By Dan Bernstein–
Placed in the unfamiliar role of prohibitive favorites, the Bears seem to be doing and saying everything they can to feel otherwise.
That’s what teams do, even if they know better on some level. Think Lou Holtz and Pat Fitzgerald, college coaches famous for keeping a straight face while describing their concocted concerns about lightweights. It’s easier to pull off when your locker room is full of kids.
The Seahawks are a rare kind of underdog at this point – a loser in the winners’ round. In fact, stat guru Nate Silver of the New York Times argues that they are the second-worst playoff team in the history of major professional sports, behind only the NBA’s Baltimore Bullets of 1952-53, who got in with a 16-54 record by backing into an automatic divisional berth.
Silver, a University of Chicago grad, 12-year Chicago resident, and former managing partner of Baseball Prospectus who now applies metric methodology to politics and economics, wrote before the playoffs began that “The Seahawks are not any garden-variety 7-9 team: they are an incredibly bad 7-9 team.”
(Before you interrupt to point out that Seattle beat the Saints, know that Silver – level-headedly as always – accounted for the possibility of that due to a marked home-field advantage for them at Qwest against a dome team)
Using yardage differential, point differential, strength of schedule, and Football Outsiders’ Defense-Adjusted Value Over Average, he made a convincing case that the Seahawks were actually the NFL’s very worst team in the regular season, and playing poorly as ever leading up to the playoffs.
Silver only ranks them second with caveats. “So there you have it, Seahawks fans, you lucky dogs, you. You are probably no worse than the 1953 Baltimore Bullets. At least when you’re playing at home. And when Matt Hasselbeck is healthy.”
Hasselbeck is healthy, or at least as healthy as the brittle, 35-year-old QB can be, but Sunday’s game is in Chicago.
So the Bears charmed year, now, has led them to a point of little to gain and everything to lose: either take care of a woebegone opponent and register a perfunctory divisional win (as if any playoff victory can be regarded so blithely), or incite utter civil unrest with an unconscionable loss.
The tenuous good will for Lovie Smith generated by an improbable 11-win season would dissolve instantly. A large subset of Bear fans would revert to preseason form as if waking from a trance: I’m talking about the loss-craving masochists who have spent all season tied in mental knots, grudgingly scabbing over with each next win, and trying to reconcile actually, you know, rooting for their team. They’d be mobbing again.
It’s either on to the NFC Championship or total chaos.
The Bears losing to a team as clearly overmatched as Seattle would be unthinkable to most, yet oddly fitting to some.