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Strong like Thibs

** UPI/Brian Kersey**

The sun is still low in the season, but the Bulls are already standing near the top of the league. As I write this the Bulls are 12-2, and even after a prolonged offseason, the team looks sharp. The lockout schedule may be tailor-made for the Bulls (young and deep) but the team looks like they never stopped playing from last season. And they’ve done it with basically the same team that brought them to the Conference finals.

The Bulls are playing stifling defense. They’re limiting opponents to 83.8 points per game, and teams are only shooting 41% from the field against them. Despite some early shooting difficulties, Rose looks better than he was last year. But what strikes me about the Bulls is how much they still play as a team. Every man on this team matters. Not only because they have talent up and down the bench, but because of how they gel. Every day someone new steps up. It’s obvious that this is a team that pushes each other to get better. Their evolution into an elite team streams from coach Thibs and his intense practices and tape sessions. But even more so, it comes from players and their trust and a bond between each other.

After John Lucas III torched the helpless Wizards for 25 points, he said in his postgame comments that he would do anything for his teammates. “I just want to have my teammates’ back,” said Lucas on a podcast with Sarah Spain & Nick Friedell. “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever been apart of. With the chemistry and the way everyone gets along. You usually have cliques, but this team, all 14 guys, hang together.”

That’s the type of attitude that’s pervasive throughout the locker room. Each player wants to play as hard as they can because they don’t want to let their teammates down. It’s a team mentality. Rose doesn’t scare teammates into playing well like maybe Kobe would or even Dywane Wade, they play well because they don’t want to let each other down.

After the Bulls beat the Raptors over the weekend, Taj Gibson told the Chicago Tribune this:

“No matter how many minutes you play, no matter how many touches you get, no one should play harder than you. No matter how many minutes you get, you’re supposed to lay it on the line no matter what.”

Attitude and chemistry will set this team apart from the Heat. This team knows that every player would go to war for one another.

They walk into every game knowing that they do it as a team. It’s a rare for a team to be this close at the professional level, and even rarer considering it’s carried into another season.

Coach Thibodeau has his players believing in his system and believing in each other, and with Rose hobbled by a nagging toe, we’ll see how far this team can go.

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Wicca Coughlin

(AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Mona Tebow

Divisional Matchups (Saturday)

**Photo: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images**

Another week has slugged its way across the calendar, and we’re ready to get drunk and bet insane amounts of money on some playoff football. Diamonds in the sky amigos.

Saints at Niners (+4) 

The San Francisco 49ers have smashed their way into the playoffs for the first time in nine years and they’ll be matched against some sex-crazed vampires from the swamp. Tomorrow’s game against the New Orleans Saints and the San Francisco 49ers is the classic matchup of great offense against great defense, and kick off tomorrow will be played in almost perfect weather in San Francisco. Which means the Saints shouldn’t have any problem of getting their freak-on outside of a dome.

The Saints have been the league’s best offense all year and the 49ers rank as the NFL’s fourth best defensive unit. The strengths of both teams will be lined up on opposite sides of the ball, and the winner of the game will be determined by who can outmuscle who in that matchup.

The Niners have held opponents to just under 11 points a game this season, and they’ve been even better at home, and while the Saints have offensively dominated the league this year, the team has only compiled a modest 5-3 record away from the Superdome.

The Saints also averaged less than 24 points per game outdoors this year, which is well below the 38 points they usually jack up. But with the weather being what it is tomorrow and Drew Brees playing at such a high level, any notion that this team can’t play to what their capable of should be thrown out the window.

Brees is riding a playoff streak of 215 pass attempts without an interception, and he’s coming off a game where he threw for 466 yards and three touchdowns. We really don’t know how you bet against that.

As great as it is to see the 49ers back in the playoffs, they’re still too inexperienced to make any real noise this year, and they’ve had too many games where their best offensive player has been their kicker.

The Niners defense may be stout, but we’ll take good offense over good defense every time. Especially when that offense is being considered as one of the greatest ever.

Over/Under: 47.5

Verdict: Saints win 27-19

 **

Broncos at Patriots (-13.5)

It was the season of the quarterback, and Tom Brady was standing shoulder to shoulder with Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees all season. He might be the third best quarterback on that list, but that’s like saying that Tim Tebow is the third most devout Christian behind Andy Dick and the Pope.

And while the Broncos have made a living by beheading expectations and gelding spreads and rational thought, they are still constrained by the physical limitations of their passing game. In a season marked by mile-high upsets, including that stunner over the Pittsburg Steelers last week, the Patriots will bring them out of the clouds and back to the playing field.

When both teams matched up last month the Patriots were able to rack up over 451 yards of offense. The Broncos were able to check Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski in that game, but the Patriots simply had too many weapons for the Broncos to diffuse.

If the Broncos win this game, then it will send rational men into crazed street corner rants about the Mayan calendar, and it will probably cause Chris Berman’s adam’s apple to explode (hopefully on camera). But an immobile Ben Roethlisberger can’t be compared to a healthy Tom Brady, and while everyone has enjoyed Tebow mania, nothing gold can stay.

Over/Under: 50.5

Verdict: Patriots win 33-21

Sam Ferguson Interview

Sam Ferguson wakes up and heads out to the gym. He trains and coaches, that’s all he does. He lives with two different Carlson Gracie fighters, and he spends his whole day at the Carlson Gracie gym. His life revolves around the cage, and that’s how the Champaign native wants it.

He came to Carlson Gracie after he lost his passion for football, and he’s taken to the camaraderie of the gym. He socializes with other fighters outside of training, and he rocks out at Alice Cooper and Hank III concerts with his coaches. Moving away from central Illinois has taken Ferguson out of his element, but the gym has been a respite for the young fighter, and the bonds he’s made from the gym have helped fuel his obsession for MMA.

Ferguson is on the main card for Invasion Aurora later this month, and we sat down with him to talk about life downstate, his fighting style, and his passion for MMA.

Describe your fighting style.

Carlson Gracie jiu-jitsu.

What have you been working on over the last year?

This is the first year that I was actually an MMA fighter. Before that I trained everything separately. I use to do only a few days of MMA training, and now I’m constantly in the cage working stuff that’s a lot more MMA specific than I was a year ago. So over the last year my emphasis has been working less on the individual nuts and bolts and more about putting the car together.

Where do you see yourself going in the next year? Have you mapped that out with your coaches or are you just trying to take it one fight at a time?

I’m always thinking about the long-term. I’m definitely going to fight pro eventually. The good thing for me is that I don’t have to do a whole lot of thinking. I’ve got three great coaches. They know what they’re doing with me. So based on my faith in Jeff (Neal), Jason (Sullins), especially Jason, and Lukasz (Banach). Jeff will tell me when I need to go pro. He knows that’s what I want to do.

What’s your intro music?

It changes every time, but I’m definitely coming out to country.

Who are your favorites?

Hank III is my boy. The first walkout song I came out to was “Working Man Bluesand the announcer was like, ‘I’m not sure who this is, but it’s very country.’

First pro fight, do you have any music you’re thinking about?

No. I don’t know. My first pro fight my mom will be there, she’s there for everything. So I’ll probably come out to something for her. She’s been there a lot for me.  

What do you do when you’re not fighting? Do you still go to school?

No, I graduated. I got my degree in criminal justice last May. It’s paying big dividends for me right now. Laughs*

Do you miss it downstate?

Every motherfuckin’ day. I’m definitely not a Chicago guy at all. It takes me out of my element a little bit. I live in Plainfield right now, and it’s a beautiful area.

What’s more your element? What do you do back home?

It’s a little slower paced. Mike Davis (Cut Throat promoter) thought I was a pothead because I seem so laid-back. Which, if you know me, is kind of funny because I’m usually pretty straight-laced. The craziest I get is shots of Wild Turkey.

What would be your coat of arms if you had one?

I have a Spartan tattoo on my back, so I’d probably have that in one corner of my shield. I’d have an ear of corn to represent central Illinois, and I’d have the Carlson Gracie bulldog in another corner.

You mentioned that you had a plan about your MMA future; do you think about how many fights you want to do this year? Do you want to pace yourself, or are you taking them as they come?

I’ve got a bad habit of not being able to say no to Jeff. I was in Texas and I hadn’t trained in probably like four or five days and Jeff calls me, ‘Hey, what’re you doing? Do you want to fight on the fourteenth?’ So I ended up having two days of training for that fight. I was definitely doing my water trick on the drive up from Texas. Which is definitely fun when you have to go to the bathroom every 45 minutes.

So MMA is clearly a passion for you.

I remember I was injured last year, and I couldn’t walk or go to class and stuff, it hurt too bad. And there were two days were I was loading up on ibuprofen and muscle relaxers, and I tried to walk in here (Carlson Gracie) normally but my coach kicked me out. So there were a couple days where I felt like I was going to chew my face off. If I’m not in the gym then I feel depressed. I just can’t wait to choke people. Jiu-Jitsu is my heroin.

***

Sam will be fighting at Invasion Aurora against Ryan Kirwan on January 27th. For more information, check it out here.

 

 

Tide Rips Tigers

**Photo from photo8.com**

Nick Saban began yesterday’s title game by impaling Honey Badger through his blonde mohawk. He then proceeded to eat the screaming animal while it thrashed around in his teeth and spewed gore and organs all over the Superdome. It was brutal. Almost unwatchable. Almost exactly like Jordan Jefferson’s quarterback play.

Alabama cruised to at 21-0 victory over the LSU Tigers last night, and Bama’s defense trampled the Tigers.

While defenses aren’t usually considered beautiful, the pride of Tuscaloosa showed exactly what a number one ranked defense should look like.

In the first half LSU was only able to convert one first down, they piled up 43 yards of total offense, and they punted five times. And it didn’t get any better in the second half.

Jefferson looked overwhelmed most of the game, and his best play was a leaping tackle he unleashed after an interception.

It was a dominant performance by Alabama, and their defense should be remember as one of the best the college game has ever seen.

So we tip our hats to you, Alabama. Tonight we drink to your women and the Crimson Tide. Cheers to you. Maybe you can raise your illiteracy rate while the mojo is flowing.

Tide Vs. Tigers Predictions

**Art: Peter Fong**

Football, beignets, and nipples are already out in force, and New Orleans is throwing it into overdrive this evening. Coming off another Superdome victory, the town should be ready to explode for tonight’s National Title game. The LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide will once again clash, and the two top-ranked college teams are both vying for blood and a championship.

The Tigers are coming off a brilliant year in which they outscored opponents 491-131, and went a perfect 13-0. Their ground game rumbled for over 215 yards per game and featured four different tailbacks. This medusa-like attack wore down defenses all season, and gave quarterback Jordan Jefferson enough balance to be effective in the air and ground.

On the other side of the ball is the nation’s top-ranked defense. The Crimson Tide ranked third in the nation against the run and were sixth against the pass. Trent Richardson is one of the nation’s best backs, and led the Tide with over 1,500 rushing yards this season.

Both teams run well, both defend well, both have multiple players headed to the NFL, and both have championship coaching.

This game is so evenly matched that it’s almost a coin flip at this point.

In their first meeting Alabama squander a 6-3 fourth quarter lead, and lost in overtime. The pressure will be on the Tigers to win the game, and we think the game will once again extend into extra minutes. But Baton Rogue is only an hour’s drive to New Orleans and we expect the crowd to howl and scream the Tigers to victory.

It should be a wild game either way.

Point Spread: Louisiana St. Tigers -1/Bama +1
Over/Under Total: 39.5

Verdict: Tigers win 20-17