John Crist, Editor in Chief, BearReport.com: Although there is a ton of pressure in a major market like Chicago to produce championships, "desperation" is probably not the right word because the Bears have won a Super Bowl before. Just like the 1985 team got tired of hearing how great the 1963 team was, the 2006 team is tired of hearing how great the 1985 team was. Last season's playoff loss to Carolina was certainly tough to swallow, but nobody really expected that squad to make a Super Bowl run. That is not the case this time around.
The Bears appear to have a window of opportunity now and in the near future because they are still relatively young and in good position with the salary cap, but now that they're in the big game for the first time in 21 years, losing will be unacceptable.
TT: So much is made of Grossman that a couple of good receivers are often overlooked in Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian. How do they complement each other, and what problems can they cause defenses? doing?
JC: If you were looking to create a pair of wide receivers from scratch to work in tandem with each other, Muhammad and Berrian would be good models to follow. Muhammad may not be the game-breaker that he was earlier in his career, but he's morphed into a prototypical possession wideout and makes the tough catch time and time again. Berrian was known as a speed merchant when he came into the league, but he's done a wonderful job developing his all-around game to go along with his natural deep-threat capabilities.
Muhammad isn't going to blow by defenders like Berrian will, but he's a crisp route-runner and dangerous red zone target. Berrian has the ability to outrun even the fastest cornerback, but he can be very effective with short and intermediate routes if given a huge cushion.
TT: The Bears must keep Grossman upright to minimize mistakes. How has the Bears offensive line fared against speed rushers this year, and how will they keep Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis out of the backfield?
JC: The Bears have one of the more experienced offensive lines in the NFL, so there's nothing a defense can do that they haven't seen a million times. Tackles John Tait and Fred Miller may not be perennial Pro-Bowlers, but they are dependable veterans capable of getting the job done. That being said, Freeney and Mathis present a litany of problems with their speed and relentlessness. Ron Turner told the media on Thursday that Tait in particular is going to get some help from backs and tight ends blocking Freeney, but there will be times when he's on an island out there and will have to best him one-on-one.
But the offensive line is playing as well as they have all season, and despite Grossman's relative lack of mobility, the Bears only allowed 25 sacks on the year.
JC: Since the Bears are a quintessential cover-two team, it is very difficult to beat them with big pass plays over the top. They don't mind giving up shorter completions underneath because few offenses are able to continually sustain long drives against them, plus they force turnovers at an alarming rate. Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher are an underrated cornerback tandem, but Wayne and Harrison will have a huge advantage any time they get matched up on a safety. Danieal Manning is going to be a very good player in this league but still has a lot to learn, and Chris Harris simply is not fast enough to be effective in coverage.
Manning has shown that he is patient enough to dink and dunk his way down the field if that's what he has to do, but I believe the Bears will take their chances with the likes of Ben Utecht and Bryan Fletcher.
TT: The Bears had the lowest strength of schedule ranking in the NFL this season. Is this a concern heading into a game against a high-caliber AFC opponent?
JC: The NFC has been the redheaded stepchild in the eyes of the national media this season, but I don't think the two conferences are as far apart talent-wise as some would have you believe. The Bears can only beat the teams that they are asked to play, and 15 out of 18 times so far, they've done just that. They were certainly fortunate to have the schedule work out the way it did, but the margin between good teams and bad teams in this league is narrower than ever. Most experts want to know how the Monsters of the Midway will defend such a prolific offense armed with an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions, yet they overwhelmed the Saints – the No. 1 offense in the NFL statistically – on Championship Sunday.
The Bears have relished their role as underdogs during the postseason and will no doubt be playing that card once again as they prepare for Super Bowl XLI.
Be on the lookout for Part IV of this five-part series as Todd will answer five more of John's questions.