The Bears, the NFC's dominant team with a 12-2 record, clinched home field in the playoffs Sunday. The top-tier NFC teams include New Orleans, Dallas and Seattle, but Chicago is the most complete NFC team. Here are five reasons the Bears will win the NFC title:
Defense: The Bears' D has led the way with dominating performances. Led by linebacker Brian Urlacher, this aggressive unit has taken the ball from opponents a league-leading 40 times (22 interceptions and 18 fumble recoveries). Even after losing Tommie Harris and Mike Brown to injury, this stingy group is fast and deep.
Special teams: Chicago's special teams are very special because the Bears emphasize the kicking and return games. Opponents must strategically game plan for Chicago's special teams. Devin Hester has been outstanding returning punts, kickoffs and even a missed field goal for touchdowns. Kicker Robbie Gould was perfect for most of the season, and punter Brad Maynard averages 44 yards. An excellent coverage unit keeps the net punting at nearly 38 yards. Thanks to its special teams, Chicago usually wins the field position battle.
Home field: The freezing wind blowing off Lake Michigan and rowdy Bears fans will give Chicago a big home-field advantage through the playoffs. Seattle was blown out at Soldier Field this season, and players from warm-weather teams New Orleans and Dallas must overcome the distraction of weather when playing the Bears.
Balance on offense: The biggest concern for Lovie Smith was his quarterback. Smith's confidence in Rex Grossman has been rewarded as the signal-caller has rallied from a serious slump. With a solid, veteran offensive line, three quality running backs, good receiving tight ends and an excellent and explosive corps of wide receivers, Chicago has all the weapons. As long as Grossman does not turn the ball over, Chicago will succeed.
Championship mentality: Credit general manager Jerry Angelo for putting together a talented roster and Lovie Smith for creating an atmosphere energized with high expectations. Chicago believes that every player has a role to contribute. When one area slips, another unit finds a way to help the team win. The Bears have found a way to overcome mistakes. When serious injuries have sidelined excellent players, reserves have stepped up and performed well. This is a team with a championship character.
Dean Daulton scouts the NFC North for Scouts Inc.