NFL Pick: Survival Mode For Both Seattle Seahawks And Chicago Bears
Sunday, December 18, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
The Chicago Bears received quite a bit of good news this week when they learned that quarterback Jay Cutler has an outside shot at returning from his thumb injury next weekend. While that would be a nice Christmas present for Bears fans, it may not matter much if backup Caleb Hanie can’t figure out a way to win a game.
Chicago has dropped three straight with Hanie at the helm, pushing them behind the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons in the NFC wild card race. Making matters worse, star running back Matt Forte sat out last week with a knee injury and is doubtful for Sunday, when Chicago hosts the surging Seattle Seahawks.
The Seahawks’ dreams of a playoff berth are even more unlikely than the Bears, but at least they are playing like they want it with wins in four of their last five games. Marshawn Lynch is averaging 117.7 yards over the last six contests as the offense has started to catch up to the defense.
Chicago had been cruising towards a second consecutive playoff berth after ripping off five straight victories, many of which came in impressive fashion, during a hot midseason stretch. But Cutler went down with the much publicised broken right thumb in the team's 31-20 triumph over San Diego in Week 11, and the Bears have gone into an ill-timed tailspin as a result.
Setbacks to Oakland and Kansas City marred by three-interception outings by replacement Hanie began Chicago's downfall, but the Bears appeared primed for a bounce-back in last week's matchup at Denver. The club held a 10-point lead with just over two minutes to go, but the ever-resilient Broncos rallied to send the contest into overtime before claiming an improbable 13-10 win on Matt Prater's 51-yard field goal in the extra session.
Two costly late miscues by running back Marion Barber, contributed to Chicago's latest defeat. The veteran backup inexplicably ran out of bounds with the Bears seeking to drain the clock in the waning stages of regulation, enabling Prater enough time to successfully make a game-tying field goal, then fumbled in Denver territory during overtime with his team in position to try a deciding kick.
Seattle, on the other hand, enters Sunday's clash riding some serious momentum after registering its fourth win in five weeks with Monday's 30-13 manhandling of hapless St. Louis. The 2010 NFC West title-holders are still a long shot to advance to the postseason, however, trailing the Falcons by 2 1/2 games and the Lions by two in the current standings.
Excellent production from Marshawn Lynch has certainly played a big part in Seattle's second-half turnaround. The hard-nosed running back bullied the Rams for 115 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries to eclipse the century mark for the fifth time in six weeks, and he's amassed a league-high 706 rushing yards and seven scores over that span.
Lynch mustered a mere two yards on four attempts in the Seahawks' 35-24 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field in this past winter's NFC Divisional Playoffs, a game in which Cutler threw for 274 yards and hit on two long touchdown passes. Seattle was able to come through with a 23-20 decision when the teams squared off in Chicago during the 2010 regular season, however, behind a defense that sacked Cutler six times.
The Seahawks' above-mentioned win in Week 6 of last season gave them an 8-4 advantage in non-playoff meetings with the Bears and was the team's first positive outcome in Chicago since 1999. Seattle was routed by a 37-6 count in a 2006 visit to Soldier Field and also dropped a 25-19 verdict to the Bears as the home team in a 2009 bout.
Chicago has prevailed in each of the two postseason encounters between the teams, posting a 27-24 home overtime win in the 2006 NFC Divisional Playoffs in addition to last January's victory.
Lovie Smith has gone 4-2 against Seattle during his eight-year tenure in Chicago, while Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll owns a 2-2 mark versus the Bears and is 1-1 in head-to-head tests with Smith. Carroll lost to Chicago while in charge of the New York Jets in 1994 and guided New England past the Bears in 1997 when then at the helm of the Patriots.
Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, December 18, 2011. Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois
Last week's ATS:
- Favourite Seattle Seahawks (6-7) wins and covers
- Underdog Chicago Bears (7-6) loses but covers.
NFL Football Odds: Bears -3.5, O/U 35.5.
Seattle failed to record 14 points five times in its first eight games while starting out 2-6. That has turned around over the last five, with the Seahawks churning out 24.8 points behind heavy running from Lynch and efficient play from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson, who has posted his two highest-rated games of the season in the last two weeks. Lynch has seen his average number of carries more than double starting with a Week 10 win over the Baltimore Ravens.
While the loss of Cutler did not make things easier last week, the bigger issue was Forte’s absence. Chicago has totaled a mere13 points in its last two games.
It's no secret that both of these teams will be intent on running the football extensively in this game, with Lynch emerging as Seattle's meal ticket on offense and the Bears still saddled with a backup quarterback who's struggled to generate a downfield presence. Whichever one is more efficient at moving the chains via the ground game should have a decided edge here, though it's entirely possible that neither gains much of an advantage considering the run- stopping efforts of the two defenses.
The Bears called runs on nearly 60 percent of their offensive plays last week, but better balance would be in order to get the team out of its present funk on that side of the ball. For that to occur, however, Hanie is going to have to prove he can make some plays with his arm and avoid the damaging turnovers and sacks that have put Chicago in undesirable positions. With three starts now under his belt, it's time for the training wheels to come off.
Chicago possesses the NFL's premier return man in three-time Pro Bowler Devin Hester, a player who can change both field position and the momentum of a game in the blink of an eye. The proven game-breaker, who took a punt back 89 yards for a score when these clubs opposed one another in last year's regular season, is averaging a league-best 18.5 yards in that category and has three return touchdowns in 2011, and he'll be facing a Seattle team that's allowed a pair of scores on punts in its 13 games.
Lynch has scored a touchdown in nine straight games, tying Shaun Alexander's franchise record.
The Bears beat Seattle in the division round of the playoffs last season 35-24 behind four total TDs from Cutler.
Bears WR Sam Hurd was arrested Thursday on charges of masterminding a major drug operation. Hurd told a federal undercover agent he was looking to buy 5 to 10 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 pounds of marijuana per week for distribution in the Chicago area.
The total has gone OVER in 4 of Chicago's last 5 games when playing at home against Seattle
Chicago is 4-2 SU in its last 6 games when playing Seattle
Chicago is 4-2 SU in its last 6 games when playing at home against Seattle
The total has gone OVER in 5 of Seattle's last 5 games when playing Chicago
Seattle is 3-6 ATS in its last 9 games when playing Chicago
Seattle is 6-17-1 ATS in its last 24 games on the road
With neither of these partakers fielding explosive offenses and the Bears especially struggling to put up points in Hanie's starts, expect a tightly- played contest that will likely hinge on a few key plays. Chicago's going to need to be both resilient and creative to overcome the injuries to Cutler and Forte, but fortunately has a pair of players capable of making a sizeable impact in the incomparable Hester and ultra-clutch kicker Robbie Gould, who's 6-for-6 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or beyond this year.
Add in a rugged defense that's continued to perform at a high level during the losing streak and is more than capable of preventing Lynch of putting together another massive outburst, and Chicago seems to have the ingredients necessary to getting back on the winning track as long as it's not littered with breakdowns and mistakes. Other than a home upset of Baltimore last month, Seattle's strong run hasn't exactly come against the stiffest of competition, and a matchup on the road against a desperate and determined opponent could prove to be a more difficult challenge for Carroll's group to navigate.
NFL Football Pick: Take Bears.
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