Bears have sharper edge on defense since October loss to Seattle

Laugh all you want, but the Seattle Seahawks still are hanging around in the NFL playoffs, and their next date is with enigmatic quarterback Jay Cutler and the Chicago Bears.

The oddsmakers and betting public alike are not showing much respect for Seattle, which upset New Orleans last weekend. The Bears are 10-point home favorites, the second straight week the Seahawks are double-digit underdogs.

Chicago has used a ball-hawking defense to earn the NFC’s No. 2 seed. Seattle, 7-9 in the regular season, has no obvious outstanding characteristics.

But the Seahawks did knock off the Bears 23-20 in Chicago on Oct. 17, as Cutler was sacked six times.

The common belief is the Bears’ offensive line has turned a corner since that game. It might be a misnomer. Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz changed his schemes to keep Cutler from getting hammered. The Bears are more willing to give the ball to running back Matt Forte, and Cutler has been taking three-step drops and releasing the ball quicker than he was in the first half of the season.

This will be Cutler’s first playoff appearance, and he could not have landed in a better spot to get his feet wet.

Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said he’s not surprised the Bears are laying double digits despite Seattle’s strong showing against the Saints.

“Chicago is very underrated, in my opinion,” Kornegay said. “There really hasn’t been much respect shown for the Seahawks throughout the week. They used the ‘us against the world’ mentality to beat the Saints, but winning in the playoffs on the road is a daunting task. The Bears will not overlook this team.”

Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck played well last week, but the Bears’ defense provides a stiffer challenge.

The total has bounced from 41½ to 43. The game-time temperature is expected to be about 20 degrees, with little or no wind. Don’t think because it will be cold that the Bears gain an edge. New England blew them out in a blizzard, and they were lethargic in the cold at Green Bay two weeks ago.

The biggest question to be answered is can the Seahawks shake the memories of getting pummeled on the road on a regular basis? They went 2-6 away from home, losing all six by double digits.

A look at today’s AFC matchup:

■ New York Jets at New England (-9): Jets coach Rex Ryan has been in the news, and a lot of it has to do with feet. Ryan has continually put his foot in his mouth while trying to fire up his team for the Patriots, who are favored by 8½ to 9 points at Las Vegas books.

Ryan’s antics are part of a master plan to deflect attention from his players and in a small way do whatever he can to distract the opposition. So be it. What was moronic was cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s chirping about New England quarterback Tom Brady.

The last time these AFC East foes hooked up, it was a travesty for the Jets, who were drilled 45-3 in New England in early December. Nearly forgotten was New York’s 28-14 victory over the Patriots in Week 2.

The case can be made for this being one of Bill Belichick’s best coaching jobs in New England. The team was reinvented with high-maintenance wide receiver Randy Moss’ departure. The Patriots developed two rookie tight ends into valuable weapons, especially in the red zone. Brady is a big-game player, and the combination of Brady and Belichick always strikes fear into or inspires faith in bettors.

“There have been many differing opinions for this game,” Kornegay said. “It’s great for the fans that this is the final game of the weekend, but for the books this will be a very big decision. At game’s end, I’ll have less hair than I did when it kicked off.”

Last week, the Jets dictated the flow and style of the game in Indianapolis, frustrating Peyton Manning from start to finish in New York’s 17-16 upset of the Colts.

A similar approach by the Jets is unlikely to work against the Patriots, who constantly attack on offense, regardless of the opposition.

The total is 44½, and this could be a correlated parlay. If the Jets are breathing late, it should be a low-scoring affair.

Brady and the Patriots covered the total by themselves in the previous blowout in New England.

Brian Blessing, host of Sportsbook Radio on ESPN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM), can be reached at blessproductions@yahoo.com.

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