The Pulse: Chicago’s draft stunner, LeBron’s angst and Rodgers’ last game?

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Goodmorning! Go ahead and cue up the Nyheim Hines kick return video again.


Crossroads

Forget playoff seeding for a second, because a more surprising No. 1 emerged Sunday. the Chicago Bears will pick first in the 2023 NFL Draft. Some fascinating layers here:

  • the Texans blew it. One loss away from having their choice of quarterback (hi, Bryce Young), and they go out and beat the Colts via two-point conversion. So much for tanking. Then Houston fired Lovie Smith (former Bears coach, I might add), the team’s second straight head coach to last only one year. Healthy.
  • What will the Bears do? They have a promising passer in the 23-year-old Fields, whom they traded up for in 2021. Do they take a new QB anyway? Trade the pick to a quarterback-needy team? Or take the best defender (Alabama linebacker Will Anderson?) and call it a day?

Adam Jahns writes about young general manager Ryan Poles’ unexpected opportunity to change the franchise forever. Jon Greenberg emphasizes the Bears they weren’t that bad this year, yet snagged their first No. 1 pick since 1947. Notably, both writers expect Chicago to build around Fields. It’s a good time to be a Bears fan. Seriously.

See the full draft order here and prepare for mock draft season.


Playoff Push

PackersPats miss out

Oh right, there’s still important football happening. Quickly:

See the full seeding and playoff matchups here. We’ve got early odds and totals, too. Next weekend is going to be fun.

PS If you missed Nyheim Hines running back the opening kick — Buffalo‘s first play since the Damar Hamlin injury — catch the video here and grab a tissue. The NFL’s scriptwriters outdid themselves with this one. Josh Allen called the moment “bone-chilling.”


New Stuff

Let’s go!

It feels like a miss, right? The Athletic, which has the world’s best soccer coverage, didn’t have dedicated writers covering FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, two of the most important clubs.

Today, the miss becomes a make. Four writers and a host of editors officially begin expanded coverage of Spanish soccer, which you can read all about here.

I want to highlight one of their debut bangers: How Real and Barca, bitter enemies on the pitch, now need each other to survive.

  • It all has to do with the political war surrounding the Super League (remember that?), which might be dead, or might not. These rivals’ spats have included heads of state, yet they are in an uneasy — but solid — marriage to fight UEFA and even La Liga.

No drama spicier than European soccer. Also, don’t miss Pol Ballús’ story on Lionel Messi, still a Barca political pawn 17 months after leaving.


National Championship

Can TCU really do it?

Tonight’s national title game feels dangerous. All the evidence points to a handy Georgia win. It’s easy to guess the early game will be close, before the Bulldogs’ talent and depth shoves TCU into the dirt for good.

A part of the brain balks at such a sure thing. Seth Emerson described the Horned Frogs as playing with house money. They shouldn’t be here, thus they have nothing to lose. Dangerous.

At couple points:

  • TCU thrives in silly games. The Frogs have played seven one-possession games, and their only loss probably would’ve been a win if one play had been called differently. Sonny Dykes’ team is used to moments when points are flying everywhere. They showed in the semifinal they can fling nonsense at a big-dog program and win.
  • For Georgia, it always comes down to Stetson Bennett. The former walk-on can finish his storybook career with a win, but he was shaky early in the Bulldogs’ semifinal (albeit fantastic late) and against a few lesser opponents. The defense will be good, possibly great. Bennett is the wild card.

Bruce Feldman has a nice look at how TCU’s Air Raid honors the late Mike Leach. Meanwhile, Andy Staples notices Georgia has become the behemoth Nick Saban feared.

Pulse-pick: This feels like either a Georgia blowout or a close TCU win. As fun as a 44-42 Horned Frog barnburner sounds, I’m a weak man and cannot commit. Georgia 34, TCU 16.


Pulse Picks

The Sean McVay saga continues. Keep up with today’s NFL coaching changes on our live blog.

LeBron James is unhappy with the Lakers’ state, Sam Amick reports. Their brief conversation is worth a look.

The Athletic‘s baseball writers reveal their 2023 Hall of Fame ballots. We love transparency.

Do the Nuggets have enough talent to win this year’s title? “Probably,” says Nikola Jokic.

White Sox pitcher Liam Hendriks announced he’s beginning treatment for non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Seth Davis recaps college basketball’s chaotic week through the lens of his top 25, where a deserving Kansas is No. 1.

(Photo: Daniel Bartel/USA Today)

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