NFL Football Playoffs - Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears (-9.5, 37.5) 1:00 PM EST
Chicago is trying to become the third straight No. 1 seed in the NFC to advance to the Super Bowl. The Bears have not won a home playoff game since the 1990 season, going 0-3 in January do-or-die situations at Soldier Field. In order to so they will have to beat Seattle, who became the first defending NFC champions to win a playoff game since the 1997 Green Bay Packers, when they held off Dallas last Saturday night.
Chicago is looking to become the first team from their conference to win the Lombardi Trophy since Tampa Bay did in '02, though whether or not they reach Miami for the Big Game on February 4 greatly depends on the play of quarterback Rex Grossman. In his first full season, the injury prone former first-round pick has been either the hero or goat. He produced seven games with a quarterback rating over 100 and six others under 37, including a 0.0 in the regular-season finale against Green Bay. He threw 23 touchdown passes (six in September en route to NFC Offensive Player of the Month honors) and 20 interceptions (five games with at least three picks) and is the biggest reason Chicago isn't a heavier favorite to reach the Super Bowl.
Chicago allowed only 25 sacks this season and comes into the playoffs with a clean bill of health on offense. A defense that ranked fifth overall will be without standout tackle Tommie Harris (hamstring), which means more time for Matt Hasselbeck to operate and more running room for Shaun Alexander, who had 69 yards on 24 carries against the Cowboys. Alexander missed the regular-season meeting between these teams in Week 4, won easily by the Bears, 37-6. Grossman passed for two touchdowns and Thomas Jones ran for a pair of scores. Hasselbeck was picked off twice and sacked five times. The Seahawks weren't at full strength when these teams met Oct. 1, and they're not now, especially in the defensive backfield, where they are more patchwork then grandma's last quilt.
The odds are really stacked against Seattle, since the top seed is 16-0 and 13-3 ATS since 1990 in the NFC. Chicago is an 9-point favorite at sportsbook.com with the total of 37.5. Another factor is any team in the semi-final round with the better record is 39-22-2 in the last seventeen years.
For Seattle to win or at least cover the spread, they'll need Hasselbeck and Alexander to play at the same level they did last season. Hasselbeck has to make quick, decisive decisions and last year's MVP to run the confidence and abandon as before. Mike Holmgren must have the right game plan to keep Bears defense off balance and make them pay for being out of position.
It's hard to fathom the crippled Seahawks secondary could hold up for two consecutive games, particularly with this important contest on the road. No remaining quarterback is under as much scrutiny as Grossman. It is up to OC Ron Turner to make sure be protects his young field general and establish a strong running game against a vulnerable Seattle front seven. If that is done, then the play action passes will work more effectively.
Chicago is at the right price for those wagering, with 9-2 ATS record as a favorite of 3.5 to 9.5 points over the last 2 seasons, winning by an average of 16 PPG. The Monsters of the Midway have taken poor offensive showings serious with 10-2 ATS mark after scoring 14 points or less in last game.
Seattle's goal is to try and force the game to go over the total on the road, since in the last sixteen times they have donned the road uniforms and pushed number over, they have won by just over a point a game.
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