. It is top 12 protected in 2013, top 10 protected in 2014, and top 8 protected in 2015, then unprotected in 2016, meaning it only gets more valuable as time goes on. This pick may be enough to snag Mayo away from the Grizzlies. Hopefully they aren’t too weary of trading him though, after getting burned by the Lakers for Pau Gasol.

If the Bulls are unable to make a move at any of these three players, then we’ll likely have to relegate to the popular Courtney Lee. He’s certainly an offensive upgrade at the position, but who isn’t? It’s not like he’s going to be leading us to championships anytime soon. Chris Douglas-Roberts is also an option, and is as efficient as Courtney Lee would be.

Although the Bulls probably can’t make a play at a top SG, look at the bright side. They finished with the best record and were only a few games away from the Finals. A significant injury or two to a contending team or even a few strokes of luck this year with the same exact team could put the Bulls in the Finals.

Blame Boozer!

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