The Philadelphia Eagles will be playing the Chicago Bears in the wild card round of the 2019 NFL playoffs schedule on Sunday. Here are some initial thoughts on the matchup.
HOW THE BEARS GOT HERE
After going 5-11 in 2017, the Bears fired a head coach who flamed out in his third year with the team and replaced him with a Chiefs offensive coordinator to help work with a quarterback the team traded up to acquire with the No. 2 overall pick. Sound familiar? Indeed, there was talk about how the 2018 Bears could be like the 2017 Eagles. While the comparison is hardly identical, the Bears ultimately did take a step forward this season by going 12-4 and finishing with the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoff picture. Matt Nagy has predictably brought some new offensive ideas to the table but retaining defensive coordinator Vic Fangio has also proved to be huge for Chicago.
- Chicago’s defense ranks No. 1 overall by Football Outsider’s DVOA metric. It also ranks second in opponent points per game (16.2) and tied for first in opponent yards per play (4.8).
- The Bears are really good at forcing turnovers. Their 36 takeaways lead the league by a comfortable margin; the next closest team has 31.
- 27 of the Bears’ takeaways have been interceptions. No other team has more than 21. Chicago starting cornerback Kyle Fuller is tied with three other players for the league lead in picks with seven. Starting safety Eddie Jackson is then fourth overall with six picks.
- The Bears rank tied for the third most sacks in 2018. Acquiring 2016 Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack was obviously a huge pickup for Chicago as he has 12.5 sacks this season. But don’t sleep on 3-4 defensive end Akiem Hicks, who ranks second with 7.5 and actually leads the Bears in tackles for loss with 14.5.
- The Bears’ defense is averaging 3.25 quarterback hits per game. Protecting Nick Foles, who is playing with bruised ribs, will be especially critical.
- Rookie linebacker Roquan Smith is a promising talent. He has 122 tackles, eight tackles for loss, five passes defensed, five sacks, and one interception.
- 6-4, 320 pound nose tackle Eddie Goldman has given 6-3, 282 pound Eagles center Jason Kelce some trouble in the past.
- The Bears lost their starting nickel cornerback, Bryce Callahan, to a season-ending injury earlier this month. Nelson Agholor could be pretty important to the Eagles’ offense this week.
- Metrics indicate the Bears’ offense is below average. Chicago ranks 20th in offensive DVOA and 20th in yards per play. Chicago’s 23.6 offensive points per game ranks 12th but they’ve had the seventh best average starting field position this season. They’ve also had a number of extra offensive possessions to work with since their defense takes the ball away so often.
- Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky isn’t the most intimidating quarterback in the playoffs. Trubisky ranks 14th in completion percentage, 17th in yards per attempt, and 16th in passer rating. He’s had some good games this year but there’s just something I don’t trust about him. Wouldn’t be surprised at all if he struggles in the postseason.
- The Bears have done a good job of protecting Trubisky. Chicago’s 33 sacks allowed rank tied for eighth fewest. Football Outsiders ranks the Bears o-line seventh in adjusted sack rate. And Chicago just got starting guard Kyle Long back from injured reserve, so their line has the potential to be even better.
- The Bears’ run game isn’t very threatening. Chicago’s line ranks 28th in run blocking. Their 4.1 yards per carry average is tied for 27th. Bears leading rusher Jordan Howard is sporting a 3.7 average. Tarik Cohen — built in the Darren Sproles mold — is a much more efficient player. He’s averaging 4.5 yards per carry and he also factors in as a pass-catching weapon.
- Eagles fans already know Bears tight end Trey Burton is a good player capable of making plays, be that catching the ball or throwing it!
- The Bears are hoping to have leading receiver Allen Robinson back for this game. The Penn State alumnus leads Chicago in big plays this season with 11.
BEARS SPECIAL TEAMS
- Chicago ranks 26th in special teams DVOA.
- The Bears rank dead last in kick return average with 19.1.
- The Bears rank second in punt return average with 12.5. Tarik Cohen is dangerous on those.
- The Bears’ 24.9 kick return average allowed is fifth most in the league. They’ve also allowed a kick return touchdown. Are you ready for “The Boston Scott Game”?!
- The Bears’ 7.5 punt return average allowed is 22nd most.
- The Bears’ kicker is former Eagles fan favorite Cody Parkey. His 76.7% field goal percentage ranks 27th. He’s missed three in the 30-39 range and six from the 30-49 range. Parkey has also missed three extra points, including one last week. A missed Parkey kick at some point might come up big for Philly on Sunday.
- Bears punter Pat O’Donnell’s 41.9 net average ranks 14th best in the league.
- The Bears’ four losses: at New York Giants in overtime with Chase Daniel starting, at Miami Dolphins in overtime, at Green Bay Packers (incredible Aaron Rodgers comeback performance), and home versus New England Patriots (one yard short of going to overtime). The Bears have never been out of a game this year. They’ve proven to be a tough team.
- The Bears don’t have as much “playoff experience” as the Eagles, for whatever that’s worth.
- The Bears have just four players on injured reserve at this point in the season. Must be nice.
- The Bears had their bye in Week 5. The Eagles had theirs in Week 9.
- The current forecast for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field is a high of 44 degrees and a low of 36. We’ve seen Foles struggle in the cold before.
With the way the Eagles have played down the stretch, you just can’t count them out. But the Bears are a legitimately good and tough team. It’s a boring thing to say but I feel like this is anyone’s game. It’ll probably be a defensive struggle that comes down to the wire.