NFC North: 2011 Quick Takes

Quick Take: Packers at Bears

January, 16, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday's Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears NFC Championship Game:

1. The numbers are in. The Packers and Bears have made the playoffs in the same season in only four years of the rivalry's 89-year history. Next Sunday will mark the second postseason game between them; the Bears won a 33-14 Western Division playoff in 1941 at Wrigley Field. This season, the teams split the season series, with each team winning at its home stadium. Overall, the Bears own a 92-83-6 advantage in the series. One more number: According to ESPN Stats & Information, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is 7-3 when the game-time temperature is 30 degrees or below. He has 25 touchdowns and five interceptions in those games.

2. The game will feature two quarterbacks coming off historic performances. As we suggested Saturday night, Aaron Rodgers played one of the better playoff games of this generation, completing 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards while accounting for four touchdowns in a 48-21 victory against the Atlanta Falcons. Rodgers' 86.1 completion percentage was the fifth-best in NFL postseason history, and he became the first quarterback to throw 10 touchdown passes in his first three playoff games. Meanwhile, the Bears' Jay Cutler also accounted for four touchdowns in a 35-24 victory against the Seattle Seahawks. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Cutler became only the second quarterback in NFL history to both pass and run for multiple touchdowns in a playoff game. The other was Otto Graham, who did it in 1954 and 1955 for the Cleveland Browns.

3. Familiar, shamiliar. The Bears and Packers have been playing each other for nearly a century, but don't rule out a few schematic surprises. It will be especially interesting to watch the back-and-forth between a pair of notorious mad scientists, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz and Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. "With the coaches that are going against each other, coach Martz and coach Capers, there will be some new stuff out there," Bears center Olin Kreutz said. "So we'll be ready." Sunday, Martz provided a preview with three Wildcat plays -- including a pass from tailback Matt Forte -- and an early emphasis on targeting tight end Greg Olsen.

Quick Take: Seahawks at Bears

January, 9, 2011
Three things to know about Sunday afternoon's Seattle Seahawks-Chicago Bears divisional-round playoff game at Soldier Field:

1. It's hard to imagine the Bears overlooking the Seahawks. In Week 6, the Seahawks pulled off a 23-20 victory at Soldier Field, sacking quarterback Jay Cutler six times and limiting him to 17 completions in 39 attempts. The Bears' defense, meanwhile, never sacked Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and didn't force a turnover. The Bears are a much different (and better) team now, but surely they're aware of how well Hasselbeck played in knocking the New Orleans Saints out of the playoffs Saturday. They aren't likely to be overconfident. Just ask former Bears defensive end Alex Brown, who was on the losing end Saturday as a member of the Saints. By the way, if you're interested, the line on this game opened at 9.5 points.

2. For what it's worth, the Bears beat every team they played twice this season at least once. That make sense? They swept the Detroit Lions and Minnesota Vikings while splitting their season series with the Green Bay Packers. So they are 5-1 in this scenario. Does that mean they're destined to beat the Seahawks on Sunday? You decide.

3. That Week 6 loss might have been the height of Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz's hubris. Martz called 39 passing plays and only 14 runs despite the pass-protection issues his team was having. The Bears have since balanced themselves out and should have a chance at some decent success on the ground Sunday. The Seahawks allowed an average of 118.9 rushing yards per game during the regular season, the second-most among playoff teams. If Cutler needs to throw 39 passes in this game, the Bears should be worried.

Quick Take: Packers at Falcons

January, 9, 2011
Three things to know about Saturday night's Green Bay Packers-Atlanta Falcons divisional-round playoff game at the Georgia Dome:

1. The Packers have been eagerly looking forward to a postseason rematch with the Falcons after a close and highly entertaining game in Week 12. In that Nov. 28 contest at the Georgia Dome, the Packers drove 90 yards on 16 plays for a game-tying touchdown with 56 seconds remaining. But the Falcons won on Matt Bryant's 47-yard field goal after a long kickoff return and a face-mask penalty put them about 20 yards from field goal range. "We thought we left a lot out there on the field in that game," cornerback Charles Woodson said Sunday. "There was some stops that we could have made all throughout that game defensively that we didn't make the stop on. ... We felt like we left some football out there on the field. This time that won't happen."

2. The Packers are in a groove. Green Bay will have a short week of preparation, while the Falcons will have had two weeks off by game time. But the Packers wouldn't have it any other way. The way they see it, Sunday evening's victory was their third consecutive playoff win. In truth, they went into postseason mentality in Week 16, knowing they could guarantee an actual postseason berth by victories in their final two regular-season games. Defeating the New York Giants and Chicago Bears in successive weeks seemed to have them in the appropriate mindset Sunday and moving forward. "No doubt about it," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. Said cornerback Tramon Williams: "I'm not sure if anyone wants to play us right now."

3. Two of the savviest young field generals in the NFL will square off in this game. Rodgers produced a 122.5 passer rating Sunday in winning his first playoff game. Meanwhile, the Falcons' Matt Ryan has lost only twice at the Georgia Dome in his three-year career. It could be the first of many postseason battles between these two quarterbacks.

Quick take: Packers at Eagles

January, 2, 2011
Three things to know about next Sunday's Green Bay Packers-Philadelphia Eagles wild-card game:

1. The Green Bay Packers are responsible for the Michael Vick Phenomenon, circa 2010. It was the Packers, specifically linebacker Clay Matthews, who knocked out Philadelphia Eagles starter Kevin Kolb in a Week 1 game at Lincoln Financial Field. Vick rushed for 103 yards and rallied the Eagles from a 27-10 fourth-quarter deficit. Matthews stopped him on a fourth-down rushing attempt to seal a 27-20 victory, but Vick's performance while Kolb recovered from his concussion ultimately won him the Eagles' starting job. "We're going to have our hands full," Matthews said. "We know what kind of a caliber player he is. We're going to have to shut him down to have a chance."

2. Before winning in Week 1, the Packers had lost nine consecutive games in Philadelphia. (And we won't even bring up 4th-and-26.) But the only thing that matters is what this Packers team has done this season. And in 2010, the Packers were 3-5 on the road. But two of those victories came against playoff teams -- the Eagles and New York Jets -- and overall the Packers are 21-19 on the road since coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006. This is a team that won't be unsettled by playing in a relatively unfamiliar environment.

3. Many observers will use "attacking" and "multiple" as adjectives to describe the Eagles' defense. But the same thing can be said about the Packers. In Sunday's 10-3 victory over the Chicago Bears, the Packers blitzed a defensive back on 19 plays, including 16 in the second half. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers is every bit as unpredictable as Eagles coordinator Sean McDermott, who has inherited and expanded the scheme created by the late Jim Johnson.