<!-- 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.
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.
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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