Despite odds-makers installing the Chicago Bears as 10-point favorites in Sunday’s divisional round playoff match-up with Seattle, expect the game to be much closer when it is actually played on the field.
The same forecasters also made the New Orleans Saints 10.5-point favorites last week.
Seattle won the wildcard match-up 41-36, which essentially was an 18 point “mistake” by the odds-makers (10.5 point spread plus-5 point losing margin plus-3 point home field advantage usually assumed for the home team).
Seattle and Chicago have a history against each other, most recently with the Seahawks beating the Bears in week six this season in Chicago.
Sunday's rematch cannot be gauged by that game as both teams are different from the ones that played on that sunny October day at Soldier Field.
Chicago came in with a 4-1 record. They had just beaten the hapless Carolina Panthers in an ugly game that quarterback Jay Cutler sat out with a concussion.
Seattle was coming off a bye week with a 2-2 record. Before the bye week, Seattle lost to the St. Louis Rams for the first time in 10 games.
Jay Cutler, possibly still recovering from the concussion, looked horrible against the Seahawks as he was sacked six times and went 0-12 on third down conversions. The Bears also were without Pro-Bowl defenseman Lance Briggs. Seattle won 23-20.
In Week 7, Seattle beat the Arizona Cardinals and improved to 4-2. Chicago lost to the Washington Redskins and fell to a 4-3 record. At that time it seemed a given that Seattle was the better team. They had a better record and won the head-to-head match-up on the road.
Then something very pivotal happened: Chicago Bears’ Offensive Coordinator, Mike Martz, committed to a running game as the offensive line got healthy.
The Bears went on to win seven of their last nine games, and finished as the second seed in the NFC.
On the flip side of the coin, Seattle got absolutely devastated with injuries in the following weeks.
The offensive line was obliterated. The defense lost their main run-stopper. Their quarterback suffered a concussion, a broken wrist, and a butt injury. Their wide receiver suffered a severely dislocated finger.
The Seahawks lost seven of nine games before finishing with a “playoff” win against St. Louis for the division title and squeaking into the playoffs with a 7-9 record.
During the course of Seattle’s late season swoon, they made 200-plus roster moves and went through 10 different combinations on the offensive line due to injuries.
The odds-makers didn’t give Seattle much chance to win against the Rams to claim the division title.
They gave them virtually no chance to beat the Saints.
The Seahawks won both games for three reasons:
One, they were (mostly) healthy again.
Two, they were able to run the football.
Three, they were playing at home.
Chicago also is healthy now. They have settled on an offensive line that has protected Cutler well. They have established the running game that has taken more weight off of Cutler’s shoulders. Their defense has been solid with Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers and Briggs.
Based on the reversal of fortunes of both teams since October, the Bears are prohibitive favorites to win at home on Sunday.
Seattle is still a little banged up with Hasselbeck (wrist is still in a cast, hip/glut injury), wide receiver Ben Obomanu (hand, shoulder), offensive lineman Russell Okung (ankle), and linebacker Lofa Tatupu (concussion) fighting various degrees of injuries.
That will only make it more difficult for Seattle to pull off the upset.
However, history tells us this game should be closer than anticipated. The Bears and ‘Hawks have played six times since 2003. They have split the games with each team going 2-1 at home.
In the four games against the Seahawks since January of 2007, the Bears scored a total of 95 points. Seattle has totaled 96 points in those matchups.
None of the games have been decided by more than a touchdown, and one of the games—the NFC Title game in 2006-07—was an overtime thriller in Chicago.
The 10-point spread seems like a chasm based on their history, considering the newly discovered running game both teams have committed to recently.
Factor in the likely cold weather in Chicago and the game would seem to be more of a defensive struggle as well.
In the end, Chicago is playing at home and Seattle hasn’t won a road playoff game since 1983 against Miami.
The Bears are healthier.
It’ll be closer than most think, but the Bears still win in a 27-23 nail-biter.