Smith's dismissal renews hope

Closing the book on Smith's nine-year run has breathed life into this city's largest, most rabid fan base

With each New Year there arrives the chance to clear the slate and begin anew.

I was delighted the Bears did that Monday when they showed Lovie Smith the door. It made for a more celebratory Rockin' Bears New Year's Eve than the Fog Bowl victory over the Eagles did in 1988's final hours.

Smith earned what he received. He also knew — as every professional coach does — that termination day is inevitable in his line of work. It's a big boys rule business and those who ascend to the top as Smith did are compensated handsomely.

Wherever the line forms for those who feel shameful about their gaping grins because of Smith's dismissal, I won't be in it.

I won't deny it's about much more than Smith's shortcomings as a coach and talent evaluator. It will be easier to remember him by his condescending tone, that smug demeanor ("Trust me") than it will how Smith's 2006 team was so good defensively that it got to the Super Bowl with a hack like Rex Grossman at quarterback.

Enjoy Buffalo, Professor Coach.

Closing the book on Smith's nine-year run has breathed life into this city's largest, most rabid fan base. With it comes the hope that Phil Emery will make the right decision and select a coach who values points more than he does the ball punch. One who is more aroused by the passing tree than the tip drill.

Whether that new headmaster comes from Denver, Indianapolis, Green Bay or Eugene, Ore., makes no difference to me. Those are all burghs in which football enthusiasts were delighted by Technicolor offenses this season — while Bears fans were gnashing teeth over whether Jay Cutler was going to get the play on time to avoid burning a timeout.

•The Vikings' Week 17 win over the Packers was one of the most entertaining games of the season and they meet again Saturday night in Green Bay. The Packers are a 9-point favorite, biggest number on the board this weekend.

In the biggest games, I favor coaches with skins on the wall. Dom Capers will figure out a way to slow down Adrian Peterson. That or eviscerate the oft-challenged Christian Ponder. The Packers advance, but I'm inclined to take the points.

•The stumbling Texans host the Bengals on Saturday in a rematch of a first-round game last season. The Texans are a 5-point favorite.

Injuries have taken their toll on the Texans' defense. And Gary Kubiak's offense, despite a surplus of talent, has lost its way of late. Sophomores Andy Dalton and A.J. Green have enormous potential, but the Bengals just aren't ready yet. I'm laying the points.

•Ray Lewis announced he'll hang 'em up after the Ravens' season concludes. That will be Sunday.

The Ravens are a 6 1/2-point favorite Sunday over the Colts, who whipped the Texans in all phases to tune up. I'm taking the Colts to win straight up. For trend players, the Colts were 11-5 ATS this year. The Ravens were 3-5 ATS at home.

•Finally, wildcard weekend wraps up with the Seahawks visiting the Redskins. If anybody can prove he/she picked the Seahawks and Redskins as playoff teams, I'm buying lunch.

Both teams have prospered with rookie quarterbacks. Both have nasty, power running backs. Both defenses are solid. The host Redskins are a 3-point underdog, which always is tempting. It's also tempting to take the favorite, considering how explosive the Seahawks' offense has been. I'm laying off.

That's something I won't do with Lovie Smith.

Special contributor Dan McNeil hosts "The McNeil and Spiegel Show" weekdays from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on WSCR-AM 670.

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