The Waiting Game

CHICAGO -- Bring on anybody.<p> That's the Bears' philosophy.<p> With a guaranteed first-round bye and a chance to watch other NFC teams beat each other up for at least one weekend, Chicago can sit back and enjoy some well-deserved R&R this week.<p>

The NFC Central Division champion Bears won't have to play until Jan. 19 or 20. The opponent is yet to be determined but will either be Philadelphia, San Francisco or Green Bay.

If the Eagles beat Tampa Bay, Philadelphia (11-5) will come to Chicago. If Tampa Bay pulls off the upset, the Bears will host either the 49ers or Packers.

"I don't care who we play," Bears safety Mike Brown said. "I'm one of those guys that wants to do it the hard way. I want the best teams. But that's what usually happens in the playoffs. You end up playing the best teams. If you look at the season and the NFC, you look at Green Bay and St. Louis."

The Packers (12-4) swept the Bears this season, but lost to Tennessee late in the season and dropped one-game back of Chicago. San Francisco (12-4) lost to Dallas late, which cost them a chance to host Green Bay. The 49ers lost to the Bears 37-31 in overtime when Brown picked off a tipped pass and returned it for a touchdown. San Francisco led 29-8 in third quarter before the Bears pulled off one of their many miracles this season.

"I don't really care who we play, to tell you the truth. I don't really care who it is," linebacker Brian Urlacher said. "If we take care of business it doesn't matter. We've been doing that all year long. If we take care of ours, it doesn't matter what anybody else does."

A bye week is good news for Bears players. Besides earning the reward for winning 13 games, it gives the team a chance to heal up. Cornerback Walt Harris, wide receiver Dez White and special teams Pro Bowler Larry Whigham didn't dress in Sunday's 33-13 victory over Jacksonville. Starting guard Rex Tucker left the game early with a strained calf, defensive tackle Keith Traylor strained his hamstring in pregame warmups and fullback Daimon Shelton got dinged up.

"It's always good to get a bye," center Olin Kreutz said. "If you come out flat that just means you're not mentally ready. The good thing is we've got two weeks to think about that. Right now we're going to enjoy being champs."

The Bears, who didn't lose two games in a row this season, are guaranteed of one game at Soldier Field, and could host the NFC Championship on Jan. 27 with a win and a Rams loss.

As the Baltimore Ravens proved last season, and St. Louis did two years ago, surprise teams can make some big noise come playoff time.

"Obviously it's a whole new game now," Kreutz said. "It doesn't really matter who you beat in the regular season, how many teams you beat, how many games you won or how you played your last game.

"All that matters is winning. You lose and you're out. It's simple."


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