MONDAY MORNING FALLOUT: Huskies take care of business; Cougs shaky in another close loss

OK, so it's actually Tuesday. Sue me. I don't have a lot of time to write, so let's cut to the chase.


It was a wild weekend for the Pac-10, but two clear winners emerged. One of them was Washington, who beat then-No. 7 Oregon and Oregon State at home to keep their fading NCAA Tournament hopes alive. Never mind the fact that Oregon played without Pac-10 Player of the Year frontrunner Aaron Brooks -- it was a much needed win for a program that had taken a beating the previous weekend at WSU.

The wins don't put UW back in the NCAA picture yet -- especially with LSU, the Huskies' lone big non-conference win, absolutely falling apart -- but it was a good start to the most critical stretch of the season.

That said, we'll know in the next three weeks whether this team is serious about getting back onto the bubble. The Huskies travel to the Arizona schools this week, and a sweep is not out of the question. The Sun Devils are terrible, and the reeling No. 20 Wildcats have lost five of their last seven, including a blowout loss at home to No. 3 North Carolina. Then UW returns home for three against Cal, No. 23 Stanford and No. 18 WSU before traveling to No. 7 Pitt. Rest assured, if the Huskies go through that stretch without going at least 4-2, they'll be out on Selection Sunday.

As for the Cougs, their rankings show the kind of respect the Pac-10 is getting, as a good win over OSU and a heartbreaking overtime loss to Oregon was good enough to move them up in both polls (No. 18 AP, No. 17 Coaches). That said, I'm getting a little bit disturbed by the Cougars' lack of ability to finish close games.

I know this team "arrived" about a year early, and that our current expectations might be reaching unrealistic levels given where this team was a year ago. But you hate to see the close ones slip through your fingers. This team is now 2-3 in games decided by four points or less, including three-point losses to ranked teams (UCLA, Stanford and Oregon). Additionally, one of those wins was against Arizona after blowing a seven-point lead in the final two minutes.

Granted, Oregon needed a bank in 3-pointer and a little help from the refs to pull this one off, but I'd like to see this team take a moderate lead against a quality opponent into the final four minutes and hang on for a comfortable victory at some point.

The loss to the Ducks was a bit of a blow to the Cougs' RPI, dropping them to No. 34 in Jerry Palm's rankings. Don't be surprised if they've moved down a bit seedings-wise when the latest projections come out. Braketologist Joe Lunardi had them on a No. 5 seed before when they were No. 24 in the RPI; expect them to now be on a 6 or 7 line.

It would be nice for the Cougs to really get back on track this week with a sweep on the road, but methinks that trip to Tucson on Thursday looms as a bit of a trap. Something tells me the wounded Wildcats aren't going to roll over after suffering the worst home loss in Lute Olson's tenure at U of A.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga continues to win, but hardly look impressive doing so. The Bulldogs have climbed back up into first place in the WCC, but the game that really matters this week is their trip to Palo Alto tomorrow to take on newly-ranked Stanford. This is the kind of quality road win the committee likes to see should the Zags get upset in the WCC tournament and miss out on their conference's automatic bid.

Eastern Washington continues to yo-yo up and down in the hypercompetitive Big Sky, where seven of the nine teams are within two games of first place. The Eagles missed out on a great opportunity to draw into a first place tie when it lost to now-first place Weber State by nine on the road. Two more games on the road finish up EWU's toughest stretch of the season. The Eagles then get a chance to gain some momentum heading into the Big Sky tournament with four straight at home to finish the regular season.

The other big winner of the weekend was Stanford. Bubble teams always are looking for that signature win to hang their hats on, and the Cardinal certainly grabbed one of those with its come-from-behind upset of UCLA. Lunardi said he thought Stanford would be a team that straddled the bubble most of the season, but if the Cardinal can avoid the bad loss the rest of the way -- such as tomorrow against the Zags who, for better or worse, are not a quality RPI team this season -- it should be in good shape to make it the sixth Pac-10 team in the tournament.

What has happened to Arizona? I know Marcus Williams was hurt, but my goodness, that loss to UNC was embarrassing. The Wildcats absolutely quit on that game, looking completely outclassed by the Tar Heels. One has to wonder at this point if U of A -- which only goes six or seven deep -- is hitting a wall with their starters having logged so many minutes. Let's see how they respond to the Cougs, who already have beaten the Wildcats once.

Everyone else seems to be cruising along adequately, as the top six teams in the conference are all within two games of the lead. The big question is this: Would it be possible to get seven teams in the dance? In my mind, there's only one way that happens -- if either Cal or Washington goes on a tear, and the other goes in the toilet. Otherwise, there just won't be enough wins to go around.


UPDATE: Testimony from Judiciary Committee available online

Testimony on House Bill 1307, which I wrote about here, was heard Friday morning in the House Judiciary committee, and TVW has made audio of the testimony available online. Real Audio users can find audio of the testimony here, while Windows Media Player users can find it here. You also can download an MP3 of it here, or get it added as an iTunes podcast by clicking here. The hearing also reportedly will be broadcast on TVW Sunday night (time to be determined, but you can find the daily schedule here). UPDATE: It's showing tonight (late Sunday night/early Monday morning) at 1 a.m.

I was a part of that testimony, along with one of my students and numerous colleagues. It lasted about 90 minutes total, and those in support of the bill far outnumbered those against it. If you're finding yourself on the fence as to whether to support the bill with your legislators, please listen to at least some of the testimony from this emotional committee meeting.

Additionally, The News Tribune will be hosting a forum centered around this bill next Saturday, Feb. 3. You can click on the flier on the right for more information. It's free, and the information will be great!


Taking a break to stand up for a worthy cause: Student Press Rights

MANY OF YOU WHO READ this blog know me personally, and know what a passion I have for student journalism.

As the adviser of a high school newspaper, I'm incredibly excited about a bill that's going to go before the Washington state House Judiciary committee tomorrow morning, House Bill 1307. It's a measure that would protect student journalists (both high school and college) from censorship by their administrations except in instances of obscenity, libel or the threat of substantial disruption of normal school operations. It also would remove legal liability for the content from administrators (as long as they don't interfere with the content) and protect advisers who refuse to censor student work.

This bill is something that has needed to go on the books in Washington for a long time. There are many adults out there (including well-meaning administrators) who are afraid of teenagers who can think for themselves. But I'm here to tell you that it's under precisely those circumstances that kids do their best -- and most responsible -- work.

I see it everyday, teaching in an environment where kids work without the threat of adminstrative censorship. They produce a great publication, as you can see from the cover on the right.

If you're a resident of the state of Washington, I encourage you to check out the bill here. You can read the text of the bill here (it's a really short bill -- only like four pages), and read an analysis of the bill here (which will give you an even more brief overview of the bill).

If you count yourself a supporter of First Amendment rights and believe our democracy operates better when members of the media -- which high school journalists most certainly are, as the Supreme Court has affirmed -- get as little interference as possible from the government officials (school administrators) they cover, please consider taking the time to write your district's legislators in support of this bill.

It's simple to do! Find your legislator by visiting here, and typing in your address. Then click on the legislator's home page, and click on "e-mail" under the photo. Fill out the forms and click send -- it's that simple.

If you count yourself among those who aren't sure that high school students should have these kinds of freedoms, please visit this site, and click on the audio player for a simple, but eloquent, argument for this bill.

There is no reason to fear this bill -- six other states have similar legislation on their books (including California) and students aren't running around libeling everyone or publishing smut. (I promise.) The only thing we have to lose is the development of a better democracy made up of critically thinking citizens.

If you have any questions or concerns, or would like me to clarify anything with the bill, you can contact me here. Thanks for taking the time to read.

FYI: WSU, UW media packets for weekend games

ONE OF THE COOL THINGS about the Internet is that information is readily available to anyone -- even information that used to be privileged.

Both WSU and UW make their weekend media packets, which used to only go to those reporters covering the games, available to the public. They're full of cool stats, tidbits and other stuff. Ever wonder where TV guys get those snappy little nuggets about players, like what their favorite food is, or how many games in a row they've made at least one basket? They get it here. (Sorry guys, your secret is now out.)

I sometimes like to print them out before I sit down to watch a game. But then again, I'm a geek.

Anyway, if it's something you might find cool, here's where you can find this week's in advance of the Oregon schools' trip through Washington:

UW fans find yours here. WSU fans find it here.

A lot of stuff doesn't change much from week to week, but it's always fun to look at if you're an information hound.


Bracketology update: Lunardi bumps Cougs, Zags still in

ESPN's Joe Lunardi updated his Bracketology projection today, giving WSU a pretty good upgrade to a No. 5 seed after the win against Washington on Saturday. He previously had the Cougs on a No. 7 line.

In other news, he's got Gonzaga still in the field as an at-large, although now as a No. 11 seed. If the Zags take care of business int he WCC, you'll see that number climb some, but they're not going to skyrocket up the RPI with the damage simply playing WCC teams will do to their strength of schedule. They need to beat the decent RPI teams left on their schedule -- Stanford (No. 37, Jan. 31) and Memphis (No. 15, Feb. 17) -- and hope like crazy that the teams they've played from power RPI conferences win lots of games. It'll really help if the teams they beat (North Carolina, Texas) can win.

Lunardi apparently wasn't as impressed by Stanford's split at the Oregon schools as I was, dropping the Cardinal from the bracket as one of his second four out. Not sure how that works, but that's why he works for ESPN and I have a blog on Blogspot. That leaves the Pac-10 with five bids, and all still are pretty comfortable: UCLA (No. 1), Oregon (No. 2), Arizona (No. 5), WSU (No. 5) and USC (No. 9).

Jerry Palm updates his bracket on Fridays, I believe, so I'll be checking it out then.


Monday Morning Fallout: Cougs move up in both polls, Pac-10 picking up steam

THIS IS THE BEGINNING of what I hope to be a regular Monday feature: The Monday Morning Fallout. With the Pac-10 schedule the way it is (two games, Thursday/Saturday or Thursday/Sunday) and with the new polls coming out Monday morning, it seems like as good a time as any to size up the state of college basketball in the state of Washington and in the Pac-10.

One quick note: When talking about field projections by Palm and Lunardi, they're telling us what they think the field would be if the season ended today -- not what they think the field will be in March. It's useful both to show what work teams need to do to get in and to show how secure a team is in its performance so far. It evolves tremendously as the season moves along, but I'll tell you that these guys are usually pretty spot on by Selection Sunday.


Fresh off their dismantling of the Huskies on Saturday, the Cougars have moved up in both major polls, climbing to No. 18 in the coaches' poll and jumping back into the AP poll at No. 20. Additionally, CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish has his own rankings in which the Cougs are No. 12. In ESPN's Power 16 (voted on last Thursday), a number of their "experts" have WSU in their top 16.

The love doesn't stop there. The Cougs are up to No. 24 in Jerry Palm's RPI rankings (generally considered the closest approximation of the Tournament committee's own secretive list), and his latest projection has the Cougars in the Tournament field as a No. 5 seed. Joe Lunardi's "Bracketology" has the Cougs in as No. 7 seed. Both projections came before Saturday's win.

And how about this from ESPN's Andy Katz to wrap things up: "The atmosphere at Wazzou (sic) looked like it could have been at any big-time college basketball arena. That's saying something for a program that practically had to beg for fans in previous years. The Cougars actually have a realistic shot to win the Pac-10 and get a top-two or three seed in the NCAAs."

Gonzaga, in the meantime, is surprisingly sitting squarely on the bubble. Obviously, the Bulldogs can still win the WCC, but as of right now, Palm has them out of the Tournament, while Lunardi has them in as an at-large No. 9 seed -- generally one of the final spots given out by the committee. Their RPI stinks -- No. 57 despite playing the 27th ranked schedule in the country -- and they're currently mired in a four-way tie atop the WCC after a stunning loss to St. Mary's. The committee claims that it doesn't look at past performance in making decisions, so if the Bulldogs want to avoid sweating it out on Selection Sunday, they need to pick up the pace.

Washington better turn things around fast. The Huskies aren't projected to be in the field right now by anyone, and they don't just need to start winning -- their No. 83 RPI number says they better start getting some good wins. Their strength of schedule is still high enough (No. 63) to suggest that they can climb back up the rankings, but they better get with it. A win against an Oregon team that will be playing without Aaron Brooks would go a long way for this team.

Eastern Washington, behind the best guard in the state -- Rodney Stuckey -- still has hope of returning to the dance. The Big Sky is a one-bid conference, but the Eagles have proved their right in the mix with a 4-4 record. Never heard of Stuckey? Too bad -- he's averaging 23.4 points, 5.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds. If you get a chance to see him, do it. He's awesome.


It was a good week for the Pac-10, tournament wise. All of the teams in tournament mix performed well, which is what this conference needs: If the bubble teams just beat each other up, the Pac-10 won't get those six teams it dreams of. UCLA swept a home set with the Arizona schools, as did USC; Oregon swept its home set against the Bay Area schools; and WSU beat up Washington. Stanford helped its cause by picking up a road win at Oregon State, and trust me, any road win is a good road win in this conference.

Arizona was the only potential tourney team to take a beating this week, as its conference losing streak was extended to three and the Wildcats now find themselves 2 1/2 games back in the conference standings.

What it adds up to is five "comfortable" bids for the conference -- UCLA, Oregon, Arizona, Washington State and USC -- with a sixth team apparently sitting on the bubble. In fact, none of those five "locks" are lower than a No. 6 seed in Palm's more recent projection, which featured only five Pac-10 teams. Lunardi had Stanford as one of his last four in the field, which probably didn't change after last weekend.

For a full look at the Pac-10 schedule this weekend, click here, where you'll find the Pac-10 weekly release on Monday night.


Washington state has a new No. 1 -- and it's Washington State

Just returned from Pullman a few hours ago, and I still haven't stopped smiling.

My wife and I were two of the lucky 11,618 to witness the greatest beatdown by a WSU basketball team in the history of the WSU-UW rivalry, a 75-47 thrashing so complete in its dominance that there is literally no doubt that the Washington State Cougars are far and away the best college basketball team in the state.

During those two hours of pure ecstasy, I noticed a few things. No, this isn't going to just be a Cougar lovefest -- keep reading, Husky fans ... I've got a few thoughts on your team, too! (And, yes, they go beyond, "You stink." I promise. I'll even bold the headers so you can figure out where to skip to!)

Thoughts on the Cougars:

  • This was the easiest bet I've ever won. My friend, Luke Zilly, came into my classroom on Friday, proclaiming, "Huskies by six!"

    Sensing a sucker for a bad wager, I said, "Does that mean you'll give me the Cougs and six points?" His response: "Five-and-a-half." His wager? "A latte Monday morning." My response? "Let's make a latte everyday next week."

    Hey, Luke: Guess I didn't really need those 5 1/2 points after all! By the way, I like my coffee from Big Foot Java -- specifically a 16 oz. triple vanilla bean latte with whipped cream. Thanks!

  • This team is not a fluke. This team is really, really good -- and getting better.

    Early in the year, the Cougs needed a lot of second-half magic to pull off some wins, including a late flurry to beat Gonzaga, making fans wonder how genuine their results were. Even as friends approached me for some Cougar love, I said, "Let's wait until the conference season -- the Pac-10 is really tough this year."

    I thought this team was for real after it beat USC on the road following a close loss to UCLA -- after all, this wouldn't have been the first Cougar team to jump up for a game and bite a good opponent. But back-to-back great road games? That showed this team was special.

    Sweeping the Arizona schools at home confirmed it (as did the acompanying national ranking), and splitting a tough road trip to the Bary Area in the newfound spotlight bolstered it. Wiping up the floor with the team that's been the best in the state over the past three years? That just put an exclamation point on it.

    These guys play complete team basketball. It starts with their great team defense that's complemented sensationally by their sound team offense. They're as versatile as any team in the country with what they can do offensively and defensively, and Tony Bennett is proving that he knows how to put this team in its best position to win.

    Don't be surprised if these guys make more than just an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They have the tools to make a run.

  • This team has talent. I think the temptation for a lot of casual fans is to think that this is a team getting by on guts and guile. While that certainly has something to do with it, this is not a roster devoid of potential NBA players. Two in particular stick out to me.

    Kyle Weaver is making a strong case for All-America consideration. Think I'm exaggerating? The 6-foot-6, 201-pound guard is averaging 11.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks, all while acting as WSU's primary ball-handler. I'd love to know how many players in the country are averaging 10 points, five rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block. My guess is he's the only one.

    He's got great basketball smarts -- did you see that block of Brockman? And the wraparound pass late to set up a dunk? -- and also is an above-average defender. I said early in the year that this team feeds off of Weaver's play, and he's proving me right. His first two years, he would disappear for long stretches, playing passively at times. His confidence has grown immeasurably this year, and he is the unquestioned leader of this team. Husky fans will note he plays an awful lot like Brandon Roy ...

    Ivory Clark is a solid 6-foot-6, 220 pounds, but with a 7-foot-3 wingspan. Although he has a limited offensive game, he can D-up in both the post and on the perimeter and is extremely athletic. If he can improve his rebounding -- he's only averaging 4.9 a game, third on the team -- he definitely could find his way onto someone's roster.
Thoughts on the Huskies:
  • Brace yourselves, Husky fans. This might not get much better this year. This team has A LOT of flaws. The interior play is strong -- having Spencer Hawes yesterday might have made a difference (although probably not 28 points difference) -- but the perimeter play is borderline horrific.

    Yes, UW has a plethora of talent, with probably three guys (minimum) who one day will at least make it to an NBA training camp. But until they get steadier guard play, they're going nowhere in a guard-oriented conference. Lorenzo Romar is getting virtually no offense out of his point guards, with off-guard Ryan Appleby providing the lone scoring threat from the outside. But he's a one-trick pony, and the fact that he can't play point guard -- if he could, he'd still be at Florida -- leads to the Huskies' biggest problem: As bad as their guards are offensively, they're worse defensively.

    I've gotten to watch this team up close on two occasions (the first was against Arizona), and this quite possibly is one of the worst defensive teams I've ever seen. Any team with solid guard play can score virtually at will. (Which, by the way, is how Washington got that "impressive" win against LSU -- the inside guys shut down Big Baby Davis and dared the Tigers' guards to beat them, which they couldn't do.) Even with Hawes in the lineup, they're not much better. He's slow on his defensive rotations and a weak shot blocker for a 7-footer. He really should be able to get 1.9 blocks per game (his current average) almost by accident.

    When Romar calls me for advice, this is what I'll tell him: Take a page out of the Cougars' book. Slow the game down. Minimize possessions. Pound the ball inside over and over again. I know a leopard doesn't change its spots, and Washington is a running team. But sometimes as a coach you have to put your team in the best position to win. They can't win this way. (Mark my words: If they try to run with Oregon, they'll get killed. Watch.)

  • It's amazing what a difference confidence makes. The Cougars have looked cool and calm in the face of adversity all season -- a product, I suppose, of these players getting their collective face kicked in repeatedly over the past two years. Meanwhile, every time these Huskies have left the cozy confines of Hec-Ed, they look lost, like a bunch of ... well ... freshmen and sophomores who haven't learned how to play through tough times.

    X's and O's aside, the biggest thing Washington lacks is that swagger they've had over the past few years. There's simply no confidence. The Huskies lack a leader to will them to victory, and while Jon Brockman did his best on Saturday, he just doesn't have the ball in his hands enough to make a tangible difference.

    I believe the blame rests in the Huskies cupcake preseason schedule. Hindsight is 20/20, but this team needed some adversity, even if it was simulated by going on the road to an inferior opponent, or going to a neutral-site to play a tough team. I know the theory was to build the confidence of a young team, but all playing all those games at home did was build a house-of-cards confidence, which was blown down with that first trip to The Kennel.

    Obviously, the question is whether the Huskies can form that confidence in time to squeeze into the Dance. With five of their next seven at home, they've got a chance to save their season.
That's all for now. I'll just go ahead and go back to basking in my glow.


Loss to Bears a fitting end to Seahawks' maddening season

GIVEN A FEW DAYS to reflect on the Seahawks' loss to Chicago, I've come to the conclusion that I'm extremely thankful for one thing.

I made it out of the season alive.

On more than one occasion this year, I found myself turning to my dad or my wife, who I shared season tickets with, or to a friend who joined us at the game, or to a buddy on the phone, declaring that this team would end up being the death of me.

I kid you not: With each passing week -- as every great play seemed to be offset by a dropped pass, blown coverage or missed blocking assignment -- I truly thought my heart might actually stop beating at some point.

Alas, my ticker's still ticking. And perhaps its fitting that the defending NFC champs lost in a way that became all too familiar this season: With an inability to make a big play at a big time that inevitably will win the big game.

Mike Holmgren began the season preaching to his players that this was a new team, that the accomplishments of last year were in the past, that this year's team would need to forge it's own way.

And while casual observers point to the plethora of injuries that plagued the team throughout the season, this team was missing more than just talent on the field. Whatever IT is, the Seahawks had IT last year -- and didn't have IT this year. It's like Fat Bastard is sitting around somewhere laughing with a bottle of the Seahawks' mojo.

The contrast between the two seasons is striking, and not just in the 10-8 overall record. Take, for example the enduring images of 2005:
  • Shaun Alexander converting short-yardage play after short-yardage play as the offensive line repeatedly blew open huge holes in the running game.

  • Matt Hasselbeck orchestrating the passing game to perfection, throwing 26 touchdowns, taking only 27 sacks and giving up only nine interceptions.

  • The defense coming up with big plays at big times, like when Jordan Babineaux intercepted Drew Bledsoe in the waning minutes to complete an improbable comeback against the Cowboys.

  • The defense bending but rarely breaking, rebuffing opponents in the red zone, giving up field goals while the offense piled up tourchdowns.

Contrast that to these images from the game against the Bears, a microcosm of the entire 2006 season:

  • Alexander failing to convert a critical 4th-and-1 after Hasselbeck bobbles the ball because his second-year center snapped it a fraction of a second too late.

  • Hasselbeck throwing yet another dumb interception -- his 18th of the year in 14 games. Hasselbeck taking another sack -- the 52nd of the year -- on a critical third down play as three offensive linemen stand around with their hands on their hips.

  • Babineaux letting a sure interception -- which might have sent Rex Grossman into a tailspin -- slip through his hands on the first drive.

  • Thomas Jones running through gaping holes and arm tackles for touchdowns of nine and seven yards.

And there it is in a nutshell. The loss that ended the Seahawks' season was like so many others this year. Did they make some plays? Sure they did -- otherwise they would have been blown out the way they were in October. Did they show a lot of heart in trying to overcome an epic number of injuries? Sure they did. Were they a better team by the end of the season than they were at the beginning, or even the middle? No doubt.

Am I proud as heck of my team for how it fought, figuring out a way to get into the playoffs and then improbably win a game when it got there? Absolutely.

But in a league where the rules are designed for every team to go 8-8, making some plays won't win you a championship, no matter how much heart you show. When there was a critical play to be made in 2006, this team more often than not found a way to not make the play, and it's those handful of plays that separates 13-3 and in the Super Bowl from 9-7 and out in the divisional round.

Can the Seahawks recapture that mojo? I think they can. As Mike Holmgren put it, "It is highly unlikely we will have as many injuries next year as we did this year. We never lined up with the team I wanted to line up with." The Seahawks will have money to spend in free agency, and have proved they can be an attractive destination for players seeking a championship.

So we say goodbye to 2006 and hello to 2007, believing that better times still lay ahead -- and that a heart attack isn't lingering around the corner.


Five reasons I feel good about the Seahawks chances tomorrow

Since I took a couple of months off from posting to the blog, I figure I better get my rear in gear and post at least one more solid analysis of the Seahawks before their season potentially comes to an end tomorrow.

However, I have to say that I actually feel pretty good about the Seahawks' chances against the Bears in Soldier field. Forget about the easy and obvious tangibles commonly cited by those hacks at ESPN -- the potential performance of Sexy Rexy easily is the most overplayed angle in the 2007 playoffs -- I have five more subtle reasons why I think a 9-7 team can go into a 13-3 team's stadium and come away a winner.

Here they are:

5. The collective angst of Chicago Bears nation. If there's any city that knows about professional sports-related angst, it's the city with a baseball team that has never been to the World Series, a football team that had never reached the Super Bowl until last year, and a basketball team that hasn't won a championship in 28 years. However, I'm not sure I've seen anything quite like what's coming out of Chicago these days.

Has there ever been a 13-3 team -- and fan base -- that appears less confident heading into a potential playoff run than this one? Yes, the Bears won four of their last six regular season games, but in hardly inspiring fashion. Their "dominant" defense gave up an average of 26.25 points in its last four games, and their quarterback that seemed a lock for the Pro Bowl -- remember those commercials where Rex Grossman and Muhsin Muhammed promise to vote for each other? -- denegrated into one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.

Add in the fact that the Bears haven't won their first playoff game since 1995, you've got one nervous football community.

Conversely, the Seahawks are loose as loose can be. They're playing their best football since week three and being told that they don't even deserve to be in this game. They know they've got nothing to lose; just ask Matt Hasselbeck.

4. It's going to be warmer in Chicago than it is in Seattle. When was the last time a team not from Green Bay went to Chicago for a playoff game and the weather actually was better than where it came from? Check out the weather report for Chicago at game time -- it can't hold a candle to flash floods, 70 mph winds, snow and ice. This is a West Coast Offense that has been playing in East Coast weather, and "light wintery mix" that's predicted for kickoff isn't likely to have any more than a negligible effect for the visitors.

3. The offensive line is playing the best it has all season. A lot of comparisons have been made in the mainstream media to the previous game between these two teams, and casual analysts most often cite the presence of Shaun Alexander and Jerramy Stevens as the biggest offensive difference for the Seahawks between then and now. Those analysts are wrong. The biggest difference is that Seattle is starting an offensive line that has produced -- by far -- the team's best results of the season.

The combination of Walter Jones, Rob Sims, Chris Spencer, Chris Gray and Sean Locklear now will be making its fourth start in the past five games, and is much more athletic (and comfortable) than the one that traveled to Chicago in October. Jones is healthier, Spencer is playing his natural position much more effectively now than he played guard earlier in the season, and Sims is a physically powerful presence. Nevermind that before that first Chicago game, Gray and Locklear hadn't practiced all week because of knee injuries.

The result? The Seahawks are putting up their best rushing stats of the season, and giving up fewer sacks. Don't worry too much about those 69 paltry yards against Dallas; the Seahawks have always had trouble running against the Cowboys. The more telling result is the 140 yards Alexander put up against San Diego, the seventh-ranked rushing defense in the NFL. Here's to betting he can get 100 against the Bears.

2. Tommie Harris is wearing sweatpants on the sideline.
Seahawks beat writer Mike Sando went back this past week and watched the first matchup, and came to the conclusion that Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris brought disruptive pressure almost at will up the middle of the Seahawks' offensive line, taking them out of just about everything they wanted to do.

While Seattle almost undoubtedly would have blocked him better the second time around, the fact that he isn't there is the single biggest reason why the Bears defense isn't what it was midway through the season. You just cannot underestimate the impact a defensive lineman has on a game when he's consistently beating your guys up front, especially on a pass rush. Chicago likes to rush just four and drop seven. It gives linebackers such as Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs the freedom to just run around and take people's heads off, both on the run and in pass coverage.

Harris' injury -- and, to a lesser extent, Tank Johnson's legal troubles -- limits the ability of Chicago's defense to do what it wants to do. The effectiveness of that defensive line is the reason why Hasselbeck found such small passing lanes in the first meeting.

1. The Seahawks have the better coach. "Any Given Sunday" is the mantra of the NFL during the regular season, but that flies out the window more often than not in the postseason. In no other sport do the guys pulling the strings have as much influence over the outcome of a game than professional football, and if there's one thing I've learned watching Mike Holmgren and defensive coordinator John Marshall over the past two seasons, it's that they are absolute masters at exploiting weaknesses in their opponents and masking deficiencies in their own units.

Think back. Anybody remember how, last season, Darrell Jackson and Bobby Engram went down, and the pass-happy offense morphed into the No. 1 scoring unit in the NFL behind a running back who would become the league's MVP? I do.

Anybody remember how the Seahawks completely shut down Steve Smith in the playoffs last season? Anybody remember how the Seahawks lost three of their top four cornerbacks, yet still figured out a way to beat Dallas? I do.

Anybody remember how a team lost the second-most starter games in the NFL in 2006 and still figured out a way to get into the playoffs? I do!

The bottom line is this: Mike Holmgren has been to three Super Bowls. Lovie Smith has never won a playoff game as a head coach. That's enough of an advantage for me, and the reason the Seahawks will win, 20-17.

So there you have it, Seahawks fans. Fear not -- your team is destined for victory.

Or, at the very least, maybe you won't worry so much heading into the game ...


New post coming later today! (Finally!)

Wow, I've taken a seriously long amount of time off. Sorry for those of you who have been awaiting my thoughts on things such as the Seahawks, Husky basketball, and, yes -- the No. 22 college hoops team in the country, the Washington State University Cougars.

So, be looking for a new post in the next 24 hours -- I'll give you my take on the NFL playoffs.