John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: Considering that Rex Grossman is unequivocally the starting quarterback and has been under center for all 15 games this season, he'll once again get the call on Sunday. There has been some clamoring for Brian Griese all season long – some justified and some not – but Grossman is very proud of the fact that he'll be starting all 16 games for the first time in his four-year NFL career. When you reflect on all the injuries he had to endure his first three years and all the doubters questioning his ability this season, I can see why. I expect Grossman to play the first half or so, especially if the Bears get off to an early lead. Griese will see some snaps, but he's not going to get a chance to start unless Grossman sustains an injury.
TK: The Bears are 13-2, yet it seems Chicago fans and media are unimpressed with the team. What do the fans and media need to see in order to ignite more enthusiasm?
JC: The Bears have the best record in the NFC and are tied with the Chargers for the top mark in the entire league, but they haven't had a dominant victory since Week 8 against the 49ers. The defense is statistically still one of the best in the league, but with injuries to All-Pros like Mike Brown and Tommie Harris starting to take their toll, they're not scaring teams anymore. And although the offense has played much better in recent weeks and been turnover-free for three games, Grossman has already proven that he can single-handedly lose a game. Even with home-field advantage in the playoffs, this is a franchise that has lost its last three postseason games at Soldier Field dating back to 1991. Until they manhandle their first-round opponent and advance to the NFC Championship Game, there will be plenty of doubters in this town.
TK: How important is CB Charles Tillman to the Bears secondary?
JC: A better question would be to ask how important Tillman and his cornerback compatriot, Nathan Vasher, are to the secondary. The Bears had the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL for half the season when they were both healthy, but with Vasher (hamstring) missing two games and Tillman (back) sitting out last week's tilt, Marc Bulger, Tim Rattay, and Jon Kitna threw the ball at will against the Bears. Ricky Manning Jr. has had a wonderful year as the nickelback, but he's been exposed the last three weeks as a member of the starting lineup. Vasher made the Pro Bowl last season and, in my opinion, Tillman should have been honored this year. Carolina's Steve Smith was a one-man wrecking crew at Soldier Field last January, so this team needs those two back at full steam in a hurry.
TK: Who do you feel has been the Bears' most valuable player this season and why?
JC: On offense, strange as it may sound, I'd have to give it to Grossman. I know he's turned the ball over 21 times – one fewer than Brett Favre, by the way – and was pretty close to losing his job a few weeks ago, but he's the main reason this team has been able to score so many points this season. The Bears had no chance with rookie Kyle Orton at the controls last year because offensive coordinator Ron Turner had to trim down the playbook significantly, but Grossman has the mental acumen and big-time arm that was needed to move this offense forward. Defensively, Brian Urlacher is the obvious choice, but Lance Briggs has been nothing short of sensational. He made his second consecutive Pro Bowl and will be starting in Hawaii this time around, and he even has more solo tackles, sacks, and passes defensed than Urlacher.
TK: Do the Bears have what it takes to get to the Super Bowl this postseason? Why or why not?
JC: All their playoff games will take place at Soldier Field, and since there simply isn't a dominant team in the NFC this season, the Bears have as good a chance as any to make it to Miami for Super Bowl XLI. If they were in the AFC, they would have a much tougher time matching up with the likes of San Diego, Baltimore, Indianapolis, or New England. I feel the team that can really give the Bears some trouble is New Orleans. Drew Brees has proven that he can throw the ball on anyone this season even when some of his best weapons are out of action, and the Bears have a serious weakness in the secondary right now. Philadelphia is playing as well as any team in football the last month, so they could be a threat, too.
Be on the lookout for Part II of this four-part series as Todd will answer five of John's questions.