As is the case with almost all of the games in this year's playoffs (New York-New England is the only game that stands out to me as having had a clear favorite in the Pats), these two teams are pretty evenly matched and I do see a close game shaping up.
Here are some of the key storylines going into the game, and how I see them playing out in the result:
The homefield advantage factor: Yes, the Saints play in a temperature-controlled dome, but that doesn't mean they don't know how to play in the natural elements. New Orleans actually had a better record on the road than at home this season, going 6-2, including wins at cold-weather locations in Green Bay and Cleveland in addition to a 7 point loss at Pittsburgh. And QB Drew Brees is no stranger to winter in the Midwest, having played four years in the Big Ten at Purdue. If the Saints lose, it won't be because of the weather - they're too focused and driven of a team to let that defeat them.
Good Rex vs. Bad Rex: The eternal guessing game goes on for at least another week: which Rex Grossman will show up? Early season MVP candidate Rex, or 1.3 QB rating (referring to his performance in a game against Minnesota this season), Rex? If history is any indication, I would anticipate seeing Bad Rex in this game. He seems to have his best performances when everyone is doubting him. He shuts everyone up for one week, then goes out and proves why the doubters were out in the first place. The ironic part is, for the Bears to win, they're going to need Grossman to challenge the Saints' secondary, one of New Orleans' weaknesses.
Saints Offense vs. Bears Defense: I give the edge to the Saints' offense here. Bears' opponents have scored at least 24 points in 4 of their last 5 games, including Seattle last week. An important addendum to that is the fact that Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck was playing with an injured hand, meaning the Seahawks' offense wasn't really at full strength. And rare is the occasion when New Orleans is shut down on the offensive side - they have put up at least 20 in 13 of their 17 games this year. Their offense is humming along, just as the Bears' defense has slumped.
So it probably shouldn't come as shocker that I'm picking the Saints to continue their dream season and advance to Super Bowl XLI. That being said, they need to keep the ball away from Chicago return man extraordinaire Devin Hester at all costs, and if it's a close game in the final minutes, will need to hope that they get the ball last - if the Bears do, their kicker Robbie Gould has already shown that he can kick the clutch field goal to win the game.
Tomorrow we'll see if the people's choice Super Bowl of Colts-Saints comes to fruition.