Seattle Seahawks vs. Chicago Bears: Forecasting the NFL Divisional Playoffs

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Seattle Seahawks vs. Chicago Bears: Forecasting the NFL Divisional Playoffs
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Nov. 28, 2010: Lovie Smith coaches against the Eagles in Chicago. He'll try to stop more birds from soaring.

Guess what, football-crazed America? A team with an (8-9) NFL record is playing in the NFC Divisional Playoffs Game.  In a revolting playoff development, “Who Dat?” families fell victim to the first-round 12th man in Seattle. 

Last Saturday evening, the Seahawks swooped down on the visiting New Orleans Saints and shocked the NFL world.  A number of fans and analysts were already in an uproar over a team with a losing record hosting a playoff game against a team with a winning record.

Some of those people were probably roaring with approval after seeing the game-clinching run. 

On Marshawn Lynch's stiff arm, the Seattle Seahawks (8-9) reminded us about the NFL—and the playoffs in particular.  One never really knows what might happen in a quiet, but crucial Saturday evening or Sunday afternoon game. 

At crucial points in the game, the Saints needed to run the football to keep it and the lead.  Their running backs ended up dipping and dodging through the holes instead of taking defenders on.  As a result, Seattle took the lead and ended the Saints title reign.

Marshawn Lynch wasn’t dipping and dodging.  He owns the highlight of the playoffs so far.  His run against the Saints is going down in NFL lore.  The Seahawks represented for the ridiculed NFC West and quieted the critics.  Against the No. 2 seed in the NFC, Seattle now takes its show on the road. 

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
January 8, 2011: Pete Carroll embraces Marshawn Lynch in Seattle. They'll try to repeat the feeling in Chicago.

In the world’s foremost professional one-and-done elimination tournament, the Hawks and the Bears (11-5) will battle on the banks of Lake Michigan in Chicago, Ill.  The Lake Shore Drive area will be brimming with navy blue and burnt orange jerseys—underneath heavy coats.

The temperature is expected to be in the 20s at game time.  It may be icy weather, but the action will be boiling on the football field.

These two teams squared off this past regular season and the Seahawks won it in Chicago—23-20.  Matt Hasselbeck passed for 242 yards and Mike Williams had 123 yards receiving.  They combined for one touchdown.  Seattle was (3-2) and Chicago was (4-2) after the game in Week 6.  Now the Hawks must travel back to the friendly confines of Soldier Field.

The Bears beat the Seahawks 25-19 last year in Seattle.  They’ve split their last four regular season games since 2006.  The Bears knocked the Seahawks out of the playoffs in an NFC Divisional Playoffs Game on January 14, 2007 in Chicago.  Now they meet in the same round almost four years to the date on the same field. 

Will it be déjà vu for the Bears or will Seattle soar?

The Seahawks offense averaged 19 points and 297 total yards per game in the regular season.  They scored 41 and racked 415 against the Saints.  New Orleans was ranked higher in almost every defensive category than the Bears. 

Geoff Burke/Getty Images
Oct. 10, 2010: Bryan Urlacher (left) and Lance Briggs (right) get set in Carolina. They'll be watching for the Lynch mob.

The Bears defense ranked No. 5 in interceptions with 21.  They forced 23 fumbles and recovered 14—tied for the most with the Steelers among the elite eight NFL playoff teams.

Bryan Urlacher, Lance Briggs and the rest of Coach Lovie Smith’s core defenders will be back in the playoffs.  They last hosted a playoff game in 2006—the NFC Championship Game against the Saints on January 21, 2007.  With a 13-3 regular season record, the Bears were the No. 1 seed in the NFC that year.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz and Smith teamed up to win a title with the Rams under Dick Vermeil in 1999.  Martz was the conductor.  Smith orchestrated the defense.

Josh Freeman orchestrated four touchdown passes against the Seahawks defense in the next-to-last game of the season.  It looked like the greatest show on turf in Tampa Bay.  

Speaking of great shows, Devin Hester is categorically the best kickoff returner in NFL history.  He holds several NFL records for kick returns for touchdowns in a single season, single game and career.  He’s third behind his mentor Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson for career non-offensive touchdowns.  Hester could be considered for the Hall of Fame after he retires.

He usually performs well in the playoffs; he jetted 92 yards for a touchdown to start the Super Bowl on February 4, 2010 against the Indianapolis Colts. 

Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
January 8, 2011: Matt Hasselbeck carries his son off the field in Seattle. He'll try to carry his team through to the next round.

It was the first Super Bowl opening kickoff to be salvoed for a touchdown.  Here's my closing salvo on what I think will happen in this game.

 

Prediction

I picked the Bears to make it to the Super Bowl, and they now have a chance to host the NFC Championship Game on January 23—depending on the Falcons-Packers game.  I believe the superb playoff experience of the Bears coaching staff will get the players ready. 

On the other side of the 50, will it be the (7-9) Seahawks, who limped out of Tampa Bay?  Or will it be the Hawks, who licked their wounds and came back home to dominate the Saints?  At (2-6), their record on the road is atrocious—let’s be honest.  I’m guessing it will be the limping Seahawks.

Seattle won’t be able to run the football like they did against New Orleans, and Hasselbeck's game will return to the mean.  At the top of the Bears coverage schemes with Williams, the opportunistic defenders will stop him from pulling another fine upset.  Williams should face double coverage and won’t be as effective this time.

Tight end Greg Olsen will be targeted in the red zone and should have success against Seattle's coverages along with Cutler.  Johnny Knox can get deep on just about any secondary.  The Seahawks are ranked No. 27 in passing defense and only had 12 interceptions.  Knox racked over 100 yards against them in the first meeting.

As I mentioned, Seattle defeated the Bears.  It was their first win on the road against a winning team since 2007.  What does it mean?  The Seahawks could have the Bears number—is what it means.   Seattle’s keys were to shut down Matt Forte and pressure Jay Cutler into turnovers.  The first game wasn’t as close as the final score indicates, according to Seattle—it worked.

Hasselbeck was working, spreading the ball around and playing Saints defenders close.  He's feeling his oats for sure, but he'll be on the road in Chicago this time—in the playoffs. 

The only Seahawks soaring near the frozen tundra of Soldier Field will be lost heading to Texas for the winter.  Seattle's hopes for a Super Bowl in Texas for the winter will also go south. 

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