By Doug Halberstadt
Seventeen weeks ago, had I predicted the Chicago Bears would go 11-5 during the regular season and finish the year as the NFC Central Division champions, most people would have thought I was WUI (writing under the influence). Even though I didn’t make that prediction, that’s precisely what transpired.
As a Bears fan, I’m elated they had a successful season and have shown some signs of improvement along the way. At the beginning of the year, it didn’t look like quarterback Jay Cutler would last beyond Halloween. He was sacked, hit or knocked down on almost every play. His own offensive line was his worst enemy. After some much-needed changes made by offensive coordinator Mike Martz, they have gotten somewhat better, but I still think Cutler is vulnerable.
The good news is, the entire team has a week off to heal up any nagging wounds and prepare for their playoff game at noon, Sunday, Jan. 16.
The playoffs will begin this Saturday. Two games are on Saturday, and then two more are on Sunday. Saturday’s action will feature the New York Jets visiting Indianapolis to face the Colts.
This will be a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship game. A year ago, Peyton Manning led his team back from an 11-point first-half deficit and ended up beating the Jets 30-17. I’m not sure the Colts are as good a team this year as they were 12 months ago. I think the Jets may be a better team than they were at this time last year. Their quarterback, Mark Sanchez, has 16 more games of NFL experience and should be in a better position to lead his team into hostile territory. I think even as good as the Jets may be, it’s still impossible for me to pick against a four-time league MVP and future Hall of Fame quarterback. I like Manning and his Colts teammates to hold serve at home in this first-round game.
The New Orleans Saints will be on the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks. The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions. They lost their final regular-season game. The Seahawks finished the season with a sub-.500 record at 7-9. They hardly deserve a spot in the playoffs. Look for the Saints to rebound from their Week 17 loss and hammer the Seahawks.
In Sunday’s games, the Ravens will have to play on the road in Kansas City, and the Packers will travel to Philadelphia to meet up with Michael Vick and the Eagles. The Chiefs haven’t gotten any respect around the league despite their 10-6 record and AFC West division title. They got blown out by the Raiders 31-10 last week. The Ravens finished the regular season with a victory over the Bengals to improve their record to 12-4. I’m going with the Ravens on the road in this one.
The area Packers fans are all gaga over their victory against the Bears to wrap up their year. That win earned them the right to play the Eagles in Philadelphia for the second time this season. The two teams met back on Sept. 12, and the Packers came away with a 27-20 win. In that game, Vick only played in the second half. After the game, Vick said, “I feel like if I had been out there for four quarters, maybe we would’ve had a chance to win the game.” Vick will get that opportunity on Sunday. I think he’ll prove he was right. I like the Eagles at home over the Packers.
From the Jan. 5-11, 2011 issue