Chicago Sports Exchange: Backdoor Bears Enter Playoffs Less Than Convincingly

The Chicago Sports Exchange provides a brief look at each pro team in the Chi each week and decides whether fans should “buy,” “sell,” or “hold” their investments in each team. Check back for more CSE reports each Monday.

By Drew Stevens (@lookwhatdrewdid)

Only two outcomes could have escorted the Bears into the postseason Sunday. 

Neither seemed remotely probable.

That the Los Angeles Rams found a way to beat Arizona without Jared Goff and Cooper Kupp — thereby shoving the Bears into the final spot of a seven-team NFC playoff field — just might signal the dawning of a more appealing 2021 than 2020. 

For now the future holds an improbable playoff appearance for the Bears who, while falling apart late in a 35-16 loss to Green Bay, don’t look quite as over-matched against a New Orleans Saints team that needed an extra period to escape Soldier Field with a three-point victory earlier this season and wondering still about the availability of leading rusher Alvin Kamara for the opening round game. 

BUY – Bears Complete (Not Entirely Satisfying) Playoff Run

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good.

A 35-16 unraveling at the hands of the team through which the path to NFC representation in the Super Bowl runs, turned out to be little more than just another Bears loss and not the last page in the chapter of their turbulent season thanks to a late Christmas gift from Los Angeles. Now, instead of being cast into an uneasy off-season, the Bears (8-8) have an opportunity to avenge their heartbreaking 26-23 overtime loss to New Orleans (12-4) in Week 8 and corral more confidence than their record against winning teams would otherwise warrant.

They’ll also have a chance to make amends for Allen Robinson not touching the ball until there were three minutes left the third quarter, those reoccurring red zone flameouts and not securing three off-target throws from the perpetually precise Aaron Rodgers.

It’s unclear if Darnell Mooney and Roquan Smith will be setting up shop on the mend ahead of the opening round of the playoffs. Mooney left the game in the fourth quarter after snatching his career-high 11th catch. Smith appeared to hurt his elbow in the first quarter and never returned. 

BUY – Bulls Rebound After 0-3 Start

If there’s one thing Zach LaVine can do it is score.

LaVine scored a career-high 29 first-half points and finished with a game-high 39 in the Bulls’ 118-108 over Dallas Sunday. His first-half total was the most from a Bull in 23 years. That number coincidentally identifies the last player to do so.

In helping to lead the Bulls (3-4) to their third win in four games, LaVine also dished  out a team-high five assists in the midst of shooting at a blistering 14-of-25 clip from the field. It was a duel of sorts between he and Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, who took on the brunt of his team’s scoring duties with Kristaps Porzingis still recovering from off-season knee surgery and the shows stopping Luka Doncic having been a late scratch due to a thigh confusion. The Stephenson High product scored 31 points of his own, including 18 in the first half. 

The Bulls weren’t without their own absences. Lauri Markkanen, Ryan Arcidiacono, Tomas Satoransky, and  Chandler Hutchison each missed their third straight game. Hutchison and Satoransky both tested positive for COVID-19. Markkanen and Arcidiacono remained out while under the NBAs health and safety protocols. 

The Bulls are at Portland Tuesday for the first of four consecutive road contests. 

SELL – Cubs Try, But Can’t Hide Rebuild Plan From Public

Eventually, Jed Hoyer will land on one side or the other of the fence his inaugural decisions as Cubs president have erected under his feet. 

For now, the ambiguity of his off-season moves afford his insistence that a modest retool, not a major rebuild, is underway the benefit of the doubt. 

How the coming weeks leading up to the tentative start of spring training unfold — namely if World Series leftovers Kris Bryant, Javy Baez or the suddenly merchantable Willson Contreras follow the newly departed Yu Darvish out of town — will ground Hoyer and Cubs fans alike. On one side or the other. 

HOLD – Hawks Increasingly Dependent on Strome, Other Young Talent

These weren’t the circumstances under which Blackhawks center Dylan Strome wanted to prove his worth, but compromises to the health of both Jonathan Toews and Kirby Dach have obliged the former third overall pick all the same.

Now, a season that had been written off even before Toews’ illness and Dach’s wrist injury carries much more weight and responsibility for the 23-year-old, who after publicly coveting a pay raise got his on Sunday with a 2-year, $6 million extension.

Though he isn’t expected to entirely level out the absences of the future Hall of Famer and evolving cornerstone, Strome can keep the Blackhawks from completely crashing and burning. Alex DeBrincat and Patrick Kane, especially, score more goals when sharing the ice with the proficient playmaker who has just been thrust into the role of the team’s top center. 

Strome’s presence also tends to equate to more scoring opportunities for Hawks opponents. But hey, there’s a reason why he was pegged to man either the second or third lines before his abrupt promotion. 

If Strome is unable to answer the bell this season, it won’t be for a lack of opportunity.

Drew Stevens is a writer based in Chicago

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