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Saints vs Bears Prediction

2006/07 NFL Playoffs
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Conference Championship Preview

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Bears, Saints, Bring New Faces to NFC Championship
by: MySportsbook.com

(My Sportsbook) - A drought will come to an end at Soldier Field on Sunday afternoon, when the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints face off for the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLI.

Neither combatant in the conference championship game has been synonymous with title opportunities during the Super Bowl era, but one of the teams' long- suffering fan bases will finally get a chance to rejoice on Sunday evening.

The homestanding Bears are in the NFC Championship for the first time since 1988, ending the conference's third-longest hiatus from that plateau with last Sunday's 27-24 overtime win over the Seahawks. Only the Cardinals, who have not reached a championship game since 1948, and the Saints, who had never been within a game of the Super Bowl in their 39 previous years of existence, had been mired in a longer dry spell than had Chicago.

The Bears, whose postseason win last week was their first since 1994, have not appeared in a Super Bowl since the 1985 campaign, when they drilled the Patriots (46-10). Of the current teams in the NFC, only the Cardinals, Saints, Lions (no Super Bowl appearances) and Vikings (no Super Bowl appearances since 1976) have suffered through a longer Super Bowl-free stretch than has Chicago.

New Orleans, which defeated Philadelphia (27-24) last Saturday for just the second postseason win in its 40-year history, is trying to become the 27th different NFL team to reach a Super Bowl. Of the franchises that have been in continuous existence since the 1967 season, only the Saints, Cardinals, and Lions have never played on Super Sunday. Recent expansion franchises the Jaguars and Texans have also never reached the ultimate game, nor have the Browns, who came into existence in 1950 but were dormant from 1996 through 1998.

SERIES HISTORY

The Saints and Bears will be meeting for the second time in the postseason, with the first resulting in a 16-6 Chicago win in a 1990 NFC First-Round Playoff from Soldier Field. Running back Neal Anderson collected 208 total yards to lead the Bears to that victory.

The regular season series between the clubs is knotted, 11-11, with Chicago evening the series by virtue of a 20-17 victory in Baton Rouge in Week 9 of last season. New Orleans had won the previous three games in the series, including a 20-13 home triumph in 2003, a 29-23 victory in the Bears' temporary home of Champaign in 2002, and a 31-10 triumph at Soldier Field in 2000. Chicago last earned a Soldier Field win over the Saints in 1999.

Bears head coach Lovie Smith is 1-0 all-time against New Orleans. The Saints' Sean Payton will be meeting both Smith and the Bears for the first time as a head coach. Payton was raised in Naperville, IL, played college ball at Eastern Illinois University, and was a replacement player quarterback for the Bears in 1987. Payton also played for the Chicago Bruisers of the Arena Football League, and was quarterbacks coach at the University of Illinois in 1996.

SAINTS OFFENSE VS. BEARS DEFENSE

The Saints took down the Eagles last week thanks in large part to the work of their running game, and on a day when cold temperatures and snow are expected, New Orleans will need a similar contribution from Deuce McAllister (1057 rushing yards, 10 TD, 30 receptions) and Reggie Bush (565 rushing yards, 88 receptions, 8 TD) this week. Both players were up to the task in their first- ever postseason appearances last Sunday. McAllister carried 21 times for 143 yards and a touchdown in the victory, also catching four passes for 20 yards and another score out of the backfield. McAllister has now gone over 100 yards in four of his last five games. Bush was also a factor versus Philly, carrying 12 times for 52 yards and a touchdown and adding 43 yards on catches and returns. The rookie also had a potentially costly fourth-quarter fumble. The Saints were a middle-of-the-road 19th in NFL rushing offense (110.1 yards per game) during the regular season, though the team's running backs also added 1,250 yards receiving.

There is great concern in Chicago over the state of the Bears' run defense entering this game. The Bears struggled against Shaun Alexander and the Seattle ground attack last week, allowing Alexander to rush for 75 of his game-high 108 yards in the second half. A defense that finished sixth in NFL rushing defense (99.4 yards per game) during the regular season has clearly missed the presence of defensive tackle Tommie Harris (28 tackles, 5 sacks), who underwent hamstring surgery in mid-December and is out for the year. Tank Johnson (26 tackles, 3.5 sacks) and Ian Scott (22 tackles) will once again try to compensate for Harris' absence on the interior line this week. Also charged with slowing the Saints' backs will be the linebacking corps of Brian Urlacher (141 tackles, 3 INT) in the middle and Lance Briggs (130 tackles, 2 INT, 1 sack) and Hunter Hillenmeyer (48 tackles) on the flanks. Briggs had a game- high 11 tackles against Seattle, while the All-Pro Urlacher was quieter with six stops.

New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees (4418 passing yards, 26 TD, 11 INT) will be attempting to build on his first career postseason win, which featured a typically efficient performance from the Pro Bowl signal-caller. Brees completed 20-of-32 passes totaling 243 yards against the Eagles, losing a fumble in the game but also throwing a decisive 11-yard touchdown pass to McAllister late in the third quarter. Brees utilized his tight ends effectively versus Philly, with Billy Miller (14 receptions), John Owens (4 receptions), and Mark Campbell (18 receptions) combining for six catches and 108 yards. Rookie Marques Colston (70 receptions, 8 TD) was the most prominent of the wide receivers, hauling in five passes for 55 yards in the win. If fellow wideout Joe Horn (37 receptions, 4 TD) misses his sixth consecutive game with a lingering groin problem, Devery Henderson (32 receptions, 5 TD) will again line up opposite Colston. Henderson had a single catch for 35 yards against the Eagles. Brees was sacked three times versus Philadelphia, after being dropped just 18 times during the regular season.

The Bears secondary is one of the few in the league that can properly account for all of the Saints' receiving weapons, and is always a candidate to provoke a turnover or two. The cornerback trio of Charles Tillman (80 tackles, 5 INT), Nathan Vasher (45 tackles, 3 INT), and Ricky Manning, Jr. (53 tackles, 5 INT, 2 sacks) will likely be matched up with the likes of Colston, Henderson, and Bush this week, with safeties Chris Harris (54 tackles, 2 INT) and Danieal Manning (67 tackles, 2 INT) lending support. Manning, who notched five interceptions in a nickel role during the regular season, kept up his strong play with a key pick of the Seahawks' Matt Hasselbeck in the fourth quarter last week. Tillman pitched in with nine tackles in the victory. Chicago got a solid pass-rushing effort from its front four last Sunday, as ends Alex Brown (46 tackles, 7 sacks, 2 INT), Adewale Ogunleye (43 tackles, 6.5 sacks), and tackle Tank Johnson all managed sacks of Hasselbeck. Situational pass rusher Mark Anderson (28 tackles, 12 sacks), who led Chicago in sacks during his rookie year, will be looking to make Brees the first sack victim of his postseason career on Sunday. The Bears led the league with 44 takeaways during the regular season.

BEARS OFFENSE VS. SAINTS DEFENSE

The Bears' offensive approach on Sunday is likely to include a healthy dose of running backs Thomas Jones (1210 rushing yards, 6 TD, 36 receptions) and Cedric Benson (647 rushing yards, 6 TD). Both rushers had an impact in the victory over the Seahawks, with Jones rushing 21 times for 66 yards and the first two playoff touchdowns of his career, and Benson coming off the bench with 12 carries for 45 yards. Benson, who has garnered 14 or more offensive touches in each of Chicago's last five games, also caught three passes for 24 yards out of the backfield versus Seattle. Last Nov. 6th, Jones, Benson, and fellow running back Adrian Peterson (41 rushing yards, 2 TD) totaled 177 yards on 31 combined carries in a 20-17 win over the Saints. Chicago was 15th in the league in rushing (119.9 yards per game) during the regular season, though the team was fifth in ground attempts (503).

Jones and Benson are set to attack a New Orleans run defense that had its problems during the regular season, struggles that extended to the divisional playoff win over Philadelphia. After allowing 4.9 yards per carry in the regular campaign, the second-worst figure in the league behind only that of the Colts, the Saints surrendered 116 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just 13 carries by Philly's Brian Westbrook last week. That total came despite a return to the lineup by defensive tackle Hollis Thomas (43 tackles, 3.5 sacks), who had missed the final four games of the regular season due to his suspension for violating the NFL's steroid policy. New Orleans will require a better effort from Thomas and fellow interior lineman Brian Young (46 tackles, 5.5 sacks), with linebackers Scott Fujita (96 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 INT), Scott Shanle (97 tackles, 4 sacks), and Mark Simoneau (61 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) attempting to make plays behind them. Thomas was credited with three stops against the Eagles, while Shanle turned in New Orleans' lone sack of the night.

The big question heading into last week's Chicago/Seattle game was whether the Bears would trot out "Good Rex" or "Bad Rex" at the quarterback position. Enigmatic quarterback Rex Grossman (3193 passing yards, 23 TD, 20 INT) was more angel than devil to the Bears' cause, completing 21-of-38 passes for 282 yards with a touchdown and a pair of turnovers. Grossman's big play was a 68- yard TD strike to deep threat Bernard Berrian in the second quarter, and he also set up the game-winning field goal with a pretty 30-yard pass to wideout Rashied Davis in overtime. Berrian (51 receptions, 6 TD) finished with five catches for 105 yards and the TD, while Davis (22 receptions, 2 TD) chipped in with four grabs for 84 yards. Also involved were No. 1 receiver Muhsin Muhammad (60 receptions, 5 TD), who caught three passes totaling 38 yards, and tight end Desmond Clark (45 receptions, 6 TD), who made his only reception count for 13 yards. Grossman was sacked three times by the Seahawks last Sunday, after being taken down 21 times in 16 regular season games.

Though Grossman will be under pressure to keep major mistakes to a minimum, he may also want to take some chances down the field against a Saints defense that allowed 26 passing TDs during the regular season, among the highest figures in the league. Last week, Philadelphia's Donte' Stallworth got behind the New Orleans secondary for a 75-yard touchdown catch, and Saints corners Fred Thomas (55 tackles, 1 INT) and Mike McKenzie (33 tackles, 2 INT) will be charged with avoiding a similar strike to Muhammad or Berrian. McKenzie was credited with four tackles against the Eagles, while safeties Jay Bellamy (16 tackles) and Josh Bullocks (71 tackles, 2 INT) combined for 10 tackles. Ends Charles Grant (64 tackles, 6 sacks) and Will Smith (49 tackles, 10.5 sacks) played well during the regular season, but neither was able to get to Philly's Jeff Garcia last Saturday. Smith did manage a team-best five solo tackles, however.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Veteran Saints kicker John Carney (23-25 FG) made all of his attempts last week, connecting on field goals of 33 and 23 yards in the first half and drilling home a trio of extra points. The 42-year-old Carney will be playing in his second career Championship game, after helping the Chargers defeat the Steelers in the 1994 AFC title game. Rookie punter Steve Weatherford (43.8 avg.) averaged 40.7 yards on three kicks in his first career postseason outing last week. Longtime kickoff return man Michael Lewis (24.7 kickoff return avg.) averaged 27.4 yards per attempt versus the Eagles, while Bush (7.7 punt return avg., 1 TD) went for seven yards a clip on three punt returns. Bush had one punt return for a score during the regular season, while Lewis' last TD came on a 96-yard kickoff return against the Falcons in December of 2004.

Bears Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould (32-36 FG) officially became a Chicagoland legend last week, when he connected on game-tying and game-winning field goals to lift his team to victory. Gould is 14-of-16 on kicks of 40 yards or more this year. Veteran punter Brad Maynard (44.2 avg.) averaged 40.3 yards on six boots last week. Electrifying rookie return man Devin Hester (12.8 punt return avg., 26.4 kickoff return avg.) had a tough day against Seattle, having a punt return for a TD called back due to a penalty, fumbling three times (none were lost), and averaging just 1.7 yards on punt returns and 17.7 on kickoff returns. Hester had six returns for touchdowns (three punt, two kickoff, one field goal) during a Pro Bowl regular season.

OVERALL ANALYSIS

Though much of the focus heading into this game will be on the quarterbacks, on a day when the weather figures to be less than ideal in regard to the passing game, expect the team that runs the football and stops the run with greater proficiency to come away a winner. There is ground mileage to be gained against both front sevens, but there is no denying that the Bears have done a better job of stopping the run than have the Saints this season. Look for Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to set the tone with their legs, and expect Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush to be less consistent than their Chicago counterparts. Drew Brees will likely be sharper than Rex Grossman, but expect the hometown quarterback to get more of the breaks, and to receive a better contribution from his supporting cast than will the visitor.

My Sportsbook Predicted Outcome: Bears 23, Saints 20

Pats vs Colts Prediction
Saints vs Bears Prediction


CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP weekend football - new orleans vs chicago

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New Orleans Saints vs Chicago Bears
Sunday January 21st, 2007- Soldier Field
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