"It's a trap!" We've heard this phrase repeatedly this year, so it's only fitting that Sunday's NFC Divisional Playoff game pitting the North's Chicago Bears against the West's Seattle Seahawks is just another trap game. Been there, done that. What are we so afraid of?
Although the Bears are the clear favorites, the team's Oct. 17 loss to Seattle weighs on many a worried mind. And a certain contingent of Lovie Haters (did I just coin that term?) would almost seem to want a loss just to diminish the odds that the organization will offer the head coach a contract extension. Until victory is achieved, none of us will rest easy. To get a little more specific, here are the Top Five fears of Chicago Bears fans heading into the weekend:
1. "Jay Cutler Has No Playoff Experience!"
The Bears quarterback went from being a pick machine in 2009 (26 total) to an above-average passer in 2010 (103 rating). But he's never made a postseason appearance. Will he panic under the pressure? Will he try to overcompensate by making riskier and riskier passes, killing the team's offensive strategy?
All eyes are on Jay and no one knows what to expect. The good news is he's been making us feel a little better about him throughout the season, so there's every reason to hope he'll keep doing that in the playoffs -- especially with the improvements in the O-Line.
2. "What if Lance Briggs Steps On A Banana Peel?!"
If there's one major difference between the Bears team that will take the field on Sunday and the one that stumbled on the gridiron back in October, it's Lance Briggs. The linebacker was out with a sprained ankle that game, leaving the defense vulnerable to a Seahawks offense that still managed to edge the Bears by only three points. (The game also occurred before the late-October bye week during which Lovie and his staff rejiggered the team's offense.)
So Briggs has become the poster
child player for defensive success on Sunday. And I have no doubt he's up to the task. Just to be on the safe side, however, anyone carrying potassium-rich fruits requiring peeling needs to stay beyond a three-mile radius of No. 55.
3. "What if Martz gets pass happy again?!"
If Briggs is the defensive X factor of the game, tailback Matt Forte may be the offensive one. He was one of the best rushers in the NFL over the last six games of the regular season and a key to Bears' more balanced offensive attack following the aforementioned bye week rejiggering. The Seahawks' success in
stopping containing Devin Hester during punt returns will also be a big factor.
We've got to hope offensive coordinator Mike Martz, uh, bears this in mind as he draws up the team's plan of attack. Don't overrely on Cutler, who will be under enough pressure making his playoff debut as it is.
4. "The Seahawks Have The Mojo!"
Seriously, they're a 7-9 team with a 35-year-old quarterback. In fact, the Seahawks may rank among the worst professional sports franchises to make the playoffs ever. And they made it into the postseason on a near-miraculous touchdown run by running back Marshawn Lynch that, in some respects, defies explanation. I ask you, gentle readers: Are there black magicks afoot here? Any team this bad that's gotten this far must be incredibly lucky. And it's better to be lucky than good, right? I mean, when you're destined to win, you're destined to win.
Ah, but don't forget that the Bears are the "luckiest team in football" this season -- something we're all sick of hearing. And when you compare the talent bases of both clubs, the Seahawks are going to need to resurrect Lord Sauron from Lord of the Rings to conjure enough pure luck to counteract what the Bears bring to the table. Or so we hope.
Seriously, just losing. There are seasons for virtually any type of sports team in which a young team with a bright future over-performs its way to the postseason and even a first-round playoff round can be considered a nominal victory if the team puts on a good show. This team -- or game -- is not like that. A loss against the Seahawks would throw the fanbase into an uproar, bringing back to life all of the overzealous zombies who declared the team dead after an 0-4 preseason.
It would also lend credence to all of the "just got lucky" proponents who never miss again to cite the team's stellar health and favorable opposing QB match-ups. And the Lovie contract issue would become an even more venomous story that will dog us all throughout the off-season. So now is the time for neither fear nor defeat. We can't do much about the latter until Sunday, let's not bother too much with the former right now.
For more on the Bears playoff run, be sure to stay tuned to our very own Don Hamel's never-ending StoryStream here.