At least the reigning Super Bowl champs are in the playoffs. They’re in the playoffs as a six-point road underdog, but they’re in the running to defend the Lombardi Trophy. The Philadelphia Eagles looked like a team that was going to be part of one of the most disappointing groups in the NFL. They would have been the 17th team to do that out of 52 past Super Bowl winners.
Instead, they’re in the Windy City to take on the upstart Chicago Bears, who will participate in the postseason for the first time since the 2010 playoffs. Not only are the Bears in the playoffs, but you can make a case that they are the absolute hottest team coming into the playoffs. Chicago’s only loss since October came in overtime against the New York Giants with Chase Daniel making his second straight start in place of Mitchell Trubisky.
Some books are sitting 5.5 on this game, while the majority of the market is on -6. The total opened 42 and has come down to 41, which seems like a bad sign for the Eagles, who are clearly better on the offensive side than the defensive side.
Big D*ck Nick
The Eagles have had a rough season. Carson Wentz wasn’t ready to go at the start of the year and never really seemed like he was comfortable. A bunch of players, including Ronald Darby, Paul Worrilow, Derek Barnett, Corey Clement, and Jay Ajayi have spent ample time on the IR.
The turning point for the season seemed to be when the Eagles returned to Nick Foles for the game at Los Angeles in Week 15. He provided a shot in the arm and a spark. The Eagles won out and got some help and here they are to defend their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
Foles is 87-of-113 (77 percent) with a 6/3 TD/INT ratio and 962 passing yards in those three games. He’s taken some shots and has some bruised ribs, but he’s going to play this week in what could very well be his last game with the Eagles. If nothing else, Philadelphia looks like a different team with him behind center and the playbook of Doug Pederson and Mike Groh seems to flow a lot smoother.
The Raiders made more than one LOL-worthy move this season, but this one really stands out. Khalil Mack took the Chicago Bears defense to another level after the trade from Oakland to Chi-town. Mack finished the regular season with 12.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a pick six.
There are so many playmakers on this defense, even if Eddie Jackson, who was sidelined last week, is unable to return to the lineup. Roquan Smith’s rookie season finished with 122 tackles. Danny Trevathan is still the wily vet and excellent run-stopper he has always been. Kyle Fuller had 21 pass breakups. Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks are capable of producing big negative plays.
This will be a real stiff test for the Eagles, who blew through the Rams’ porous defense, the Texans, and the Redskins in Foles’s three starts. It goes without saying that this is the best defense that the Eagles have seen because it is the best defense in the NFL, but this is a fast, ball-hawking defense and Eagles receivers have not been able to create much separation. Foles has done a lot of improv and it has worked out favorably.
Branches of the mustachioed Andy Reid coaching tree face off here. His former offensive coordinator Matt Nagy has orchestrated an enormous turnaround in Chicago. His former former offensive coordinator Doug Pederson is coaching the Eagles. There should be a lot of similarities in the offensive playbooks of these two teams.
That could certainly be a good angle for the under. The Eagles defense has had its share of problems this season, both because of injuries and because of inconsistency. Jim Schwartz should be able to dial up something to have success against this Chicago offense.
For the three years that Pederson was the OC in Kansas City, Nagy was the quarterbacks coach. Film study should be quite intensive this week.
Bend It Like Bradham
Nigel Bradham and the Eagles defense bend a long way, but don’t seem to break. The Eagles have given up 5.8 yards per play on the season. Because the Eagles are #1 in the NFL in red zone defensive TD%, the Eagles have only allowed 348 points, which puts them 12th in scoring defense. The Eagles have allowed 56 trips into the red zone and only 25 touchdowns.
The Bears have been very effective offensive and defensively in the red zone, as they are sixth on offense and fifth on defense. By comparison to the Eagles, the Bears have allowed 40 red zone trips, but 20 touchdowns.
Been There, Done That
This isn’t really a quantifiable argument, but it is something to consider. How will the Bears fare in their first playoff game since early 2011? Mitch Trubisky was at Mentor High School at the time. Tarik Cohen was at Bunn High School. Khalil Mack was blowing ish up in the MAC at Buffalo.
This is some uncharted territory for the Bears and they have expectations for the first time in a long time. Sometimes that can be hard for a team. The Eagles are basically playing with house money as the reigning champs that had to play playoff games for three straight weeks and get some help to get in. Usually the reigning champs would have pressure to repeat and whatnot, but that isn’t the case here.
The Bears are playing some excellent football and their defense may be the best overall unit in the playoffs. You could make a really strong case for the Saints offense or the Chiefs offense. I’ll take the Bears defense. Windy conditions could be a factor in Chicago on Sunday, which is a huge stunner on the shores of Lake Michigan in January. The best play to make in this game is the under 41.
Typically, with a low total, you’d want to take the points, but I’d go the other way and back the Bears here. This is a major step up in class for Foles and the offense. The Bears are one of the fastest and most physical defenses in the NFL. If the Eagles WRs can’t get separation against other teams, how will they get it against the Bears? That will make life hard on Foles, who is already banged up.