Saturday, Jan. 15, 2011
Posted: 10:33 p.m.
By John Mullin
First, to make this very simple: The winner of the Bears-Seattle Seahawks game at noon Sunday hosts the NFC Championship game. Sixth-seeded Green Bay, my preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, played out a jaw-dropper over the Atlanta Falcons, far beyond the expectations even of those who thought theyd dispatch the Falcons.
The speed-based Bears didnt especially want to go to Atlantas Georgia Dome. But they cannot be looking very forward to Aaron Rodgers and Friends coming in next weekend either.
In any case, Saturday was not a good day for defensive coordinators.
My picks of Pittsburgh over Baltimore and Green Bay over Atlanta were OK, -- the Steelers covered and the Packers won outright -- but the point production was staggering. The Steelers were No. 1 in scoring defense and gave up 24 to the Ravens, who ranked No. 3 and allowed the Steelers 31. The Falcons were No. 5 and gave up 28 points to the Packers in just the first half alone.
No. 2 Green Bay was the only one of the defenses on the field in the divisional playoff round that played to its defensive seed. And thats what waits for the Bears if they get past the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon.
The unaccounted-for No. 4 scoring defense? That would be the Bears. Very unlikely that they suffer the same kind of points hemorrhaging as the other elite defenses, but on any given Sunday. ...
What happens Sunday?
My thought is that New England will ease past the New York Jets 30-20, a points differential reflected in the differential between Tom Brady and Mark Sanchez.
The Bears-Seahawks will play out just about the same way, although not based on the quarterbacks. The Seahawks simply have no significant area of real excellence, and the playoffs are about high-impact playmakers. Even Arizona had Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin when they eked into their recent Super Bowl.
The Bears do. They have a defense that should be awake now, after seeing what the Seahawks did to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints and recalling what Matt Hasselbeck did to them back in October.
If Jay Cutler and Mike Martz can internalize the lessons of the first eight games since the off week and not regress to the kind of performance they gave at Green Bay, the Bears will slowly pull away in the second half. Cutler will throw for three touchdowns and the Bears will be one game from their second Super Bowl appearance under coach Lovie Smith.
Bears 31, Seahawks 14You wanted who?
The Bears, stuck with nobodies like Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox, could certainly use a true No. 1 wide receiver, couldnt they? Like the ones that other teams went after, like Tennessee and Randy Moss, like everybody and Terrell Owens?
Like the Baltimore Ravens and Boldin oh, wait, he just dropped a TD pass in the one-touchdown, divisional-round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. ...
Like the Seattle Seahawks and T.J. Houshmandzadeh and his 40-million deal ... oh, wait, the Seahawks let him go and Baltimore picked him up. So then, like the Baltimore Ravens and Houshmandzadeh ... oh, wait, he just dropped a fourth-down pass, the final play for the Ravens in that loss to Pittsburgh.
Of the top 35 wide receivers in the NFL for 2010 in number if receptions, only Roddy White in Atlanta, Wes Welker in New England and Greg Jennings for Green Bay were still playing this weekend. So, please, enough about how the Bears absolutely have to get themselves a No. 1 receiver.
Final pre-playoff Lovie contract thoughts
The outcome of the divisional-round game will factor into organizational thoughts on adding a year, two or more to the contract of Lovie Smith, which expires after 2011. The market has tightened and Smiths price is unlikely to tick dramatically upward from its 5.5 million given the widespread belt-tightening going on throughout the league.
If the Bears fall to the Seahawks, so too could the urge to keep Smith from entering his contract year. If the Bears progress to the NFC Championship game, however, the surprise will be if he and the organization do not extend their association.
Negotiations rarely are public with Smith, agent Frank Bauer and the Bears. And Smith, like Dick Jauron before him, keeps his innermost thoughts just that: innermost.
However, Smith is confident in his abilities, with cause. He reached a Super Bowl in his third year, one sooner than Mike Ditka, and went to the playoffs in his second year, one less than Mike Ditka, and reached a Super Bowl in his third, also one year faster than Ditka.
Since taking over a team with Chad Hutchinson, Craig Krenzel and Jonathan Quinn for quarterbacks, an offensive line with Qasim Mitchell at left tackle and Steve Edwards at right guard, and David Terrell as the lead receiver, Smith has had no season with a winning percentage below .438 (two at 7-9) in his last six. Ditka had two of below that in his final four years.
What that means is that while considerable leverage rests with the Bears (Smith is under contract and the league is going cheap with multiple first-time head coaches), Smiths temperament is such that as far as agreeing to anything, he will likely be willing to let this season finish out first, if even then.
Hell gamble on himself.
Former Bears college scouting director Greg Gabriel used his billet of writing for National Football Post this week to do some self-serving puffy-chesting about how he was all over running back James Starks on draft day 2010. Gabriel had the kid on the phone but GM Jerry Angelo decided at the last minute to go for a quarterback, Western Michigans Dan LeFevour, in the sixth round.
Interesting timing by Gabriel, trumpeting his find (and taking a shot at Angelo, who let Gabriel go last offseason) after Starks bagged 123 yards in the Packers wild-card win at Philadelphia.
Thats great, especially by a sixth-round pick, although Starks had 47 yards through three quarters against Atlanta; couldnt find another Gabriel item on the guy. And I kept going over and over Gabriels original NFP Starks post and couldnt find his mentioning the picks of Dan Bazuin, Juaquin Iglesias, Mark Bradley, Roe Williams, Jarron Gilbert, Michael Okwo, Michael Haynes. Maybe those were all Angelos, too.
Oh, never mind ...
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information