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Predictions & Projections
David Dorey
The Huddle
Divisional Week
January 14, 2005
Season Ticket
Washington at Seattle
4:30 PM Saturday on FOX
Pittsburgh at Indianapolis
1:00 PM Sunday on CBS
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New England at Denver
8:00 PM Saturday on CBS
Carolina at Chicago
4:30 PM Sunday on FOX

Prediction: Carolina 10, Chicago 17

The Panthers come off a thorough thrashing of the Giants in New York, beating them in just about every aspect of the game. The Bears start their playoffs with a home game in Chicago where they were 7-1 with their only loss being back in week three to the Bengals. Whatever does happen in this game, there is one thing that is certain - this will be the lowest scoring game of the weekend. This is a rematch of week 11 when the Bears won 13-3. There is no question that the Bears will not score a lot of points, the only unknown is if Carolina can score any.

Line: Bears by 3, Over/Under = 31
Weather: Partly cloudy, 33 degrees

Carolina Panthers (11-5)
1 20-23 NOR 10 30-3 NYJ
2 27-17 NE 11 3-13 @CHI
3 24-27 @MIA 12 13-9 @BUF
4 32-29 GBP 13 24-6 ATL
5 24-20 @ARI 14 10-20 TBB
6 21-20 @DET 15 27-10 @NOR
7 Open Bye 16 20-24 DAL
8 38-13 MIN 17 44-11 @ATL
9 34-14 @TBB . MON SAT
CAR Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Jake Delhomme 0 0 180,1
RB DeShaun Foster 60 10 0
TE Kris Mangum 0 10 0
WR Steve Smith 0 100,1 0
WR Keary Colbert 0 20 0
WR Drew Carter 0 10 0
WR Ricky Proehl 0 20 0
PK John Kasay 1 FG 1 XP -
Pregame Notes: Nothing like starting the playoffs on the road with a shutout to serve notice that these Panthers are hitting their stride. In New York last week, the defense was outstanding - obviously - and the offense remained throwing to mainly just Steve Smith but the big surprise was the great running by DeShaun Foster. The Panthers return to Chicago after seven weeks and are still searching for their first touchdown there this year.

Quarterback: Jake Delhomme only threw 22 of 38 for 235 yards and no scores with two interceptions earlier this year in Chicago. That was one of only two games this year without a passing touchdown and yet one of the higher passing yard games for Delhomme. Since that week 11 game, the Panthers had three more road games and Delhomme never had more than 191 passing yards and scored only once in each other than the final week against the Falcons.

Running Backs: DeShaun Foster ran for 151 yards on 27 carries last week though he did not score. The biggest surprise there - Foster had not topped 100 yards in any game this year that was not against the Falcons. And his three touchdowns on the season were all against Atlanta. In week 11, Foster ran for 41 yards on nine carries while Stephen Davis covered just six yards on four runs.

The Panthers used Nick Goings for 12 runs last week and he had 63 yards as well. But in most games Goings has only had one or two carries and his role last week reflected how easily the Panthers ran and how in control of the game they were. Goings only had one carry for no gain in the previous meeting in Chicago.

Wide Receivers: Steve Smith certainly delivered on status as the most productive NFL wideout during the regular season when he gained 84 yards on ten receptions with a touchdown and added another score last week on a ten yard end around. Smith had a similar monster game in the last meeting with the Bears when he had 14 catches for 169 yards though he never scored. In that game, no wideout had more than 19 yards other than Smith. It would be hard to find any wideout in the league that is more "uncoverable" than Smith though he did have four games this year with less than 35 yards.

Tight Ends: Minimal impact here by any tight end. Michael Gaines had two catches for 15 yards in week 11 against the Bears and that is about average. Last week only Kris Mangum had a catch and that was for only 11 yards.

Match Against the Defense: While DeShaun Foster had a big game last week - and it was even against a team other than the Falcons - the Panthers only managed 47 rushing yards in Chicago last time and the Bears have allowed only one rushing score to an visiting runner this year (Gado - go figure). The best any runner has gained in Chicago has been 84 yards so expect low numbers from Foster here with no chance of a score.

Delhomme goes against a team that held him scoreless last time and intercepted two passes. The last six visiting teams have failed to score any passing touchdowns against the Bears in Chicago. And the Bears have had two weeks to prepare for a passing attack that is almost nothing more than Steve Smith. It worked well for Smith last time but resulted in no scores. And Delhomme was sacked seven times. The only hope that the Panthers have is to get up on the scoreboard via the pass and rely on their defense to keep the Bears at bay. If the Panthers are pushed into throwing most of the game again, it should be a virtual replay of last time with Delhomme getting blasted between connecting with Steve Smith.

Chicago Bears (11-5)
1 7-9 @WAS 10 17-9 SFO
2 38-6 DET 11 13-3 CAR
3 7-24 CIN 12 13-10 @TBB
4 Open Bye 13 19-7 GBP
5 10-20 @CLE 14 9-21 @PIT
6 28-3 MIN 15 16-3 ATL
7 10-6 BAL 16 24-17 @GBP
8 19-13 @DET 17 10-34 @MIN
9 20-17 @NOR . . .
CHI Projections Rush Catch Pass
QB Rex Grossman 0 0 180,1
RB Thomas Jones 70 10 0
TE Desmond Clark 0 10 0
WR Muhsin Muhammad 0 60,1 0
WR Justin Gage 0 60 0
WR Bernard Berrian 0 30 0
PK Robbie Gould 1 FG 2 XP -

Pregame Notes: The Bears come off a bye week and prepare to beat the same team they took down 13-3 in week 11. The difference this time? Rex Grossman is back and the passing game looks better. Cedric Benson is also healthy again and the Bears defense has been preparing for two weeks on how to keep the Panthers from getting that field goal they had last time.

Quarterback: Rex Grossman has only played in two games since returning and had 166 yards and one touchdown against the Packers. He already looks sharper than Kyle Orton had in his 14 starts this season. Grossman had 136 yards and one score in the previous meeting against the Bears.

Running Backs: Thomas Jones ran for 87 yards on 27 carries against the Panthers in week 11 and Adrian Peterson added 37 yards on only four runs. This time Cedric Benson is back after missing six weeks with a twisted knee that somehow did not tear any ligaments. Benson ran for 35 yards on nine carries in the final game of the season against the Vikings. Jones will be the primary runner and Peterson will be the primary back-up so Benson may not get much if any playing time this week.

Wide Receivers: Muhsin Muhammad goes against his former team again this year and he had six catches for 49 yards and one score in the previous match-up against the Panthers in week 11. Muhammad has been connecting well with Grossman in their brief time together this year, with Muhammad catching five passes for 58 yards and one score in week 16.

In that previous game, Justin Gage had 81 yards on seven receptions for his season best effort.

Tight Ends: The Bears have made minimal use of tight ends this season and in week 11, Desmond Clark had three passes but no catches against the Panthers. In the two games that Grossman has played this year, there have been no catches by tight ends as well.

Match Against the Defense: The Bears have always relied on their stifling defense to win games this year but this is a better team than what already won in week 11. The Panthers rush defense has also been top notch this year and has only allowed one rushing score in a road game since week three. There have not been any 100 yard games allowed on the road as well since that week three meeting with the Dolphins. Expect a similar output to last time from Jones that could be watered down some if they elect to use Benson as well. That likely won't happen unless the Bears get a decent lead though - no need to deviate from what got the Bears to this point.

The Panthers pass defense has been very good as well this year and has been holding road opponents to around 200 yards and no more than one passing score since week five. Look for Grossman to better the 136 yards Orton had against Carolina. His numbers will be predicated on how much the Bears are able to just rush the ball and control the clock but expect at least one passing score here. I like the chance for a defensive touchdown in this game.