By Steve Silverman
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The Giants are going to be there.
The combination of Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin means the Giants are going to be in contention at the end of the season. The pass rush is better than any team in the league when they really want to turn it on.
But just who are the Giants going to have to overcome if they are going to defend their NFC Championship and go on to the Super Bowl again.
Throughout much of the early season, the thought was that the San Francisco 49ers were the best team in the NFC and they would prove it in a mid-October meeting with the Giants.
The Niners had their shot at home with the memories of last year’s stinging overtime defeat in the NFC championship still fresh. But instead of taking it to the Giants, they lacked the cohesiveness, quarterback play and all-around skill to hang in for a 15-round fight.
The 49ers are not going to fade away, but they have much to prove when facing the best opponents. It doesn’t seem likely that they will overcome Alex Smith’s inconsistency against the best opponents.
But the Giants have plenty to worry about.
There is a big-time opponent beckoning, one that just may bring out the best in the Giants during the postseason.
The Chicago Bears and the Giants have met in many historic meetings. Most of the most memorable games have been many decades ago when the Bears were coaches by George Halas, one of the NFL founders and a legendary figure in the history of the sport.
The Giants and the Bears have only met in two postseason games since Halas’s Bears beat the Giants 14-10 in the 1963 NFL Championship Game at Wrigley Field. That location tells you it really was ancient times in the NFL.
The legendary 1985 Bears beat the Giants 21-0 that became famous for punter Sean Landeta’s punting whiff in the wind at Soldier Field. The Bears would go on to their only Super Bowl triumph.
Five years later, the Giants spanked the Bears 31-3, using a defense and a running game led by Ottis Anderson to stop Chicago and frustrate Mike Ditka. Those Giants would go on to beat the Bills in Super Bowl XXV, perhaps the most exciting Super Bowl ever played.
But now the Bears have joined the modern NFL as they have a full-throttle passing game led by Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. The Bears have been unable to put together a real passing game that could make big plays for years, but the acquisition of Marshall means that they can stretch any defense.
They also have a key weapon in versatile Matt Forte. He runs well between the tackles, can get to the outside, catch passes and block. He is not Walter Payton, but he can do a little bit of everything and he is Cutler’s security blanket.
But the real reason the Bears may be good enough to challenge the Giants is the defense. While Brian Urlacher is still manning the middle linebacker spot every week, he is not the kind of player he once was. A balky knee has robbed him of his quickness. He can run downhill to make a tackle, but he can’t go sideline to sideline anymore and he can barely fight off a block.
But the Bears have Julius Peppers, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman all operating at full speed and they are formidable. Briggs and Tillman have had back-to-back games with interceptions for touchdowns and they are nearly always positioned perfectly.
In a league full of shoddy tackling, Briggs is a form-tackling machine.
But it’s Peppers who puts the fear of God in opponents. Even the best tackles need help in keeping him away from the quarterback.
That trio will be on display Monday night when they host the Detroit Lions on Monday Night.
The Bears and Giants look like the two NFC heavyweights. Both may have one or two hiccups along the way, but a titanic struggle in the postseason between these two dominant teams would make for a most memorable chapter in their history.
Do you think the Chicago Bears are the Giants’ biggest threat to heading back to the Super Bowl? Let us know your thoughts.