Saintly Offense Meets Bearish D

NFC Championship game: New Orleans at Chicago

Sunday, Jan. 21, 2007 3:00 p.m. ET

Cinderella meets the Monsters of the Midway.

Were this on a neutral field or in the Super Bowl, the Saints actually might be favored even though the Bears won three more games. Drew Brees is the darling of the playoffs. He finished second to LaDainian Tomlinson for MVP, and he made a miraculous comeback from a complete tear of the labrum muscle in his right shoulder.

In a postseason that has been tough on quarterbacks, Brees is the best so far. He went 20-of-32 for 243 yards and had a 96.2 quarterback rating against the Eagles on Saturday. Can the story continue?

Home-field advantage for the Bears can't be underrated. They were the NFC's best home team with a 6-2 record. They have the advantage of an open-air stadium in a cold-weather environment. The Saints play their home games in a dome, and questions remain about how the weather will affect their explosive passing attack and high-scoring offense.

The pressure is clearly on the Bears in this game. As a top seed, being a runner-up won't be accepted. It's a defining game for coach Lovie Smith and Rex Grossman, the playoff quarterback under the most pressure.

Grossman wasn't great last week against the Seahawks, but he did enough to win the game. That's all that is being asked of quarterbacks this postseason. He completed 21 of 38 passes for 282 yards. His willingness to go downfield creates excitement or panic every time he throws.

It's said championships are won on defense, and Chicago has the clear advantage there. Or does it? The Bears finished the regular season fifth in defense with 294.1 yards allowed and were third in points allowed at 15.9 points a game.

But since defensive tackle Tommie Harris went down with a knee injury, opponents haven't had much trouble putting 20 points on Chicago. With the shaky nature of Grossman and the chance he could be forced into turnovers, the Bears can't afford to get into a high-scoring game with Brees and the Saints.

They also can't afford to let New Orleans jump out to a substantial lead. The Chicago defense is undersized. With the lead, the Saints could wear down the Bears' defense with running backs Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush, allowing Brees to set up some play-action passes.

Bears fans aren't thinking about the negatives, though. They finally got over the hump by beating the Seahawks in overtime Sunday. They've tasted victory, but they want at least one more.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

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