1:00 PM ET, January 16, 2011
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
The Seattle Seahawks haven't bothered listening to their critics after entering the playoffs with the worst regular season record of any qualifier in NFL history.
If their victory over the defending Super Bowl champions wasn't enough proof, the Chicago Bears know first-hand their capabilities of pulling off another upset.
Seattle looks to shed the underdog label once again Sunday and win its first road playoff game in more than 27 years as it faces Chicago in the NFC divisional playoffs.
The Seahawks, who won the NFC West with a 7-9 record, beat heavily favored New Orleans 41-36 last Saturday behind four touchdown passes from Matt Hasselbeck. Though doubters still remain, coach Pete Carroll keeps reminding his players they are only one more upset away from the NFC championship game.
"Every game, no matter how much the people on the outside say that we have no chance, he makes sure that we know that we have a chance," tight end John Carlson said.
Visiting the 4-1 Bears in Week 6, Seattle (8-9) was coming off a bye week but had been blown out in its only two previous road games. Using a pattern of blitz schemes which helped lead to six sacks of Jay Cutler, the Seahawks beat Chicago 23-20.
Marshawn Lynch, whose electrifying 67-yard touchdown run sealed last week's win over the Saints, was playing in his first game with the Seahawks after coming over in a trade from Buffalo. He rushed 17 times for 44 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown, while Mike Williams caught 10 passes for 123 yards.
Seattle didn't commit a turnover against a Bears defense which finished tied for third in the NFL with 35 takeaways.
Still, the Seahawks are downplaying that victory going into the rematch. Chicago played without Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs, and Cutler may not have been fully healthy after sitting out the previous week against Carolina with post-concussion symptoms.
Both will be ready to go Sunday.
"Going into that game we fully expected (Briggs) to play and he didn't play and that was a big deal," Hasselbeck said. "For us to sit back and say, 'we beat them at their place we can do it again,' that would be a dangerous way to feel because Lance Briggs did not play in that game. He is a big, big-time difference maker."
For Chicago, the loss was the second during a 1/3 stretch as it struggled to find offensive rhythm. The Bears went 0 for 12 on third down and ran only 14 times -- two on scrambles by Cutler -- for 61 yards. Matt Forte and Chester Taylor combined for 12 carries and 42 yards. Cutler completed only 17 of 39 passes for 290 yards -- 67 on one completion to Johnny Knox.
Chicago (11-5) followed that defeat with a loss to Washington before having its bye week, then went on to win five straight and seven of eight to win the NFC North and a secure a first-round bye.
"We had a chance to really look at, evaluate what we had done (after the loss to Seattle)," coach Lovie Smith said. "I think everyone expects you to be playoff-ready right away. We weren't. We needed a little bit of time to grow and see exactly what we would be."
The Bears' pass-oriented attack took a more balanced approach over the final nine games, with 258 rushing attempts and 276 passes. The Bears rushed for more than 100 yards only twice in their first seven games, but they eclipsed that mark in eight of their last nine. Forte averaged 119.7 yards from scrimmage and 5.8 per carry over the final six.
Smith said a lot has changed since Week 6 and, much like the Seattle did before the last meeting, Chicago is taking full advantage of its week off.
"We're a better team, no doubt, but they are too, no doubt," Smith said. "And both teams should be this time of the year. We had the bye week to rest up, and we're healthy, too. As much as anything, we should get our best effort. I just want the guys to play the best game they can possibly play, and we'll be satisfied with the results."
Cutler will be making his playoff debut as Chicago makes its first playoff appearance in four seasons, when it last had a first-round bye after the 2006 season. The Bears beat the Seahawks 27-24 in overtime on their way to the Super Bowl, which they lost 29-17 to Indianapolis.
Seattle has lost all seven of its road playoff games since winning its first one, 27-20 over Miami on Dec. 31, 1983.
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After breaking down film of both teams, Scouts Inc. offers 10 things to watch in this week's Seahawks-Bears matchup.
1. Offensive balance is a must for Seattle: We have seen more vertical throws when Matt Hasselbeck is at QB and defenses are forced to sit back and play honest. That really opens up the run game, and when the Seahawks are running with success, it sets up an excellent play-action package. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll seems more committed in recent weeks to a more physical run game to go along with Hasselbeck's passing. Chicago has a tough run defense, but the Seahawks must keep their rushing attempts up, even if they are not producing big Marshawn Lynch plays in their right-handed run attack.
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|Avg Points Allowed||35.5||24.0|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||SEA|
|Rush Yds Allowed||SEA|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Chicago leads 4-3|
|Oct 17, 2010||SEA 23, @CHI 20|
|Sep 27, 2009||SEA 19, CHI 25|
|Nov 18, 2007||SEA 30, CHI 23|
|Jan 14, 2007||SEA 24, @CHI 27|
|Oct 1, 2006||SEA 6, @CHI 37|
|Oct 19, 2003||SEA 24, CHI 17|
Based on their recent pattern of Loss, Loss, Win, the Bears will lose to the Seahawks at home on Sunday. Chicago has hosted 6 previous Divisional round games at Soldier Field since their last Super Bowl Win going 2-4 in those games. But the Bears DID beat the very same Seahawks in their LAST home game in the Divisional Round in 2006.[+]
Bears at Home in Divisional Round - Since Last Super Bowl Win
It shouldn't come as a surprise that the Seahawks were able to win their Wild Card game... They are 7-2 all-time in home playoff games. The divisional is a whole different story... Seattle 1-7 on the road and its 7 straight losses are 1 shy of tying the NFL record for consecutive road postseason losses.[+]
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS - POSTSEASON HISTORY
ESPN Stats & Information