|ESPN.com: Chicago Bears||[Print without images]|
|Julius Peppers and the Bears' defense are going to need to carry them on Sunday.|
|Caleb Hanie continues to make strides, but they have been significant enough to warrant much optimism about this team’s prospects for advancing to the postseason. Tarvaris Jackson is playing with an injured pectoral muscle, but is completing better than 60 percent of his passes, and generated a passer rating of 96.4 last week in Seattle’s win over the St. Louis Rams.|| |
|Marion Barber gives Chicago a power dimension between the tackles, but is coming off a performance in which he made two critical mistakes that ultimately cost Chicago a victory. Kahlil Bell will likely take on more attempts to give the Bears an elusive element. But Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch is on fire, having rushed for 100 yards or more in five of his last six games.
|Hanie’s lack of consistency is one component of the problem, but Chicago’s receivers simply haven’t made enough plays to keep the Bears in games. Earl Bennett has caught just two passes over the past two weeks while Johnny Knox and Roy Williams have been nonfactors. Seattle rookie Doug Baldwin leads the team in receptions (45), and yards (718) and is complemented by talented players in Golden Tate, Mike Williams and tight end Zach Miller.|
|The major difference in these teams is the fact that Seattle actually invested in its offensive line over the last few years. But like the Bears, the Seahawks have suffered some injuries. Seattle started the season with the NFL’s third-youngest offensive line, but because of injury replacements, the unit is now the eighth youngest in the league. Chicago has shown flashes in protection, but has lost consistency with the absence of starting quarterback Jay Cutler.|
|Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons is tied with Chicago’s Julius Peppers for seventh in the league with nine sacks. Seattle defensive tackle Brandon Mebane leads the NFC in tackles (44) at his position, but Chicago’s Henry Melton is tied for the NFL lead in sacks (7) among NFL interior D-linemen. The Bears have been a tad stouter than the Seahawks against the run this season.|
|Two of Chicago’s starting three linebackers (Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs) have already tallied more than 100 tackles and both appear poised to make yet another Pro Bowl together. Seattle’s David Hawthorne (88 tackles, three interceptions) is an emerging star along with Leroy Hill (76 tackles, three sacks). Hill, Hawthorne, and K.J. Wright have combined for six sacks. Urlacher, Briggs and Nick Roach haven’t notched a sack all season.|
| A 2010 first-round pick, Seattle free safety Earl Thomas ranks second on the team in tackles (81), while strong safety Kam Chancellor and cornerback Brandon Browner have a combined nine interceptions. The Seahawks are surrendering 230.8 yards per game through the air, while the Bears give up an average of 256.5. Inconsistent play at safety hurt the Bears last week, but they’re expecting Major Wright to return to the starting lineup. Wright might be paired with veteran Craig Steltz this week.
|Seattle return man Leon Washington is the first player in NFL history to return three kickoffs for touchdowns in two different seasons (2007 and 2010), while Chicago’s Devin Hester is arguably the most dangerous returner in NFL history (leads NFL in career punt return average (13.1) and is second in NFL history for most combined return TDs (19). Kicker Robbie Gould and punter Adam Podlesh tip this matchup in Chicago’s favor.|
| Pete Carroll’s motivational style has the Seahawks believing they’ve got a shot to win out in a schedule that includes two road contests over the last three weeks. The Seahawks have won four of five, scoring at least 22 points in each of the victories. Lovie Smith finds himself in a difficult situation without Jay Cutler and Matt Forte in the lineup. But Smith’s teams consistently play hard for him despite arduous circumstances.
| Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz and offensive line coach Mike Tice will be the key in this game because everything hinges on Hanie’s protection. But the recent controversy stemming from Sam Hurd’s arrest might be the distraction that finally breaks this team given that it was already trying to fight through the absence of Cutler and Forte, not to mention Hanie’s inconsistency or the fact it is coming off an emotionally-draining loss at Denver. Chicago may find motivation from knowing it has to win out for a chance at the postseason. There’s no question the defense will perform to its usual standards. But the offense just can’t score points.
|PREDICTION: Seahawks 13, Bears 6|