Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011
By John Mullin
Sundays divisional playoff will be the second meeting of the Bears and Seattle Seahawks in the span of about three months. While it may be convenient to say that rematches benefit both teams from the standpoint of knowing each other, that is not likely to be the case.
And that has potentially ominous implications for the Bears.
Playoff rematches, typically have a couple of patterns:
1.) Unless the winner of the first encounter borders on legendary stature, rematches favor the lesser of the two teams;
2.) They tend to reduce the point differential between the two;
3.) There is frequently a very wide point swing from first game to second.
What the Seahawks did to the Saints last weekend fit the pattern; the lesser team closing the gap and surpassing a decent but hardly superior team. (The Packers defeating the Eagles did not, but an Aaron Rodgers team with a Dom Capers defense is capable of breaking more than a few rules.)
These unofficial rematch rules have usually worked to the detriment of the Bears, in both of their playoff appearances under Lovie Smith and in previous trips regardless of head coach.
The Bears arent expecting to obliterate the 8-9 Seahawks despite the double-digit point spread that has stretched out in front of them like a trap. Nor are they expecting to embarrass themselves again with a home loss giving up 6 sacks and 353 yards to an offense that averaged less than 300.
Every team grows and gets better as the year goes on, said receiver Devin Hester. Teams are not up to their A-game the first couple weeks of the season. I can honestly say we werent up to our A-game.
We gradually got better and weve still got growing to go. We have been feeling a lot more confident than we had, which is really helping us out a lot.
That confidence also could be dangerous, however, whatever its source. The Bears have Seattles 23-20 win to remember in addition to the Seahawks handling of the New Orleans Saints last weekend, if overconfidence starts to set in because of the Seahawks record.
Roots of the problem
Second-meeting woes involving the Bears, although not always at their expense, go as far back as the birth of the Monsters of the Midway in 1940. The Bears, with a roster sprinkled with Hall of Famers, muddled to a 7-3 loss to the Washington Redskins in the regular season, then laced the Redskins 73-0 in the championship game.
Closer to modern times, the 12-4 Bears of 1988 got by the San Francisco 49ers 10-9 in a Monday Night Football regular-season game. That 49ers team, in the midst of its decade of dominance, destroyed the Bears 28-3 in the NFC Championship game.
Point swing: 26 points. The Bears were very good; the 49ers were legendary good.
The Bears were on the better end of the rematch pattern in 1994 when they lost by 28 in their first meeting with the Minnesota Vikings, by 6 in overtime the second, and then won by 17 in a playoff road upset.
Point swing, all games: 45. The lesser team learned a little bit each time.
Lovie Smiths 2005 team was good enough at 11-5 to drop the Carolina Panthers 13-3 during the regular season. In the divisional round, after their bye week, the Bears were embarrassed 29-21 at home.
Point swing: 18. The lesser team learned the Bears couldnt cover Steve Smith.
The Super Bowl team of 2006 crushed Seattle 37-6 in the regular season and went on to another first-round bye in the playoffs. When the Seahawsks came to Soldier Field in the divisional round, the Bears needed OT to escape with a 27-24 win.
Point swing: 28. Whether the Bears took the Seahawks seriously enough, only they know for sure.
The first thing Lovie Smith did this week was to show the players film of the Seattle win in October. It was a good message to send: Remember what they did to you.
Hopefully, well play better this time, Smith said. They played well, to beat a good New Orleans team this past week. But all of the teams are good this time of the year.
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.