NFC Championship Game Prediction

The New Orleans Saints have overcome the odds from the moment that the 2006 season started, and with a road win Sunday in Chicago can advance to the SuperBowl for the first time in their teams history. For the Bears, 2006 started with a bang, then it was a bump in the road before getting back to form that has now advanced them to one game of playing for the sports biggest prize. That is the backdrop for what should be an exciting NFC Championship Game Sunday at Soldier Field as the Bears at 14-3 host the 11-6 New Orleans Saints.

Last week the Saints overcame an 8-point second half deficit to the Philadelphia Eagles in pulling out a 27-24 win at the SuperDome to advance to the title game. In Chicago, the Bears needed overtime against a scrappy bunch of Seattle Seahawks, but a key third-down pass play opened the door in OT and Robbie Gould kicked it in with a 49-yard field goal to lift the Bears to a 27-24 win. The Bears had to rally in the 4th quarter with a game-tying field goal, but in the end were able to muster up enough on both sides of the ball to get it done.

Right off the bat, I don’t like this matchup for the Bears. Their once unstoppable defense has not been nearly as good as it was over the first two months of the season at Soldier Field. Consider the numbers: the Bears were 4-0 in their first four home games, beating the Lions, Seahawks, Bills and 49’ers. In those games, they allowed a total on defense of 882 yards, or 220 per game. Then, starting with a loss 31-13 to the Dolphins on November 5th, they went just 2-2 at home in their last four games, and allowed a total of 1376 yards, or an average of 344 yards per game. That’s over 120 yards per game allowed more on defense in their last four home games than their first four. Then last week against a Seattle offense that had some lingering injuries, they allowed them to score 24 points and put up 306 yards.

The matchup of the Saints offense vs that Bears defense is what really has me thinking of a Saints victory here. The Saints have two solid running backs, solid position players at wide out, and a QB that is playing better than Matt Hassleback was last week when he almost led the upset for the Hawks over the Bears. Brees has been the spark plug for the Saints, throwing for 243 yards and a TD in the win last week over the Eagles. Brees threw for 4.418 yards this season, with 26 TD’s and only 11 picks. He does not force the ball in, and in order for the Bears to win this game they are going to have to pressure him and force him into some mistakes. Look for Brees to use RB’s Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush as safety valves out of the backfield a lot, which can result in big plays for the Saints. New Orleans has two solid backs that can also carry the ball, as last week against the weak Eagles run defense they put up 208 yards on the ground, or 5.6 yards per carry. Don’t expect to see those type of gaudy numbers against a Bears run D that allowed 99 yards per game, but if they can make some plays, that will open up the rest of the offense for Brees to work his magic.

The Saints offense averaged close to 26 points per game, and with it close to 400 yards of offense per game. They need to put up similar numbers here if they are going to pull off the upset. They played tight at times Saturday vs the Eagles, and cannot on the road afford to fall behind by a touchdown or more if they think they are going to stay in the game. The weather is going to benefit the Bears, as there is a possibility of snow and temps will be in the 30’s, so a fast start for the Saints is going to be even more important. On the offensive side for the Bears, quarterback Rex Grossman came to play last week, and was 21-for-38 for 282 yards and one TD. He did have a tendency of throwing a bit behind the receivers, and that is what led to the one INT on a ball that bounced off his wide outs shoulder pads. With the up and down season that Grossman has had, this week the pressure will be on him even more, and he cannot afford to have a let down after a solid game a week ago.

The Bears can run on the Saints, and should use a steady diet of Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson to wear down the front four of the Saints. Last week vs the patched up Hawks D, the Bears run game accounted for 120 yards on 34 carries, a 3.5 yards per carry average. Their longest run play was just 12 yards, but they kept going to the run instead of forcing the pass, which I thought was a key to open up the passing game as the game got tighter and tighter. The Saints gave up about 129 yards per game on the ground, and if the Bears are patient enough to use Jones and Benson enough, that will give them the best chance to win.

Chicago also has a decided home field advantage at Soldier Field. The weather should play a factor, and as stated above, the Saints cannot play around and find themselves behind, or the Bears will smell blood and go for the kill. The Hawks played it just about perfect last Sunday, staying in the game, and even taking a lead midway though the fourth quarter before the Bears made enough plays to win. The Saints were 6-2 on the road this year, as compared to just 4-4 in the regular season at home. So it appears that Sean Peyton knows how to get his team ready to play on the road. The pressure will be on the Bears as the favorite, and Lovie Smith has got to come up with a solid game plan to stop Brees and the two-back combo of McAllister and Bush.

This is a tough game to call, just like the AFC Title game in Indy. The Bears have been the driving force in the NFC from early in the season, while the Saints have just kept shocking people and gaining momentum as the year has gone along. There is something special about this Saints team that tells me that they have the mojo that can get the job done. Their offense is full of playmakers, and I think their defense is going to pressure Rex Grossman enough into a few mistakes. Bears fans have waited a long time for a home NFC Championship Game, but I think that come Sunday evening they are going to be leaving Soldier Field stunned by the Saints.

New Orleans 24 Chicago 21


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6 Responses to “NFC Championship Game Prediction”

  1. john shackelford says:

    I agree with your analysis, hard game to call – Saints have the offence to get the job done but they have some weakness in the secondary that could be a problem if Grossman is in the zone. Weather will not be a big factor. It will boil down to the team that wants it the most, and I think that team is New Orleans.

  2. WayBackBearsFan says:

    Your article is compelling, but I could not agree less. The Bears have stepped up and played well in every “must win” game this season.

    Each time this season the national media and all the bandwagon followers have stated that the next team is the hurdle over which the Bears will stumble, they have stepped up in a “BIG” way!

    You must not have been listening! I thought the statements were very very loud!

    The Bears offense is seldom mentioned in the course of these “assessments”. They have scored a ton of points. The defense has added points. The kick return game has added points. The field goal kicker is the most accurate in the league.

    Why do you doubt the Bears so? Do the mistakes made by Grossman in mid season loom so large that you think he will not be able to overcome them? Rex proved that he had fixed those. The Packers game was an aberration! The Seattle game proved that!
    Take away the pick from bobble by Mosse, and the TD drop by Bernard B, and Rex’s QB rating looks fantastic!

    All the media coverage is about how the Bears will handle Deuce and Reggie. Why is it that nobody asks how the suspect Saints defense will handle Jones and Benson? Am I mistaken that they put up better numbers than their counterparts all year long?

    The Saints offense will challenge the Bears, but the Bears defense has the speed and playmaking ability to mitigate that.

    The Saints defense against the Bears offense is a matchup that clearly favors the Bears.

    The kicking game, from returns to field goals, to extra points, should favor the Bears.

    Then come the intangibles. The entire country is cheering the Saints on. The team is playing for a city that needs hope!

    The Bears are exorcising the demons of the ’85 team, the national media, and all of those who say the 13-3 regular season of 2006 was either a fluke, a cake walk, or an aberration!

    Playing outdoors on grass in front of their home crowd all go to the Bears. Being familiar with the surface, the wind, and the cold all go in favor of the Bears.

    What about turnover history. The Bears have far more takeaways than the Saints.

    I am a Chicago native with New Orleans roots. I feel for the team, and all of my family members and the community as a whole.
    I sympathize with the fans, and a team that had to play home games in the back yards of their opponents.

    After the whistle blows, it will just be a football game. Nobody can say that the Saints have no chance. I watched the fumbled fourth down interception by San Diego get recovered by New England for a first down when the game would otherwise have been over. One never knows what can happen in a game.

    When you rant and rave that the Saints should win because the matchup favors them, I have to question whether you have seen this Bears team play this season.

    I suggest that all of you pundits pull out the highlight reels of the Bears in ’06 and take stock in what they have been able to do, and the way that they have done it.

    Give these guys credit for who they are, and what they have accomplished. If you still like the Saints, then so be it, but don’t disrespect the Bears, and the fans in Chicago by fabricating reality. The stuff you guys are saying defies what I have seen on the field.

    I think that what happens Sunday will be yet another example of the Bears telling you to have a listen. Can you hear them yet?

  3. gary ford says:

    I also agree with the specifics of Matt’s analyses of the Saints Offense vs. the bend-but-dont-break defense of late in Chicago. In my mind, though, the game is going to higne on the two quarterbacks’ separate fates. If Drew Brees is accurate early and often, the Saints will start fast and it will be very difficult to slow them down. The same thing goes for Grossman, except – while he does have talent he can get the ball to – he doesn’t have the likes of Reggie Bush, Deuce McAllister, Marques Colsten, etc… AAnd Grossman has one thing going against him that Brees does not. Brees has shown that he can effectively deal with pocket pressure – even breakdown – and still find his targets. Grossman, however, needs a quick, successful start for Chicago to stay in this game. if Grossman gets pressured early and falters, his confidence will be shaken and his play will mirror what we saw in the last half of the regular season. if this happens, the Bears will have to resort to their backs, a=which will take a lot of pressure off of the Saints defense. I think it will be a close game, but I think the Saints’ motivation and energy will put their front four in Grossman’s face early and often, which will end with Chicago on the losing end of a great game.

  4. WayBackBearsFan says:

    This post is in response to the post by Gary Ford. Gary says that Grossman does not have the likes of Deuce, Bush, and Colston to get the ball to. I think that Mushin Muhammad compares favorably to the rookie Colston. I think Thomas Jones andd Cedric Benson each compare favorably with Deuce. So, Rex Grossman does indeed have the likes. Bush represents a wide receiver in the backfield. The Bears have a fast, quick third down back named Davis. Add to the mix Des Clark, and Jason McKie catching the ball out of the backfield, and I think that something here is out of whack. Finally there are speed receivers on both teams. I agree that the Saints and Brees will have numerous weapons. I strongly contend that the Bears have equal weapons.
    Don’t take my word for it, check the season numbers out for yourself. Jones gained 1300 yards last season without a QB, and 1200 this season splitting time with Benson and Peterson (who I did not mention in the above equation).

    I don’t mind people saying that New Orleans needs a win, deserves a win, or is even destined to win. I object to people saying they are supposed to win because they are a stronger team, or “better on paper”! That statement just “AIN’T” so!
    The Saints are not better on paper. They do not have a better record. They are not “supposed” to come to Chicago and win the NFC Championship on the road outdoors against all odds.

    It’s O.K. if you want one team to win. Please stop the attempts to justify that feeling by manufacturing reality!

    If New Orleans escapes Soldier Field with a win, my hat is off to them. May God bless them. You can then argue that they are a team of destiny and that they deserve to win a championship.

    The X’s and O’s analysis that you offer up is faulty Mr. Ford. As a Bears fan, I for one am looking forward to tomorrow afternoon, when all those that have deluded themselves can get introduced to the harsh reality that is the truth.

    The Bears are indeed the better of the two teams. May the best team win!

  5. Vic says:

    Honestly, i dont need stats to call this game. Im a diehard Bears fan and i bet $500 on the Seahawks with the spread last weekend and won. Why? Because i knew we wouldnt cover that game.. Why does this matter? Cuz I am in-sync with my BEARS…

    this will not even be a close game… The Bears win by 10 points… or more.

    You read it here first.

  6. Vic says:

    yeaaaaa!!!! what the hell did i tell yall!!!