(NAM Y. HUH ~ Associated Press)
ST. LOUIS -- A creature of habit, Brian Urlacher dislikes the trappings and the inconvenience of playing on Monday night.
The Chicago Bears' standout middle linebacker would choose a matinee every time over the national television audience that'll be watching them play the St. Louis Rams.
"I hate playing night games because you get home late if you're on the road, and it screws up your whole week because you only have one day to recover until you start practicing again," Urlacher said. "It is a big game because everybody's watching, but personally I'm not a big fan of it, except for the fact that everyone gets to see it and hopefully you play well."
The Rams (5-7) eagerly anticipate the game against a team tied for the best record in the NFL because that's about all that's left of their season. But they certainly aren't looking forward to the challenge of controlling the Bears' do-it-all middle linebacker.
Coach Scott Linehan said Urlacher is "arguably" the best defensive player in the NFL, and there's no disagreement from Rams players.
"You see it in the papers and you see it everywhere else that he is a big-time defensive guy that makes a lot of plays," running back Steven Jackson said. "He's certainly a guy that you have to account for. I'm definitely going to account for him."
Urlacher leads a defense that is the cornerstone of the Bears' standing as the class of the NFC. Chicago (10-2) has a two-game lead for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
The Bears have allowed only 150 points, an average of 12.5 per game and by far the stingiest showing in the NFL. It's prompted comparisons to the 1985 unit, one of the best in league history and led by another middle linebacker, Mike Singletary, that produced the franchise's lone Super Bowl championship.
Chicago, which clinched the NFC North last week, leads the league with a plus-10 turnover differential and also leads the NFL with 39 takeaways, 10 more than the next-best team heading into Sunday's games.
"We got that comparison this year, last year, and in 2001 when we were really good," Urlacher said. "If and when we win the world championship we can start talking.
"They were good, they were really good."
The Rams hope to compete with a balanced attack that largely revolves around Steven Jackson, following in Marshall Faulk's footsteps with his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season to go with a team-leading 72 receptions. He's third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, trailing only LaDainian Tomlinson and Larry Johnson.
Jackson has emerged as a receiving threat after teams began using zones and double teams to take away the deep ball to Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce. That means longer marches, which have less chance of success against the Bears.
"They can wreck the game pretty fast if you get careless or greedy, which is what you can't do," coach Scott Linehan said. "If you're in long yardage all day with them, good luck.
"If we're successful on first down, for the most part, we can establish a number of things. Even against a defense as good as they are."
Somehow, the Rams remain in the running for a wild-card spot despite losing six of seven.
"It's hilarious," Holt said. "It just shows the parity of the NFC."
The Bears have the NFC's best record in spite of quarterback woes. Coach Lovie Smith has elected to stick with struggling Rex Grossman, who has thrown 14 interceptions in the last seven games, over backup Brian Griese.
Grossman, who had a miniscule 1.3 passer rating after going 6-for-19 for only 34 yards with three interceptions last week, believes the solution is to stop thinking so much and rely on his ability.
"Sometimes you can analyze things so much that it's not even ... it's a game," Grossman said. "I know this offense. I study it so much that sometimes I think myself out of things.
"Just relax and go play football is basically the best advice I've been given."
The Rams anticipate a heavy dose of running. That would be a natural choice even without Grossman's problems, given that St. Louis is the worst in the NFL against the rush. Nine players have 100-yard games against the Rams.
"We're expecting them to run the ball," defensive end Leonard Little said. "We're expecting them to run the ball on all three downs. Maybe four downs."