Snow began to fall during the Chicago Bears NFC Divisional Round clash with the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Luckily for Lovie Smith’s team, snowflakes didn’t stop the Bears from soaring to new heights.
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll remained optimistic prior to Sunday afternoon. Perhaps any coach who had just outplayed Sean Payton would bear a grin or two, but Carroll’s USC enthusiasm was showcased heavily when the Seahawks attempted the unimaginable in another testing road game.
Sooner rather than later, Carroll’s replenishing smile became a stern look of disappointment.
After tight end John Carlson hit the turf hard on an attempted catch, things spiralled rapidly for the Seahawks. The Bears were the fresher team, and when Jay Cutler fed off a little pre-game criticism, the Bears found themselves with a comfortable 35-24 win in their hip pocket.
Now that hip pocket takes on the Green Bay Packers. In a game that is set to blow one of the NFL’s oldest rivalries wide open in the coming years.
It’s a growing attraction for football fans. Recent memory tells us that the Packers annual clashes with the Minnesota Vikings have been heavily covered, simply due to a man that Green Bay faithfuls now like to refer to as “Brent Favre”.
Even one of the league’s oldest quarterbacks can’t steal the spotlight away from this age old clash, though.
Before the Packers were dealt their fate ahead of next week, wide receiver Greg Jennings commented on the possibility of facing the Bears for the NFC Championship. "For us to be playing the Bears next week, that would be something," Jennings said. "But we'll see."
But what would that “something” be exactly?
Aside from the blatantly obvious – an abundance of history, grief, aggression and skill all rolled into one.
Next Sunday 181 classic games will come together to mean the difference between golfing for the remainder of the offseason, and playing in Dallas for the big prize. Right now the Bears hold the upper-hand over the Packers in terms of wins and losses, but that isn’t to say the cold confines of Soldier Field will protect Chicago against such a ravishing Green Bay team.
The main issue that stands out for the Bears is simple -- Green Bay was in this situation three weeks ago. While the consequences are much higher at the present time, it is easy to say that head coach Mike McCarthy has unlocked the secret to beating the Bears after a solid performance at Lambeau Field during Week 17.
Rewinding back to the regular season, the Packers defense was impressive when holding Jay Cutler to 168 yards and two interceptions on the day. These statistics are similar to Matt Ryan’s performance on Saturday, indicating that defensive coordinator Dom Capers hasn’t changed his planning all that much in the span of a month.
Secondly, the Packers special teams unit has been reasonably stellar since a midseason collapse. Erasing Eric Weems’ 102 yard kick return this past weekend is a tough chore for anyone, but after shutting down DeSean Jackson and Devin Hester in weeks prior, punter Tim Masthay has been solid in his first starting year.
Then there are the many other factors that the Bears weren’t so accustom to back in Week 17.
Number one, James Starks is now a serious factor. Throughout the past two weeks Starks has run for 189 yards in total, making up for injured running back Ryan Grant heavily during the Packers postseason.
Chicago isn’t familiar with a Packer run game this year.
Number two, cornerback Tramon Williams is better than ever. Cutler may not have experienced Williams’ true presence three weeks ago, although No.38’s pick six against Atlanta has now outmuscled Darrelle Revis’ efforts of a year ago.
Expect Williams to play tight coverage on the Bears mediocre wide receiver core.
And finally, number three, wide receiver James Jones is catching the ball. The Falcons saw Jones score a game changing touchdown on the weekend, and after dropping a big time pass against the Philadelphia Eagles, Jones now adds yet another threat behind Donald Driver and Greg Jennings in the air.
Yes, Soldier Field is no Lambeau Field, but the Packers know the Monsters of the Midway well. Head coach McCarthy commented on his team following the Atlanta win, stating that Green Bay’s brand of football won’t change in the next week or two.
"We're a championship-calibre football team, we talked about that before the Philadelphia game," McCarthy said. "We have 16 quarters on our mind, we've completed eight of them and we have an opportunity to play in four more next week. We feel very good about who we are, the way we played, our brand of football in all three areas, and that's what we're sticking to."
Take nothing away from the Bears win, beating a determined Seahawks team is tougher than it may seem. Still, the Packers have shot down two Pro Bowl quarterbacks on the road, making Green Bay’s 182nd clash with the Bears the most meaningful in the rivalries 90 year history.
Ryan Cook is an Australian author for Acme Packing Company, and a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also a guest writer on PackerChatters, and a contributing writer to Detroit Lions Talk, Gack Sports and Sports Haze.