The 2010 NFL Playoffs showcase a very interesting bunch. Not only did we have a ridiculous Wild Card round to start things off, but we're now presented with four games displaying teams that faced each other earlier this season.
For both of these teams, you can present the question: which identity will show up?
Will it be the 7-9 squad that routinely got blown out by superior opponents during the regular season for Seattle, or will it be the Seahawks that beat the Bears on the road and snuck past the defending champion New Orleans Saints last week?
And for Chicago, will it be the division champs, or will it be an unbalanced attack that can't protect its quarterback and turns the ball over?
We've seen both sides from both teams this season, and now they butt heads again. However, this time, it's for all the marbles. This time, it's for a spot in the 2010 NFC Championship game.
Here's a breakdown for both teams, and why either could pull away with a win:
Why the Seattle Seahawks Will Win
There's magic in the air. Pete Carroll has his team believing, and nothing cures the jitters or doubt like a 41-36 win over the Saints.
Seattle may have some major flaws, but they surely didn't show them in the first round of the playoffs. They also know their opponent, and will carry a nice big bag of confidence into Chicago this weekend, after doing the same earlier this season, and escaping with a 23-20 victory.
The Seahawks haven't been consistent on the year, by record or by the numbers, but when they're on top of their game, they can put up some points and they can put pressure on the quarterback.
It's entirely possible that they're just a young, talented team that is just now hitting their stride. Either way, they just don't know any better right now, and if Matt Hasselbeck can play anywhere near how he did in round one, they could very well advance to the NFC title game.
Keys to Success
1. Protect Matt Hasselbeck
2. Get to Jay Cutler
3. Contain Devin Hester
Hasselbeck is a veteran quarterback with decent receiving options, so if he's protected, he does have the ability to go to town on a defense, even a good one. Chicago has done a pretty good job against the pass for much of the season, but that doesn't mean they can't get beat in open space.
Even aside from big plays, however, Hasselbeck has to worry about Julius Peppers and a good line-backing corps. If the offensive line can keep him standing, the Seahawks have a chance.
Just as importantly, Seattle needs to ruffle Cutler's feathers, and make the quarterback do what he's been doing for years: throw picks and lose games.
Lastly, in a close game, it usually comes down to a big stop or a huge play by the special teams. When you're facing Devin Hester, there's always concern. However, Seattle has done an excellent job at pinning the opposition inside the 20 all season with a stellar punt unit, so as long as that keeps up, Hester shouldn't be a factor.
Why the Chicago Bears Will Win
Chicago went out and got Mike Martz to help repair a ravaged offense, and by balancing their attack mid-way through the season with a strong commitment to Matt Forte and the running game, it alleviated pressure on Jay Cutler and the passing game.
The Bears are at home and are well rested, and as long as they play the same balanced football on both sides of the ball that they have been, they should come away with a win.
With this Chicago team, it's not really about what they have to do in order to reach the next round, it's more about what they can't do. Cutler needs to remain poised and protected, and the rushing game that took off down the stretch needs to be alive and well.
Keys to Success
1. Establish the Run
2. Make Seattle Run
3. Limit Turnovers
It gets old, but when you're out in the cold in the NFL Playoffs, running the ball and stopping the run is what it's all about. Seattle showed last week with a huge game out of Marshawn Lynch that they're multi-dimensional, so one of the keys to this game is to shut down Lynch and make the Seahawks win through the air.
The other key is to make sure the offensive game plan revolves around Forte and controlling the clock, rather than getting fancy and using Cutler when he's not needed. That plays right into limiting the turnovers, which will be awfully hard to do if Cutler gets into a shoot-out with Hasselbeck.
Seattle was the only home team to win in the first round, so why not say they'll be the only road team to win in the second? While my picks at NFL Soup don't back that statement at all, I just can't quite bring myself to go against the Seahawks at the moment.
Chicago won the NFC North and had a solid season overall, but there wasn't a moment throughout the year that some of us severely questioned whether they were for real or not.
On the flip side, Seattle was supposed to be blown out and one and done in the first round, but shocked the world with quite arguably the greatest upset in NFL Playoff history. Who says they can't shock us all again? The Bears are vulnerable and could be rusty, while Seattle did go into this same house and pull out a win earlier this year.
The flow of the game should be a little different, but something tells me the Seahawks prevail behind a Leon Washington spark and the Cutler we all know showing up at the completely wrong time.
Verdict: Seahawks 33, Bears 26
Check out our NFL picks by the NFL soup writers to get the skinny on all four playoff matchups.
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