Divisional Playoffs – NFC Preview (Part Two)

 

Seattle Seahawks @ Chicago Bears

 

Sunday. 6pm.

The Seahawks. The Seattle Seahawks. They beat the Saints. The Superbowl-winning, Lombardi-lifting Saints.

 
In case you thought you were completely delirious at around midnight last Saturday, yes, this did actually happen. The Seahawks became the only home team to win on wild-card weekend, and advance with steamroller-esque momentum to a match up with the NFC North-winning Chicago Bears.
The annual debate regarding who-and-who shouldn’t make their way to the playoffs reared its less-than-pretty head once again before the Seahawks’ match-up with the champs, as a lowly 7-9 record was enough to get them to the postseason. This was all forgotten by the time Marshawn Lynch romped, bundled and crotch-grabbed his way to the endzone at the end of a 67-yard touchdown game to win the game and cement Seattle’s status as a real, and dangerous, playoff side. Matt Hasselbeck has been here before (and not just here, to the big one too), Lynch has turned his switch to ‘beast mode’ and Seattle aren’t completely adverse to turning on a decent pass rush too.

 
However, to go any further in this fairytale of a playoff campaign, the Seahawks will have to overcome a Chicago Bears side that few gave any chance of leaving the NFC North last September. But the Packers faltered, the Vikings had to deal with everything that came with employing Brett Favre, and the Lions were, well, the Lions (albeit enjoying a better campaign than usual). All of this gave the Bears a leg-up in topping the division, but Jay Cutler’s side ground out victory after victory to help get the other leg over. The Bears, usually pass-heavy, have become more neutral in the latter weeks of the season, with Matt Forte becoming more prominent in the Chicago offense, whilst Brian Urlacher has enjoyed a superb season in leading the Bears in tackles, and will reveal his true importance in fending off Marshawn Lynch come Sunday.

 
Players To Watch

 
If one moment thrilled NFL-watchers last weekend, it was the afore-mentioned, ridiculously enormous, touchdown run by Seattle Seahawks running-back Marshawn Lynch. The 4th-season rusher has shared such duties throughout the season with Justin Forsett, and in doing so has only gained a modest 573 yards, gaining only 3.5 yards per carry. Lynch, however, has the quick feet and sharp change of direction combined with the strength captured in last week’s game-winning touchdown to trouble the Bears from all sides. Laying such a gauntlet last week has also forced the Bears to take serious notice of the ‘Hawks running game, freeing more time for Hasselbeck to consider his preferred options through the air. If nothing else, a spanner has been thrown in the works of Chicago’s preparation, and this alone may make Lynch compulsive viewing on Sunday evening.

 
Quarterback Jay Cutler is not everybody’s cup of tea. He’s relatively arrogant by trade (his arm is ‘stronger than John Elway’s’, doncha know?) but if he beats Elway for his arm, he doesn’t touch him in terms of PR skills. He also enjoyed what might be called ‘a Cutler’ in October’s defeat to the Seahawks, completing 17 of 39 passes and ended up on the floor six times, once in the endzone for a safety. However, this is a different Jay Cutler. The Cutler of October was concussed from a week of nine sacks against a brutal Giants defense the week previous, and with a clear head in a home game against an underdog team in his first playoff game, the 5th-season QB will look forward to impressing. He doesn’t have a shining receiver to throw to, but more a collection of hard-working WRs in the mould of Johnny Knox who could provide the key to the Bears going to the Championship game next Sunday.

Prediction

 
The Seahawks defeated the Bears during the regular season in a 23-20 victory, but beating an injury-ravaged side in Week 6 means little at this stage of the season. If Cutler can perform without being rattled in his first postseason game, the Bears will eek out a win in the same way they have all season. However, if the Bears don’t grab on to Marshawn Lynch, and somewhat Matt Hasselbeck, they could see their postseason go the same way as the Saints did last weekend. I’ll take the Bears by seven, but with the Seahawks the joker in the pack of the entire season so far, this could go either way.

David Dickson.

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