Countdown to kickoff

CHICAGO – Greetings from Soldier Field. Make that season’s greetings. And the question as the Seahawks are on the field preparing for today’s game against the Bears is: Will it be another ho-ho-ho afternoon, or another oh-no-no experience?

The Seahawks got both last season. They won here in the regular season, 23-20, only to lose to the Bears in a divisional playoff game in January, 35-24.

“We’ve had a great day there, and we’ve had a day we’d like to forget,” coach Pete Carroll said Friday after practice – and before the snow that fell here on Friday night and Saturday morning forced the Seahawks to move their Saturday walk-through to an indoor site.

“We know the spectrum that we’re up against.”

That January game was actually a double setback, because things were setup for the Seahawks to host the NFC Championship game. Everything had fallen into place, only to have the Seahawks fall to the Bears.

This season, these teams are heading in opposite directions as they meet on the third-to-last weekend of the regular season. Six weeks ago, the Seahawks were 2-6 and looking like a team that had lost its way for good; while the Bears were in the middle of a five-game winning streak, that would lift them to 7-3, and looking like a shoo-in for a wild-card spot in the postseason.

Fast forward, and the Seahawks have won four of their past, while the Bears have lost their past three – as well as their most productive offensive player, running back Matt Forte; and quarterback, Jay Cutler. Neither will play today.

So, the Seahawks can pull themselves to .500 for the first time since Week 13 last season, and push the Bears to .500, if …

One. They can stop Marion Barber, who is subbing for Forte, and force Caleb Hanie, who has stepped in for Cutler, to beat them. Hanie has thrown two touchdown passes, compared to six interceptions, and is completing 51.9 percent of his passes. Barber ran for 108 yards last week, but also failed to get out bounds and fumbled on plays that setup game-tying and game-winning field goals by the Broncos. The Bears have scored a total of 13 points in their past two games, after averaging 32 during their five-game winning streak.

Two. They can continue to run the ball against a Bears defense that ranks 10th in the league against the run, but also is allowing an average of 4.4 yards per carry. The Seahawks have had 100-yard rushing efforts in their past six games, and Marshawn Lynch has been in triple digits five times during that stretch. For this positive trend to continue, an offensive line that is down three injured starters must finds ways to negate Lance Briggs and Brain Urlacher, the hyperactive and hyper-productive linebackers who are the Bears’ leading tacklers. While the Bears are struggling without Cutler, the Seahawks’ surge also can attributed to QB Tarvaris Jackson being healthier than at any time since he strained the pectoral in his right shoulder during the Week 5 upset of the Giants. In the past three games, Jackson has thrown four touchdowns, with one interception; had a 13-for-16 outing against the Eagles; and a 224-yard passing performance against the Rams.

Three. They can avoid giving the Bears any “cheap” scores. That brings us to Devin Hester, the Bears’ returner extraordinaire who has two of his NFL-record 12 punts returns for touchdowns this season and also had an 89-yarder against the Seahawks last October. Hester tweaked an old ankle injury in practice on Thursday, but is expected to play.

Everyone is expecting a low-scoring game, so points should be at a premium. While the Bears have scored 104 points in the second quarter this season, the Seahawks have 99 in the first half – including 47 in the first quarter. Another slow start will play to the Bears’ strength. An atypical start for the Seahawks will play to their strengths – pounding the ball with Lynch, whose 706 rushing yards are the most in the NFL the past six games; and picking off passes, with seven of their 17 interceptions coming in the past three games.

Sit back, and hopefully enjoy, as we all find out how this one will play out.

And if you’re into omens, Dec. 18 is the anniversary of the Seahawks capturing their first playoff berth (in 1983) and winning their first division title (in 1988).


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