LAKE FOREST, Ill. – The Chicago Bears know firsthand how dangerous the Seattle Seahawks can be.
Yes, the 8-9 Seahawks, the first team with a losing record to win a division.
Seattle came away with a win in its visit to Soldier Field earlier this season, and Chicago must be more prepared when the Seahawks return for Sunday's divisional playoff game.
"We know what happened in the first game," Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said of the surprising 23-20 loss on Oct. 24.
Losing to the Seahawks again would be a huge letdown for the Bears (11-5), who won the NFC North and gained a first-round bye. Even though Seattle upset the defending Super Bowl champion Saints last week, the Bears are taking nothing for granted.
They saw Seattle's Marshawn Lynch running through and tossing aside at least a half-dozen defenders on a touchdown run in a 41-36 win over New Orleans at Qwest Field. They saw Matt Hasselbeck come up big, throwing four TD passes and winning over the fans after getting booed off the field in his previous home start against Atlanta. He sat out the Rams game with a hip injury.
"The fact that the expectations have been very low for us in these games, I can understand that based on our early performance during the season," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "Other than that, we realize there aren't many people that give us a chance to win these games. But that's not the battle cry. The battle cry is to get prepared to play really good football and see if we can throw a game out there that gives us a chance to beat a great opponent."
The Bears are wary of the Seahawks.
"They're used to being in that spot," Pro Bowl defensive end Julius Peppers said. "They didn't have a great season record-wise, but they're used to being in the playoffs. They played like they were."
No one needed to remind the Bears that Jay Cutler got sacked six times and that a usually reliable defense had its issues in that loss to Seattle, failing to force a turnover or sack Hasselbeck.
It didn't help the Bears that Peppers was a non-factor or that Briggs sat out with a left ankle injury. As bad as that performance was, the Bears took another turn for the worse when they followed that with another home loss to Washington.
That sent them stumbling into their off week with three losses in four games, but the team that emerged had a different look, a different approach — particularly on offense.
The Bears settled on a starting offensive line and abandoned their pass-happy ways. Improved blocking and a commitment to the run helped reduce the pounding on Cutler and sparked a dramatic turnaround.
They won seven of eight before closing the regular season with a loss at Green Bay and made the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 team's Super Bowl run.
The Bears caught a break in the season opener against Detroit when officials ruled Calvin Johnson didn't complete the play after catching what looked like the go-ahead TD, and there were some more breaks during their season-saving surge.
They faced third-string quarterbacks in wins over Miami, Detroit and Minnesota (after Brett Favre left with a concussion). There was also a disputed unnecessary roughness call against Ndamukong Suh right before Cutler threw the go-ahead TD pass to Brandon Manumaleuna in that second game against the Lions. When the Bears beat Philadelphia, Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel sat out with a knee injury.
Now, Chicago gets a team that barely made the postseason and could be short-handed. Linebacker Lofa Tatupu (concussion) had not been cleared to play as of Friday afternoon and was questionable.
"I was here when we were winning our division — we were owning our division — year after year after year after year after year," Hasselbeck said. "That's a great feeling. It's a great place to be in."
It wasn't easy for the Seahawks this time.
They were ridiculed along with the rest of the NFC West, and they dropped three in a row before beating St. Louis to win the division.
They're a work in progress.
Seattle made more than 280 roster moves in its first year under Carroll and general manager John Schneider, including several big moves before the first Chicago game.
Deion Branch, the former Super Bowl MVP wide receiver with the Patriots, got dealt back to New England. The Seahawks acquired Lynch from Buffalo, hoping he would spark the running game, and released Julius Jones.
"You've got a lot of scrap heap guys that have been thrown aside by other teams and guys with chips on their shoulders and I love that," said receiver Brandon Stokley, who signed with the Seahawks in late September after being released by Denver. "We're going to fight and claw and give everything we have and I'll go to battle with those kind of guys any day."