Saturday, Jan. 22, 2011
Posted: 8:35 PM
By John Mullin
Random thought: Do you realize that there are no teams in the Final Four from west of the Mississippi?
Somehow this week leading up to the Bears-Packers NFC Championship game has been more enjoyable without the silly rancor and venom flowing out of the two sides. The players dont hate each other or even really dislike each other. The coaches are the antithesis of Ditka-Gregg or even Halas-LombardiLambeau.
No, the point of the week is the Bears playing for a place in the Super Bowl. Theyre also playing for their own and Lovie Smiths place in Bears history, which is very close to being secure in the long term with his record and in the short term with a contract extension.
A win over Green Bay will give Smith his second trip to a Super Bowl in five years, something Ditka accomplished just once in 11, although he had the good sense (and team) to win his.
But is that going to happen?
I believe it is.
The reasons no
In a game likely to turn, like so many playoff ones do, on the quarterback, the Packers hold a significant edge. Jay Cutler has the capability of playing at a high level; his 111.3 passer rating, one sans interceptions, against Seattle said he can deliver a solid performance in a game of huge import.
But Aaron Rodgers has done the same, at higher levels, more often, against better opposition and in two different postseasons. He is simply a better quarterback as well as a better passer.
And as good as the Bears defense is, the Green Bay defense is as good, better even at allowing points. The Packers ranked No. 2 in the NFL, giving up 15 points per game while standing fifth-overall in passing yards allowed. The Bears are No. 4 at 17.9 per game and rank No. 2 in rushing defense at 90 yards per game, although running the ball is not the key element in the Green Bay offense.
But that is not the entire story.
The reasons yes
The Bears defense held the Packers to 10 points in Game 16, one that meant everything to Green Bay. The Bears played their starters but no player prepares as hard for a game of no consequence as he does for one of significance, and games often are won or lost in preparation, or lack of it. And that game was in Green Bay, on a good field.
Comparative scores arent always a true measure. To that point, the New York Jets, the team I expect to be in the Super Bowl with the Bears, the one that lost 45-3 to New England, took the Patriots to the shed barely a month later. But while it is obvious that the Green Bay defense has throttled the Chicago offense more often than not, its less obvious but accurate to say that the Bears defense has done its due diligence dealing with the Packers.
In their past five games the Packers have lost by 4 points on the road to the New England Patriots, then successively defeated the New York Giants, Bears, Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons to reach this point. All teams with 10 wins or more. They have played the best single five-game stretch of football by any team in the NFC to earn their place in the conference championship.
And as good as I thought the Packers would be going into this season (projected division champions), I have a difficult time seeing any team hold to that level of excellence under that much pressure that often.
I dislike picking upsets, and the Packers are favored by 3-12 points, meaning basically by a touchdown given 3 points generally accorded for home-field advantage. And a run like the Packers have had over the past five games against very good opponents is too much to expect.
The Miami Dolphins scored 23 in beating the Packers. The Lions (26) and Vikings (24) scored 50 in losses to Green Bay. None of those teams had a quarterback the equal of Cutler, a true wild card in a championship setting, something he has not seen since high school.
The Bears will score more than all of them. And that will be enough.
Bears 28 Green Bay 21
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.