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NFC Championship Saints at Bears

January 20, 2007

NFC Championship - New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears (-3, 43) 3:00 PM EST

The New Orleans Saints are a long way from 2005, when their city and season was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. With a 27-24 victory over Philadelphia last Saturday night before a deafening crowd of 70,001 at the Superdome, they became the first team in NFL history to make a conference championship after losing 13 or more games the previous campaign. They’ll try to take their magical season one step further Sunday in Chicago.

"This year, some things have happened for us and its like, wow, this may be destiny," said running back Deuce McAllister, who scored a pair of touchdowns and set a team playoff record with 143 yards rushing. Quarterback Drew Brees was 20 of 32 passing for 243 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions.

The Saints too have caught the imagination of bettors far and wide. Most sportsbooks have had support on New Orleans from the moment Chicago was announced as 3-point favorite and why not. New Orleans was 7-1 ATS on the road this season with four outright underdog upsets. A great deal of talk has centered on the Saints being a dome team and not being able to play in cold weather, with a more finesse style offense. Find the cell phone numbers of any of the Eagles defenders who tried to tackle the Mack truck commonly known as Deuce McAllister. Deuce had the Philly defense seeing double after he slammed into them for nearly 7 yards a carry on 21 punishing attempts.

Standing in the way of the 40-year-old franchise first-ever Super Bowl trip is Chicago, which dodged a bullet last Sunday at Soldier Field and knocked off defending NFC champion Seattle in overtime, 27-24, on Robbie Gould's 49-yard field goal. It was the Bears' first playoff win at home since they beat New Orleans on Jan. 6, 1991.

Chicago is one of the least-respected top-seeded teams in league history in large part because of the up-and-down play of quarterback Rex Grossman, who had a better-than-average effort in the win over the Seahawks. Grossman completed 21 of 38 attempts for 282 yards and one touchdown with one interception and a lost fumble. His 30-yard completion to Rashied Davis in overtime moved the ball from the Bears 34-yard line to the Seattle 36 and set up Gould's heroics. Chicago’s lack of respect is also drawn from the fact they have not covered a spread since December 11 at St. Louis, four games ago.

Chicago's defense wasn't up to par, and has not since the losses of DT Tommie Harris and S Mike Brown, against the Seahawks but came up with big plays when it mattered most. If Brees (sacked 26 times in 17 games) gets as much time to throw at Matt Hasselbeck, the league's No. 1 offense (391.5 yards per game) will present all sorts of headaches for the No. 5 ranked stop unit. The Monsters of the Midway are 6-0 ATS in games at Soldiers Field vs. good passing teams with a completion pct. of 61% or better over the last 2 seasons.

The Saints were one of only two teams to reach the playoffs with a negative turnover differential at minus-4 and must avoid the teeth of a defense that forced 44 turnovers. The Bears were +8 in the category despite Grossman's 25 giveaways. New Orleans must avoid being caught up in the moment. They got to this point by being creative on offense, probing various areas with Sean Payton’s play-calling in the first part of the game, and then exploiting those weaknesses the rest of the way.

Chicago’s game plan should mirror last week’s for Grossman. Run the ball, set up the short passing game and pick your spots to do deep on a Saints secondary that will give up big plays. Building Grossman’s confidence early and even the offensive lines can be contagious.

The pressure is squarely on Chicago who was expected from about mid-season on to be the NFC representative in the Miami. NFC North teams are just 4-7 ATS in NFC title tilts. The Bears are 3-point favorites at with the total at 43. When both teams in the championship game and go Over in the semi-final round like the Saints and Bears, they are a perfect 5-0 to do the same exact thing again in this round. Keep an eye on the weather with approaching front that could alter the total. 

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