Bring on the...Saints.

Bring on ... the Saints
Bears are better off facing a dome team with a rookie coach than tangling with Cowboys' Parcells or Eagles'Reid

December 22, 2006

<!-- boxscore --><!-- Article's First Paragraph -->he Bears have gotten all they can out of the regular season, securing the top seed in the NFC and with it home-field advantage and a first-round bye. Now they'll play out the string, waiting to see how the rest of the seeds fall in a confusing NFC playoff race.  

How confusing? Take the case of the New York Giants, currently the sixth and final seed in the NFC. The Giants could win their remaining two games and finish 9-7 but miss the playoffs. Or they could lose their remaining two games and finish 7-9 but make the playoffs.

Just about anything seems possible in the wild-and-wacky NFC, where a new team seems to emerge as a contender every week while another supposedly hot team is revealed as a pretender. The Philadelphia Eagles are the latest team to catch a wave -- the three-game winning streak they and the Bears are riding makes them the hottest teams in the conference.

So just what should the Bears be hoping for? Which opponents do they want to see?

Coaching is more important than ever when you hit the playoffs, so the preferred matchup is against a coach without credentials. Coaches who know how to win big games because they have done it before are few and far between this season. But with Lovie Smith venturing into unproven territory and looking for his first playoff win, the last thing the Bears want is an opposing coach with the ability to push the right buttons, win the psychological battle and instill confidence in his team.

The New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys are the only NFC teams besides the Bears that have clinched playoff spots. The Saints are South Division champions while the Cowboys are in but still could lose the East title. Here's a look at how the Bears match up with the other five teams that would be in if the playoffs started today:

New York (7-7)

NFL RANKINGS: No. 11 offense, No. 20 defense.

FEAR FACTOR: The expected return of defensive end Michael Strahan from a foot injury has many observers wondering if the Giants can regain top form. They are 2-12 in the games Strahan has missed the last three years, including 1-5 this season. New York started the season 6-2 before giving way to crippling injuries, but it still has enough offensive weapons to cause any team problems. Running back Tiki Barber has announced he'll retire at the end of the season, so that could be a rallying point for the team.

NO WORRY: The Giants have been lining up 15-year veteran Bob Whitfield at left tackle since Luke Petitgout went down with a broken leg against the Bears. Whitfield has been awful. Petitgout was left on the active roster with the idea he would return in the playoffs. The sooner the better. This team also seems to have a major problem with coach/ taskmaster Tom Coughlin and might undchieve with the idea of getting him launched. The Bears beat a battered Giants team 38-20 on Nov. 12 at Giants Stadium, and Coughlin seemed to make all the wrong moves in that game.

CONCLUSION: 1985 playoffs (Bears 21, Giants 0) all over again.



Seattle (8-6)

NFL RANKINGS: No. 22 offense, No. 17 defense.

FEAR FACTOR: The Bears played their best game of the season Oct. 1 at Soldier Field when they destroyed the reigning NFC champions 37-6. The Seahawks were without 2005 league MVP Shaun Alexander and never got a chance to sustain a running game. Seattle is playoff-tested, and coach Mike Holmgren has owned the Bears over the years. Matt Hasselbeck is a dangerous quarterback and directs an offense capable of scoring a lot of points if it can find its rhythm.

NO WORRY: The Seahawks are on a downward tick. They are getting players back from injury but can't seem to get into sync and don't look like they'll even get to Chicago if recent form is any indication. Back-to-back losses to the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers have left the Seahawks gasping in the weakest division in the NFC (or at least the weakest this side of the North).

CONCLUSION: Bears would knock the latte out of them.


New Orleans (9-5)

NFL RANKINGS: No. 1 offense, No. 12 defense.

FEAR FACTOR: The Saints have an electric offense with multiple weapons and maybe the only top-level quarterback in the NFC in Drew Brees. They have the league's best passing attack and average 400.6 total yards. The most remarkable story in the league, the Saints went from 3-13 nomads a year ago to win only the third division title in franchise history. They got lucky when Miami passed on Brees in free agency and Houston passed on Reggie Bush in the draft, but they also made their own luck with nifty moves such as drafting Marques Colston in the seventh round.

NO WORRY: Dome teams traveling to northern cities for playoff games have a terrible record, and the Saints might be in worse shape than other dome teams because they rely so much on the passing game. They have the talent to run the ball, but they are a passing team and would be out of their comfort zone if they tried a run-oriented game plan. Defensively, the Saints aren't the most physical group in the world and outside of end Will Smith don't have anybody who would scare you.

CONCLUSION: Bring 'em on. <!-- start sidebar --><!-- Start Bottom Story -->

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Philadelphia (8-6)

NFL RANKINGS: No. 3 offense, No. 18 defense.

FEAR FACTOR: Jeff Garcia is another mobile quarterback capable of causing fits for the Bears by throwing and running. He has made great decisions while winning three straight starts in place of injured Bears killer Donovan McNabb. Garcia has thrown for nine touchdowns with only one interception in those games. Brian Westbrook is an excellent running back who gives the offense balance. Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is a blitz specialist who is at his best when teams become one- dimensional because of an explosion of points by Philadelphia's offense. The recent scoring surge has repaired all problems on defense. Safety Brian Dawkins is a man on a mission. Andy Reid is another experienced coach to fear.

NO WORRY: Philadelphia is last in the NFL in special-teams rankings, which means the top-ranked Bears would have a huge advantage in that area. The Eagles have some bad injuries, but they have had time to overcome them. Still, depth is a major concern.

CONCLUSION: Worst matchup this side of Dallas.


Dallas (9-5)

NFL RANKINGS: No. 4 offense, No. 11 defense.

FEAR FACTOR: Both of the Bears' losses came against opponents (Miami and New England) that play a 3-4 defense. The Cowboys also play a 3-4. They have great size across their front line in 6-4 Marcus Spears, 6-3 Jason Ferguson and 6-7 Chris Canty, which could create major problems for Rex Grossman in terms of seeing the inside of the field. Tony Romo is the kind of mobile quarterback who can cause the Bears' defense fits, and he has an excellent receiving corps. The Dallas offense is equally adept at running and throwing, which creates huge matchup problems. Bill Parcells is the best coach in the NFC playoffs.

NO WORRY: The Cowboys' defense is slumping worse than the Bears' defense, allowing an average of 436 yards in the last three games and giving up nine touchdowns in the last two. Grossman would love to prove he belonged in the Pro Bowl over Romo. The Cowboys' offensive line is terrible, which should give the Bears an advantage up front. The Bears would get the nod on special teams.

CONCLUSION: Not a team you want to see.

"Both of the Bears' losses came against opponents (Miami and New England) that play a 3-4 defense. "


I really do not think it matters who the Bears play. People can speculate all they want, but we all know once the playoffs begin and everyone is back to 0-0 it comes down to playing the best defense and running the ball. I do not see any team in the NFC moving the ball on the Bears in Chicago for two reasons. #1 is their defense, and #2 is the weather. Drew Brees, Romo, Garcia, or whoever they face will not be able to come out and throw the ball all over the field. Also I do not think that any team in the NFC posses the defense to stop the Bears running game. I think they will physically beat up any team they face. Playoff football is not for the fancy passers like Brees, Manning, etc. It comes down to who runs the ball and who plays the best defense and in the NFC there is no better team at that than the Bears and nobody will want to play there in January.

I think the Saints can run on them in the playoffs. If we meet, we will have Hollis Thomas back to help stuff the run. I think people sometimes forget, due to Brees that Deuce is a very damn good back.

Not to mention, I am sure the Panthers didn't mind playing there for the playoffs last season, so for me to think that any team fears playing them in Chicago is a little far fetched. These are professionals, I doubt they care.

They can say or feel whatever they want I do not think any team will go into Chicago and run the ball with enough success to beat the Bears. They are the class of the NFC at this point.