When: Sunday, 10 a.m. PST, Soldier Field, Chicago
What: NFC divisional playoff game between the NFC North champion Bears, the conference’s No. 2 seed; and NFC West champion Seahawks, the No. 4 seed.
What’s next: The winner advances to the NFC Championship game, and will travel to Atlanta to face the top-seeded Falcons or host the Green Packers depending on which team wins the other divisional game on Saturday night.
Record: Bears finished the regular season 11-5, and gained a bye in last week’s first round of the playoffs
Where they rank: No. 30 on offense (22nd rushing, 28th passing); No. 9 on defense (2nd rushing, 20th passing)
Series: Seahawks lead 8-4, including a 23-20 victory at Soldier Field in Week 6
Bing Stat Comparison: Bing.com, the official decision engine of the Seahawks, provides us with a statistical comparison of the key positions in this weekend’s matchup:
- Quarterbacks – Matt Hasselbeck vs. Jay Cutler
- Wide Receivers – Mike Williams vs. Johnny Knox
- Linebackers – Lofa Tatupu vs. Brian Urlacher
- Strong Safeties – Lawyer Milloy vs. Danieal Manning
- Running Backs – Marshawn Lynch vs. Matt Forte | Justin Forsett vs. Matt Forte
To perform your own statistical comparison visit Bing.com and search for any two players of the same position.
Star power: Devin Hester. There are other candidates, starting with Brian Urlacher, the best middle linebacker of his generation. But Hester just might be the best return man in the history of the game. He popped an 89-yard punt return against the Seahawks in Week 6, to go with his 62-yarder against the Packers in Week 4 and 64-yarder against the Vikings in Week 16. He now holds the NFL record for most combined return TDs with 14 (10 punts, four kickoffs). But wait, there’s more: Hester also returned a missed field goal 108 yards for a score in 2006 and had a kickoff return for a score in the 2007 Super Bowl. But those don’t count toward his league-record total. Hester’s 17.1-yard average on 33 punt returns this season leads the league, and his 35.6-yard average on 12 kickoff returns would if he had enough attempts to qualify.
Unsung hero: Mike Tice. Yes, the former Seahawks tight end and head coach of the Minnesota Vikings. Tice is now coaching the Bears’ offensive line, and he deserves credit for putting the run back in the Chicago offense. With Mike Martz in his first season as the offensive coordinator, the Bears opened the season leaning a little too heavily on the pass – and QB Jay Cutler. In their first eight games, Matt Forte got 15-plus carries only twice. In the final eight, it was five – including the final three games, when Forte had 92-, 113- and 91-yard efforts to finish with 1,069 yards. In those first eight games, Cutler had a three-game stretch where he was sacked 19 times. Now, the Bears are using less seven-step drops and more three- and five-step drops. And, running the ball more – and better.
On the spot: Chris Williams. The Bears’ first-round draft choice from 2008 made his first NFL start at left guard in the Week 6 game against the Seahawks. What followed was not exactly the stuff of a make-for-TV movie, as the Seahawks sacked Cutler six times and Forte was held to 11 yards on eight carries. The Bears were confused by some of the Seahawks’ blitzes out of their “Bandit” defense and Williams had problems with Colin Cole, who had three solo tackle and also deflected two passes. After watching video of that game this week, Tice told reporters in Chicago, “There were a couple of times where he spread his feet and never stepped or anything.” But Williams, who will make his 11th start at guard on Sunday after being drafted to play left tackle, has improved – along with the rest of the revamped line.
Burning question: Will the Seahawks continue their rematch success? They already have faced their NFC West division rivals twice this season, as well as the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints. Now, it’s the Bears. The Seahawks are 3-1 in the second games against the same foes.
Familiar faces: In addition to Tice, Pro Bowl C Olin Kreutz played at the University of Washington; Urlacher was born in Pasco; and tight ends coach Mike DeBord spent the past two seasons with the Seahawks.
The last word: “We’re a better team, no doubt. But they are too, no doubt. And both teams should be this time of year. … As much as anything, we should get our best effort. I just want the guys to play the best game they can possibly play, and we’ll be satisfied with the results.” – Bears coach Lovie Smith