There is so much hot air blowing out of the Windy City, and across the national media, most fans are going to be hard-pressed to find a level of analysis beyond, “Seattle sucks.” Let’s break apart these teams to see where the real advantages exist.
It would be easy to look at the the QB ratings for Jay Cutler and Matt Hasselbeck and assume there was a large advantage here for the Bears. Cutler is also younger, has a stronger arm, and more hair. Hasselbeck has been so bad at times that his own fans have begged for his backup. Even with all these factors, I would rest easier with Hasselbeck starting this game than Cutler. Both have proven they can make bad decisions, but only one has proven he can win in the playoffs. For all the bad of Hasselbeck’s season, he has proven to be quite good when he has a stable offensive line and healthy wide receivers. Slight Advantage Seattle
Marshawn Lynch and Justin Forsett are both quality backs, and Lynch has picked up a lot of steam the last two weeks, but Matt Forte has been consistently productive in the run and pass game for a few years. The guy is an almost automatic 1,500+ total yards guy each season. His ability to threaten the defense in multiple ways makes him a little better than either of Seattle’s backs. This is a case where the combined value of Forsett and Lynch may eclipse that of Chester Taylor and Forte, but only one is on the field at a time, and Forte is better than either individually at this point. Slight Advantage Chicago
The Seahawks quietly have assembled a well-formed receiving crew. Mike Williams is indefensible when the ball is put in the right spot. Smaller defenders have no chance, and larger defenders still struggle with his reach and size. Brandon Stokley is a perfect slot receiver that keeps defenses from being able to double the outside on Williams without leaving the middle open for Stokley. Ben Obomanu is the best-kept secret of the bunch. He can win deep, and make tough catches in traffic. At 6’1″, opposing defense cannot hide their smaller DBs since they either have to guard Williams or Obomanu. The Bears receivers can flash big plays with Johnny Knox and Devin Hester, but they don’t fit together the way Seattle’s receivers do. Knox is the deep threat, Hester is that shifty bubble screen kind of guy and Earl Bennett has shown promise, but none have more than 51 receptions. Large Advantage Seattle
Greg Olsen is a favorite target for Cutler in the red zone with a team-leading five touchdowns, and is an improved blocker. He has good hands, and runs clever routes. John Carlson has a great week against the Saints, but has been a major disappointment all season. Cameron Morrah is a secret weapon of sorts with his speed and willing blocking, but Olsen easily trumps either Seahawks player in terms of actual production. Large Advantage Chicago
The Bears line infamously led the NFL in sacks allowed, but also cleared the way for Forte’s 4.6 average per carry. The Seahawks line has been injured, shuffled, and generally in disarray since Alex Gibbs decided to abandon them a week before the season started, but appear to have found their footing the last two weeks with Tyler Polumbus at LG and Mike Gibson at RG. Russell Okung is the best player on either line, and the team’s significantly improved ability to get yardage on the ground pushes this match-up toward Seattle. Slight Advantage Seattle
DEFENSE Defensive Line
Now here’s where things get interesting. Take a poll of ten national “experts” to see which team has a better defensive line, and all ten will likely choose the Bears. After all, the Bears sport one of the great defensive ends in football with Julius Peppers and are second in the NFL in opponents rushing yards. The Seahawks statistics don’t fully match the Bears, with a sorry record defending the run in the second half of the season. What people don’t see is that not only does Chris Clemons have more sacks than Peppers on the year (11.0 – 8.0), and Raheem Brock’s 9.0 sacks trumps Israel Idonije’s 8.0, but the Seahawks have defended the run almost as well as the Bears when their defensive line was healthy. Colin Cole and Brandon Mebane are easily better than the Bears defensive tackle duo. If Tommie Harris was playing the way he once did, this would be a very different story, but he’s not. The play of Seattle’s defensive line could very well decide the outcome of this game. They have the ability to stop the run, and apply pressure on the quarterback without requiring blitzes. The Bears saw Seattle apply pressure via exotic blitzes in the first match-up. They have not seen the way Brock and Clemons are pinching the pocket out of the base defense of late. Aaron Curry playing at DT in passing downs is a wild card as well. Expect Peppers to flash after being embarrassed by Okung in their first battle, and if the Bears can get consistent pressure on Hasselbeck, the offense will bog down. Slight Advantage Seattle
Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are both better than any linebacker on the Seahawks roster. This one is not close. Briggs and Urlacher can defend the run and the pass with almost equal excellence. Lofa Tatupu can defend the pass better than most, but is a liability against the run. David Hawthorne is terrific against the run, but struggles in coverage. Aaron Curry is improving, but has yet to truly excel at either the run or the pass. Pisa Tinoisamoa is nothing special, and was exploited a few times in the first game, but Briggs and Urlacher are the best players on the Bears team. Large Advantage Chicago
The Bears corners have more impact plays on the season, but a lot of that has to do with the front seven creating opportunities for them. Tim Jennings can be exploited by larger receivers, which Seattle has, and Charles Tillman was dominated by Mike Williams in the first game. Kelly Jennings may the worst starter at any position on either team, but Walter Thurmond is a quality nickel back, as is Jordan Babineaux. This one is tough to call. Bears players have made more plays, but match-ups are unfavorable for them this week. Call It Even
Another tough comparison. Chris Harris is a very good safety for the Bears that matches Earl Thomas’ five interceptions. He’s physical in supporting against the run as well. He may be the most complete of any of the safeties in this game at this point. Earl Thomas, though, has the most upside. His speed is showing up more and more each week, and is making plays in the backfield as well as the secondary. Lawyer Milloy is a perfect compliment, and has shown the ability to rush the passer with 4.0 sacks, and is among the best in the league against the run. He’s a liability in coverage, and Danieal Manning is a liability against the run. Call It Even
This will be a key battle all day. Both teams are excellent in all phases of special teams. Coverage will be crucial, and the punters will have to be on their games. Nothing of real substance separates these two units. Call It Even
What does it all mean? Only the game will reveal the answer. The Bears advantage at linebacker may be the biggest separation between the teams. The overall talent and match-ups favors Seattle. A player on defense or special teams is going to stand out with a game-changing performance. Devin Hester and Leon Washington are obvious choices, but so are Julius Peppers and Earl Thomas. This is anything but an obvious outcome.