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Seahawks vs Bears Preview

2006/07 NFL Playoffs
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Divisional Playoff Preview

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NFL Playoff Preview - Seattle (10-7) at Chicago (13-3)
by: MySportsbook.com

(My Sportsbook) - Thankful to still be alive, the Seattle Seahawks now face the formidable task of battling the NFC's top-seeded club, the well-rested Chicago Bears, in a Divisional Playoff game this Sunday at Soldier Field.

Only a miscue by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo saved the Seahawks last week, as the team escaped on their home turf with a 21-20 win over the Cowboys in the Wild Card round.

Tight end Jerramy Stevens hauled in two touchdown passes against the Cowboys, and his second score put Seattle ahead by the final margin with 4:24 left in the game.

It was then that the Cowboys drove with force to the Seahawks' eight-yard line before Romo's pass to Jason Witten on third down appeared to move the chains with under 1 1/2 minutes to play.

However, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren smartly challenged the play and Witten's seven-yard gain was pushed short of the marker, resulting in fourth down. The rest is now playoff history.

Romo proceeded to botch the ensuing snap on a field-goal attempt and was hauled down by safety Jordan Babineaux two yards short of the end zone in his last-ditch effort to save face.

Winners of the NFC West and the conference's fourth seed after a 9-7 regular season, Seattle was a loser in three straight games before closing out the regular-season with a win over Tampa Bay.

However, 13-3 Chicago is not without a big question mark of its own. Quarterback Rex Grossman set the league ablaze in the first half of the season, with the exception of a poor performance against the Cardinals in October, but really struggled in the second half.

He was intercepted nine times over his final six games, including a three-pick day in the first half of Chicago's loss to Green Bay in the regular-season finale. Grossman was replaced in the second half by Brian Griese.

That defeat at the hands of Green Bay snapped a four-game winning streak for the Bears, who began the season with seven straight wins before suffering a setback against Miami on November 5.

The Bears may not have to live and die by Grossman, however, due to the strength of their mighty defense, a squad that finished the regular season ranked first in the conference.

One edge Seattle may have on Sunday is in the experience department, particularly on the coaching end. Third-year Bears head coach Lovie Smith has lost his only previous postseason appearance, a defeat at the hands of Carolina in last year's Divisional Playoffs.

Holmgren, meanwhile, holds a 12-9 mark in the postseason, has been to four NFC Championship games and has led teams to three Super Bowls, including last year's edition. He directed Green Bay to a world championship during the 1996 campaign.

SERIES HISTORY

The Seahawks lead their all-time series with the Bears by a 6-3 count, but Chicago handed Seattle a humiliating 37-6 defeat at Solider Field back in Week 4. It was the Bears' first win in this series since a 17-0 home triumph in 1990. Seattle is 3-2 all-time in Chicago.

The clubs have never faced one another in the playoffs.

Holmgren is an impressive 14-3 in his career against Chicago, including a 12-2 mark dating back to his tenure with Green Bay (1992-98). Smith won his only previous meeting with Holmgren and the Seahawks earlier this season.

SEAHAWKS OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE

Seattle finished the regular season with the NFC's 11th-ranked offense at 311.1 yards per game and struggled some through the air. The Seahawks averaged only 190.9 passing yards per game, the 20th-best mark in the league. Part of that was due to the fact that quarterback Matt Hasselbeck (2,442 passing yards, 18 TD, 15 INT) missed four games due to a right knee injury. The Boston College product threw for 240 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 18-of-36 passing against Dallas, but was also intercepted twice. Stevens (22 receptions, 231 yards, 4 TD) served as his favorite target, hauling in five passes for 77 yards in addition to his two scores. Wideout Darrell Jackson (63 receptions, 956 yards, 10 TD) is a question mark for Sunday. He was in the lineup against Dallas after missing three straight games with a sprained toe, but aggravated the injury in the second half and finished without a catch. Deion Branch (53 receptions, 725 yards, 4 TD) has a wealth of playoff experience, thanks to his tenure in New England, and Hasselbeck should look his way to shoulder the receiving load if Jackson can't go. Seattle's offensive line will have its hands full on Sunday, as it allowed 49 sacks during the regular season, tied for the second-most in the conference, and gave up five to Chicago in the teams' earlier meeting.

The Bears defense, meanwhile, ranked fifth in the NFC against the pass and allowed just 18 touchdowns through the air, third-best in the conference. The unit also led the NFL with 44 takeaways, 24 of them interceptions. Rookie defensive end Mark Anderson (28 tackles) led the team with 12 sacks, the fourth-highest total in the NFC. On the opposite side, end Adewale Ogunleye got to the quarterback 6 1/2 times and finished with 43 tackles. As a unit, the Bears recorded 40 sacks on the season. When quarterbacks did manage to get the ball off, corners Ricky Manning (53 tackles, 5 PBU) and Charles Tillman (80 tackles, 9 PBU) were usually there to pick it off. The duo tied for the team lead with five interceptions each, with Manning returning one of his picks for a touchdown. Manning will shift back to his nickel role for Sunday, as Tillman will return to action after missing the last two games due to injury. Nathan Vasher (45 tackles, 3 INT, 5 PBU) will man the other side of the field. Safeties Danieal Manning (67 tackles, 2 INT, 5 PBU) and Chris Harris (54 tackles, 2 INT, 3 PBU) anchor the back end of Chicago's defense, as strong safety Mike Brown has been on injured reserve since mid-October because of a foot injury.

Considering its recent quarterback struggles and Chicago's tough pass defense, Seattle may look to win this one on the ground and will try to do so with one of the game's best. Last year's league MVP, Shaun Alexander (896 rushing yards, 7 TD) helped Seattle turn in the NFC's fifth-best rushing attack (120.2 ypg), despite the fact he was limited to 10 games due to a broken left foot. He did struggle last week, though, managing just 69 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys. Maurice Morris (604 rushing yards) shouldered the load when Alexander went down, and the Seahawks may have to use him if the Bears' punishing defense puts some hits on Alexander early. However, if Chicago wants to wear down Alexander early, it will have to get through a pair great blockers and Pro Bowl selections in fullback Mack Strong (149 rushing yards, 1 TD) and tackle Walter Jones.

It will be no easy task for Alexander, Strong and Jones, who will be matched up against the NFL's sixth-best rush defense (99.4 ypg). The unit is led by middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (141 tackles, 3 INT), who will track down Alexander no matter what direction the back tries to run. Urlacher will miss Tommie Harris' (28 tackles, 5 sacks) help up the middle, as the star defensive tackle is on the injured list because of a hamstring ailment. If Seattle does try to go outside, it will surely be met by Urlacher and outside linebacker Lance Briggs (130 tackles, 1 sack, 2 INT). Harris, Urlacher and Briggs were all selected to play in this year's Pro Bowl. Chicago will welcome the return of troubled defensive tackle Tank Johnson, however. The 300-pound Johnson (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks) was suspended for Chicago's game against Detroit in Week 16 before returning -- but not starting -- in the Green Bay game.

BEARS OFFENSE VS. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE

Chicago finished the regular season in the middle of the pack with 205.1 passing yards per game and accounted for 24 passing touchdowns, while turning the ball over by interception 22 times. The bulk of those numbers came from the arm of Grossman (3,193 yards, 23 TD, 20 INT). Smith and his coaching staff will have to wonder which Grossman will show up on Sunday. If luck is on Chicago's side, the Grossman that finished seven games with a QB rating over 100 will be under center. However, if fate is going to side with Seattle, then the Grossman that was intercepted three or more times on five occasions and finished an October 16th matchup against Arizona with a 10.2 rating will be dropping back to pass. Wideouts Muhsin Muhammad (60 receptions, 863 yards, 5 TD) and Bernard Berrian (51 receptions, 775 yards 6 TD), who averaged 15.2 per catch, hope the former is in the house. Tight end Desmond Clark (45 receptions, 626 yards, 6 TD) is always a threat in the red zone. The Bears' offensive line, which features Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz, allowed just 25 sacks on the season, tied for fourth-best in the conference.

The Seahawks concluded the regular season with the ninth-ranked defense in the NFC (330.3 yards per game) and finished sixth in the conference against the pass (right behind Chicago) after allowing 203.5 yards a game through the air. Seattle put forth a consistent pass rush this season and recorded 41 sacks -- one more than the Bears' feared defense. Bryce Fisher (46 tackles, 4 sacks) and Grant Wistrom (37 tackles, 4 sacks) supplied the pressure from the defensive end spots, while Pro Bowl outside linebacker Julian Peterson (89 tackles, 1 INT) posted a career-high 10 sacks on the season. Fisher also posted a pair of sacks last week against Dallas. The Seahawks managed just 12 interceptions on the season, though, getting a total of just two from corners Babineaux (55 tackles, 1 INT) and Kelly Jennings (40 tackles, 1 INT). Marcus Trufant (66 tackles, 1 INT), the team's top cover corner, is unlikely to play Sunday because of an ankle injury. Free safety Ken Hamlin (96 tackles, 2 sacks, 3 INT) played well this season, as did counterpart Michael Boulware (39 tackles, 2 INT).

Should Grossman struggle on Sunday, the Bears have the option of going with the 1-2 punch of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson. Jones was the featured back in the Bears' running attack, as he compiled 1,210 yards with six touchdowns on 296 carries. Benson, meanwhile, started to play himself out of the dog house the second-year back's been in since holding out of training camp as a rookie. The former Texas star rushed for 647 yards on 157 carries and found the end zone six times. Neither back turns the ball over, as Benson finished without a fumble and Jones put the ball on the ground just once this season.

Like Seattle, running the ball may be the way to go for Chicago. Seattle comes into the game having allowed 126.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranked only 12th in the NFC. The Seahawks allowed 116 yards rushing against Dallas, including a costly 35-yard run by Julius Jones on the Cowboys' final drive of the game. Peterson and fellow linebacker Leroy Hill (92 tackles, 2 sacks) paced Seattle's defense last week with seven tackles each. Middle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (122 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 INT) added five tackles in the win. Neither Rocky Bernard (35 tackles, 3.5 sacks) or Chuck Darby (37 tackles, 3.5 sacks) factored into the Dallas game from the defensive tackle spot.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears should have the edge in the special teams department, a unit that produced three Pro Bowl selections this season. Defensive back Devin Hester provided most of the highlights, as he returned three punts into the end zone during the regular season while adding a pair of kickoff returns for touchdowns, both of which came in a December win over the Rams. Kicker Robbie Gould was also picked for the Pro Bowl after hitting on 32-of-36 field goal attempts and knocking through all 47 of his extra point tries. Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo is also going to Hawaii as a special teams standout. Punter Brad Maynard stuck 24 of his 77 punts inside the 20. In regards to fielding kicks, the Bears special teams units allowed an average of 9.7 yards per punt return and 20.8 yards per kickoff. Neither squad allowed a touchdown.

Nate Burleson handles the return duties for Seattle, and the wideout averaged 24.7 yards per kickoff return and 9.5 yards on punts. He did break one punt return 90 yards for a score. Fellow wideout Willie Ponder (23.5 avg.) also returns kickoffs. Josh Brown finished the regular season 25-of-31 on field goal attempts and was a perfect 10-of-10 from inside 30 yards. He also connected on three kicks of 50 yards or longer. Ryan Plackemeier averaged 37.3 net yards per punt and put 25 inside the 20. Like Chicago, Seattle did not allow a punt or kickoff to be returned for a touchdown in the regular season, but the Seahawks did allow Dallas' Miles Austin to take a kickoff 93 yards for a score last week.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

The Bears are the favorites in the NFC because of their punishing, talented defense. Their best defensive effort of this postseason will probably come this week against Seattle, which has been inconsistent this season thanks to injuries. Chicago caught a break when Seattle downed Dallas, as the Bears match up better defensively against the Seahawks and the pressure to perform should be off Grossman. It will take a monster game out of Alexander to keep Seattle in it, something that isn't out of the former MVP's reach, but also a difficult task against Chicago's defense. In the end, it should be a changing of the guard, as last year's NFC Super Bowl representative will give way to fresh blood. The Bears' D will roll, Grossman gets an easy one under his belt, and the Seahawks go home and put in their DVD's of last season.

Seahawks vs Bears Preview
Colts vs Ravens Preview
Eagles vs Saints Preview
Patriots vs Chargers Preview


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Seattle Seahawks vs Chicago Bears
Sun. January 14, 2007- Soldier Field
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