Tuesday, January 4, 2011
Sizing up potential Bears playoff matchups
By Michael C. Wright
The Seahawks might be the NFL's worst playoff team at 7-9 but they beat the Bears on Oct. 17.
By capturing the No. 2 seed and the accompanying first-round bye, the Chicago Bears can kick back and watch NFC wild-card weekend to scout potential opponents for their divisional matchup next Sunday at Soldier Field.
Here at ESPNChicago.com, we’ll be doing the same.
But we decided to take an early look at three teams Chicago is most likely to face -- and how the Bears match up -- in the divisional round. We left out the Green Bay Packers because they hold the sixth seed, meaning they couldn’t face the Bears until the NFC Championship Game, provided both teams make it that far.
No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles: Chicago defeated the Eagles 31-26 in Week 12, but this team still appears to be the most dangerous of the potential Bears opponents in the divisional round.
When the teams met in November, a Chris Harris interception off a tipped pass by Tommie Harris with Philadelphia on the Bears' 4-yard line (and about to take the lead) changed the complexion of a game in which the Eagles scored just one touchdown in five red zone possessions. Quarterback Jay Cutler tied a career high with four touchdown passes. But it’s important to note Philadelphia’s best cover man, Asante Samuel, missed the game because of an injury.
In the regular-season finale, the dinged-up Eagles sat all but three starters. So they enter the postseason well rested.
The truth is, Chicago has lost games this season to less-talented teams than the Eagles, who go into the postseason with a motivated Michael Vick (who has taken a team to the NFC title game in the past) surrounded by explosive weapons that could present major matchup problems for the Bears if there’s a second meeting between the teams.
No. 5 New Orleans Saints: The cold, windy weather in Chicago definitely gives the Bears a huge home-field advantage at Soldier Field against a pass-happy Saints team that plays its home games in a dome.
The last postseason meeting between the Bears and Saints came in the 2006 NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in 28-degree temperatures with 10-mph winds. The conditions played a role in the Bears' destroying the Saints 39-14, stuffing their running game for 56 yards, while forcing four turnovers, in addition to sacking Drew Brees three times.
The 2010 edition of the Saints isn’t nearly as talented as the ’06 team. The Saints' offense sputters without a solid rushing attack to complement what the Saints do through the air. Leading rusher Chris Ivory has been placed on injured reserve with a left foot injury, and the team added journeyman DeShawn Wynn to bolster the anemic ground game. At least three Saints -- safety Malcolm Jenkins (knee), tight end Jimmy Graham (ankle) and Ivory (foot) -- left the regular-season finale with injuries and didn’t return. Three other top players -- tight end Jeremy Shockey (groin), receiver Marques Colston (knee) and running back Pierre Thomas (ankle) -- missed last week’s game.
A wounded opponent in cold conditions bodes well for the Bears.
No. 4 Seattle Seahawks: Debate swirls about the Seahawks being the worst division champion in league history. But the fact is, of the Bears’ three potential opponents, this is the only team to have beaten them.
Interestingly, Seattle’s last quality win came in Week 6 against the Bears at Soldier Field. The Seahawks’ only other wins since then came against a slew of tomato cans (Arizona twice, Carolina and St. Louis) that finished the regular season with a combined record of 14-34. In the seven losses following Seattle’s win at Soldier Field, the Seahawks were blown out by approximately 22 points per game.
Seattle’s defense finished near the bottom of the league in points allowed and yards, and the offense lacks a legitimate rushing attack. The quarterback situation seems iffy with uncertainty about whether the team proceeds with Matt Hasselbeck, who is recovering from a hip injury, or Charlie Whitehurst, who enters the postseason having just won his first start.
“Fresh meat” would likely be the prevailing thought among the Bears’ defense should this matchup come to fruition, and rightfully so.