Peeking at NFL’s final four, you have to like Bears : Packers Insider

Peeking at NFL’s final four, you have to like Bears

January 18, 2011 by  
Filed under News

By David Haugh, Chicago Tribune

~If we put the best Sunday in football in the context of college basketball’s Final Four, are the Bears playing the role of George Mason or Duke?

As Lovie Smith probably has informed his team 39 times since breakfast, if the NFL seeded remaining playoff teams, the Bears would be fourth behind the Packers, Steelers and Jets. For a week they can bask in being the Valparaiso Bears, considered by the rest of America as the biggest underdog left in the field. You don’t need to know the difference between BoDog and Bo Rather to realize that.

The Bears have given up just 27 points in two games against Rodgers' Packers this season

So are the Bears really the Cinderella of the playoffs likely to hear the clock strike midnight around 5:30 p.m. Sunday, or the team most likely to ruin the Super Bowl party for everybody outside Chicago?

Your answer depends on whether you hear your head or heart — and you’re excused if you’re still listening to your liver after last weekend.

The only people pushed harder around town than the Bears coaching staff this week might be local bartenders. It’s hard to know when the city’s celebration over beating the Seahawks ended and when the party hyping the NFC championship game began.

It’s harder still to believe a Bears team so hard to embrace stands two winnable games away from indelibly marking the 25th anniversary of the ’85 Bears Super Bowl XX championship the best way possible.

Speaking of that fabled team, now that the Patriots have been eliminated, I guess we can forget about that Super Bowl rematch and wondering which team would have won 46-10 this time. Tony Eason will have to wait at least another year for his revenge.

Nothing says Julius Peppers still can’t do his best Richard Dent impression beginning Sunday against the favored Packers.

Green Bay Packer's Nick Collins thought he had an interception but the Packers were called for a defensice interference against Chicago Bears' Earl Bennett at Soldier Field, Monday, September 27, 2010.

Despite the odds, the Bears actually match up better against the Packers than they would against either potential Super Bowl opponent. They will have an edge in intangibles and the confidence of past success against Aaron Rodgers. As much as the Packers already have been built up as something from the Lombardi Era, consider the Bears have given up just 27 points in two games against Rodgers and Co.

The Jets would be another story. They would have the motivational advantage over the Bears of just having lost at Soldier Field. The Steelers would pose such a physical challenge defensively that if they play the Bears in what would be a throwback Super Bowl XLV, Fox should consider televising the game in black and white.

The point is, you don’t need to have to be drinking heavily out of Lovie’s half-full beverage glass to suggest the Bears can beat any of the three teams left in the field. It’s the NFL.

Why do I wonder if the Bears have one advantage the three other teams don’t? They haven’t peaked. They haven’t closed the gap between potential and production as much as the three remaining teams. They haven’t really had the highlight of their season yet.

Can you say that about a Jets team that just ousted the Patriots? How about a Packers team that exploded for 48 points against the top-seeded Falcons in Atlanta, which veteran wide receiver Donald Driver called Green Bay’s best playoff game of his long career? Or a typically tough-minded Steelers team that won seven of their last eight with another defensive masterpiece against the Ravens?

Meanwhile, in the Bears’ wins over the Jets and Eagles considered high points of 2010, they gave up 60 combined points. The season’s defining picture has yet to be taken.

Smith told reporters Monday the Bears played “about as good a game as we’ve played” in all three phases. It sounded like coach-speak from a guy who preaches about winning the turnover battle. The Bears didn’t do that and still rolled. Devin Hester barely broke a sweat. Applaud the Bears for taking care of business in a must-win playoff situation in the first half before coasting home. But they have played more complete games. And still can.

Against the Seahawks, the Bears defense left itself plenty of room to improve by giving up two garbage-time touchdowns in the last three minutes. They didn’t impose their will. A proud defense finished watching tape Monday knowing it had yet to put its stamp on these playoffs. What better time to start than against the hottest offense in football?

As for the Bears offense, the unit functioned at a high level overall in rolling up 437 total yards and Jay Cutler made smart decisions that dictated the outcome. The offensive line made room for Matt Forte and play-caller Mike Martz isolated mismatches in the secondary that Cutler exploited. It was good enough to beat a 10-loss team. But overwhelming or intimidating, it wasn’t.

No, nobody complains after scoring 35 points. But when tight end Greg Olsen acknowledged Monday that “we’re not even close to where we can be,” everybody knew what he meant.

As a team, the Bears still have more room to improve than the Packers, Steelers and Jets.

That might just mean the Bears are less talented than those teams. But not knowing yet just how good the Bears can be when it all comes together also makes them potentially more dangerous.

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