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The weekend is almost here and I can't take much more discussion about what some Jet just said. The real NFL news over the next 45 hours will be the first three games of this weekend, so I'm going to go ahead and start threads on each of those games now.
#4 Seattle Seahawks (8-9) at #2 Chicago Bears (11-5)
Sunday January 16 at 1:00 p.m. EST on FOX
Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston will announce the game on TV
Tony Siragusa is the sideline reporter
Kevin Kugler, Mark Malone and Hub Arkush will do the radio broadcast
Chicago is currently favored by 10 to 10½ points
Over under is from 41 to 42 points
The Money Line has Seattle from +325 to +425; Chicago -475 to -550
In this astute yet arrogant football haven, the Beast Quake barely registers in the locals' consciousness, let alone on their seismometer.
The Seahawks are just a nice little story never to happen again around here. Marshawn Lynch's unforgettable touchdown run, as well as Seattle's landmark upset of the reigning champion New Orleans Saints, are commendable but explainable.
"A lot of missed tackles," Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher says of Lynch's 67-yard rumble. "Good run, though."
I just had the image of Urlacher patting Lynch, aka Beast Mode, on the head.
If you get the feeling the Bears are acting like they invented the NFL, well, they practically did. The franchise is one of two charter members of the National Football League that still exist. Green Bay is the other. And many fans spent the week overlooking the Seahawks and daydreaming of a possible NFC Championship Game featuring the two rival greybeards.
"The Seahawks, last week was their Super Bowl," said a fan sitting at Ditka's restaurant, an establishment aptly named after Mike Ditka, Da Coach, who led the Bears to their last Super Bowl victory 25 years ago. "I don't think they have another upset in them."
He must've gotten that line from sports talk radio. It was the most popular comment about the Seahawks on the airwaves this week.
This disdainful environment is the perfect setting for these Seahawks to add to their unlikely playoff legend.
Think the Seahawks did something last week? Well, as great a triumph as that 41-36 victory over New Orleans was, a win Sunday at Soldier Field would be far more legendary. Looking back, the Seahawks had every reason to beat the Saints — from the motivation of being ridiculed as the first playoff team with a losing record; to Matt Hasselbeck's desire to play well coming off injury; to the good timing of playing an injury-plagued foe. Those factors don't make the win any less amazing, just more understandable.
But beating the Bears in Chicago, as a double-digit underdog (again), with the opponent fresh from a bye week, is almost unimaginable. The locals don't give them a chance. And despite last week's theatrics, most national media doesn't believe the Seahawks have it in them, either.
Which is why the Seahawks must pull off another shocker. A real shocker.
This is exactly the kind of team that could do it, too.
They're only 8-9. To finish the season with a .500 record, the Seahawks would have to make it to the Super Bowl. To be above .500, they would have to win the championship.
Chicago laughs at this hope for a ragtag team from Seattle. The city has seen greatness. The Bears have nine NFL championships. They have 26 former players in the Hall of Fame. They have more all-time victories than any franchise in the league.
The Chicago Tribune labels its Bears special section "Destination: Dallas," referencing the site of Super Bowl XLV. The paper compared these Bears to the 2006 team that lost in the Super Bowl and concluded this team has nothing on that one. And yet the city still expects nothing less than its first title since the Super Bowl shufflin' crew of 1985.
How dare a team with a losing record attempt to challenge the dream?
The audacity of these Seahawks.
Yes, their audacity. It shouldn't be dismissed.
Last week was not the Seahawks' Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is their Super Bowl, just like the five other teams remaining. On paper, they aren't good enough to make it that far. Then again, on paper, they shouldn't have been good enough to make it to the playoffs.
But they're here, frumpy, flawed and unconcerned. The Bears better show up, too, because they won't win on tradition and conventional wisdom alone.
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When asked earlier this week about the Chicago Bears' need for offensive balance against the Seahawks, Cutler countered curtly, "We might throw it 60 times."
Appreciating Cutler's talent requires looking past his smug attitude. He isn't beloved, but when he's hot he is as good as any quarterback in the game. Now that he's making slightly better decisions — his interceptions are down from a league-worst 26 in 2009 to 16 this season — he's starting to be considered more than just a gunslinger.
On Sunday, he'll have to answer a big question: Can he win in the playoffs?
This is Cutler's first postseason appearance since high school. He never went to a bowl at Vanderbilt. He didn't make the playoffs during his first four NFL seasons. It has been a long time since Cutler has played a game this meaningful, but Bears coach Lovie Smith is confident he will perform well.
Cutler's history makes it fair to wonder if, at this point of his career, he is capable of leading his team to a last-minute, come-from-behind victory.
Ultimately, Cutler is not going to be defined by what he says at press conferences, or by how many people really know him, or by what his public image is. He is going to be defined by situations like these.
When Cutler was with the Broncos, he was in seven situations when he took over down by eight points or fewer with less than five minutes remaining. He scored the necessary points in five of those situations, completing 24 of 39 passes for 334 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. His passer rating was 104.
But the Bears haven't seen that same clutch player. He has been in eight similar situations since he came to Chicago, and has scored the necessary points only once. In those situations, he has completed 30 of 51 passes for 335 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions — good for a 45.4 passer rating.
The Bears are a popular pick this week among the national media. As 10-point favorites playing at home against a team that went 7-9 in the regular season (but did beat the Bears in Week 6), it's easy to see why.
A quick perusal of the Web, reveals the following:
All but one on ESPN's panel of experts picks the Bears. Bill Simmons, however, likes Seattle because the Seahawks remind him of Vinny on Jersey Shore and he gets a team-of-destiny vibe from them.
Over at SI.com, their NFL/coffee guru Peter King writes the only way Seattle can win is a Jay Cutler turnover fest, which is entirely possible. But, writes King, "I don't expect that to happen. It was fun while it lasted, but I think the Seattle magic ends at Soldier Field."
Jim Trotter thinks without its 12th man (the Qwest Field crowd), Seattle will be at a distinct disadvantage and the Bears will win 27-13.
Meanwhile, two of the three pickers on the Yahoo Sports crew, likes the Bears, with Les Carpenter as the lone dissenter.
Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times likes the Bears 21-17.
Brad Biggs: Bears 27, Seahawks 10:
You have to like the loose atmosphere Pete Carroll has created in Seattle, where they have nothing to lose. There's no pressure on the Seahawks and the Bears are inexperienced on the offensive side of the ball in the playoffs. Their defense is seasoned, though, and it will be far too much for Matt Hasselbeck.
David Haugh: Bears 31, Seahawks 17:
It's a long way for the Seahawks to come to get blown out so early in the morning, Seattle time. But that's exactly what should happen. This isn't the same confused team the Seahawks beat Oct. 17. This is an offense that can control the ball, carried by a defense with playoff experience for days like this.
Vaughn McClure: Bears 24, Seahawks 14:
The Seahawks beating the Saints in the wild-card game benefited the Bears in two aspects. First, they don't have to face Drew Brees. And second, they know not to underestimate a team coming off a quality victory. The Bears will pressure Matt Hasselbeck and shut down Marshawn Lynch, while Jay Cutler will thrive.
Fred Mitchell: Bears 27, Seahawks 17:
The Seahawks have enough weapons and postseason momentum to give the Bears a challenge for three quarters before the home team pulls away. It will be up to the Bears defense to make plays, the offense not to turn the ball over and the special teams to provide good field position and score points via the kicking game.
Dan Pompei: Bears 24, Seahawks 20:
It would be wrong to overlook a team as well coached and committed as the Seahawks. But the Bears have the benefits of rest, the home field and superior talent. The Bears are protecting the passer and running the ball much better than they were when the Seahawks beat them in October, and that could be the difference.
"It's a very good offensive line,'' he said. "I've seen them grow all year. When we played them, they played extremely well … I mean really well.
"The two offensive tackles can really pass block. The quarterback gets the ball out quick and has great play-action boots.''
So front-four pressure will be crucial in taking pressure off the defensive backs Sunday as quarterbacks such as Hasselbeck can find holes in the zone when not under duress.
But there's an antidote.
"Really shut the run down," Briggs said. "Make them one-dimensional. Make (Hasselbeck) beat us. These are things we've needed to do all year long."
Marinelli was pleased, for the most part, with what he saw from his pass rush throughout the season. Other than stellar seasons from Peppers and fellow defensive end Israel Idonije, reserve Henry Melton evolved as a threat in nickel situations and Tommie Harris made a late surge after regaining his starting job.
"The consistency of the pressure has been pretty solid," Marinelli said. "But we have to get better. And we will.''
For those unfamiliar with the gory details, Jay Cutler was sacked six times as the Bears were 0-for-12 on third downs in the Seahawks' 23-20 victory at Soldier Field, including blitzing defensive back Jordan Babineaux's sack that resulted in a safety.
Lawyer Milloy had two sacks from his safety spot, Babineaux was credited with 1 1/2 while cornerback Roy Lewis brought down Cutler once.
The Bears' blitz radar certainly malfunctioned that afternoon.
"Every blitz is on the offense,'' center Olin Kreutz said. "I'll talk about my responsibility. But who's it on? Who gives a (crap)? We got sacked. And we'll just try to get that fixed.
"Any identification starts with me. If somebody doesn't understand who they have, I take that personally because that's my job.''
The Bears should comprehend fully what to expect if the Seahawks hit them with the same flurry Sunday. This is far from the tentative offense that took the field three months ago.
Cutler has become more adept at getting the ball out quicker, and the line finally has found continuity with Kreutz, Frank Omiyale, Chris Williams, Roberto Garza, and J'Marcus Webb together for the last nine games. Not to mention players such as receiver Johnny Knox understand their roles better in terms of Cutler's hot reads.
"The weak side, that's usually where they blitz from,'' Knox said. "I see an awful lot of those hots.''
But how many blitzes will the Bears see this time? According to ESPN stats, the Seahawks sent at least one defensive back on the blitz a season-high 44.7 percent of the time against the Bears as compared to 20.3 percent throughout the entire regular season. In their last two games against the Rams and Saints, the Seahawks blitzed less than 11 percent.
"We have to get a good feel for what they're going to do and (they have) calmed down a little bit since we played them,'' Cutler said, "But we have to prepare for anything because they have nothing to lose. Everyone, you're one and done. They could show us anything."
Tice fully expects the Seahawks to blitz, and blitz some more.