Riding the longest win streak since 2012, the Bears ultimately will be a lock for playoff football, securing home-field advantage with the current third seed in the NFC. While the Rams and Saints should rightfully take the top two seeds, the third seed looks near uncontested for the Bears. From this, expectations have swelled from a fringe hopeful into a playoff titan and the Bears look well-equipped to make a run in the postseason, prepared to stand eye-to-eye with the perennial elites of the league. However, not snatching one of the top two seeds do mean the Bears must stave off an inevitably plucky wild card team in the first round.
Though the murky list cannot pin down an opponent yet, the options include the Vikings, Cowboys, or Panthers. The Seahawks could feasibly put together a late-season push and eek into the playoffs however none of these teams pose much of a threat to the Bears so long as they perform at or near their finest. Considering the guaranteed home field advantage full of rowdy Bears fans ecstatic about the return of the playoffs for the pride of the city, seeing any of these teams able to beat the 5-1 at home Bears in their own building feels like a near impossibility.
So under the safely assumed divisional round appearance, the Bears have two obvious roadblocks standing in their way of Super Bowl hopes-the Rams and Saints.
While the Rams and Saints have both absolutely steamrolled teams up to this point, the Saints’ schedule looks considerably more difficult than the Rams, with the Saints needing to battle the Steelers, the rolling Cowboys, and the Panthers, a desperate squad holding onto the border of the playoffs, twice. The Rams, however, have a far easier road to ease into the postseason with, seeing only a single team at or above .500 for the rest of the season.
So much of the season left disallows any accurate predictions into playoff matchups and seeding but in the more than possible event the Saints drop a contest when the Rams handle business and run the table, the first seed in the NFC will be awarded to the Rams, leaving the Saints to the third-seeded, first-round surviving Bears. This will be the scenario under examination today, as we also will get treated to how well the Bears can contain the Rams in a couple of weeks.
The first (and usually last for most teams) hurdle for facing the Saints will always be the quietly unimaginable play of Drew Brees. There simply aren’t words for how incredible Brees’ season has been up to this point. More than just a career year, Brees’ numbers will probably end up as the finest quarterback season in NFL history.
Currently, on pace for 4,560 yards and 42 touchdowns, he already surpassed Peyton Manning for the most passing yards in NFL history and is only a season away from breaking his all-time touchdown record. Though the raw totals may not be earth-shattering, what nobody wants to mention is he will accomplish all this on a 76.4 completion percentage and a 127.3 quarterback rating, both demolishing the single-season record.
As a team, they put together a league-leading 37.2 points per game, which currently borders on the highest scoring team in NFL history if they can hold this pace for the rest of the year. Most often, Brees’ ability to absolutely pick apart a defense, being able to spread the wealth from his superstar playmakers to practice squad tight ends, usually stuns a defense into submission.
Because of this, the Bears cannot willingly induce a shootout between sophomore quarterback Mitchell Trubisky and Brees. When the Bears and Saints face off, Trubisky must not be the reason the Bears win simply because he, along with the rest of the Bears offense, are too prone to mistakes to keep up with the Saints. While Brees has the fifth lowest interception percentage in NFL history, Trubisky has more interceptions than his rookie season in two fewer games up to this point. Though improved, he still makes too many crippling mistakes with the ball to go toe-to-toe with the Saints.
Instead, the Bears win this game on turnovers and shutdown defensive dominance. The Saints love to turn contests into scramble situations offensively, forcing teams to abandon defensive reliance and turn to their offense to win. Allowing the second highest passing yards per game yet with the highest point differential shows the Saints blowing teams out despite allowing offensive success because New Orleans brilliantly play to their strengths-unmatchable passing.
With an understanding of Brees’ notably mistake-free play, they allow for their offense to be let loose while challenging opponents to keep up and inevitably make a mistake, relying on Brees to keep the offense from stumbling, something he has handled perfectly. Defeating the Rams in this fashion, they allowed for Jared Goff to throw for nearly 400 and hang 35 points on the board but the Saints forced them into passing situations late in the game, daring them to convert a deep third down with the pass. After the failure to convert, Brees took over and sealed the game with a routine bomb to Michael Thomas.
To combat this, the Bears must force mistakes on the Saints side. Honestly, beating the Saints at their own game can be done. The Buccaneers did this in Week One as Ryan Fitzpatrick outdueled Brees but asking for 450 yards and four touchdowns with zero turnovers from Trubisky feels like too tall of an order, especially for a young quarterback in a playoff game. So instead, the defense must disrupt their offensive rhythm with picks and forced fumbles. The Saints coughed up the ball twice against the Buccaneers and not only did it give the Buccaneers two more chances to score, but it also snapped the rhythm of the Saints.
Luckily, the Bears defense currently leads the league in turnovers and in points scored. And this doesn’t come from a select few of impact players-
ten different players have interceptions and eight different players have forced fumbles. Forcing mistakes simply has been the status quo for this defense. With as many dynamic playmakers on the defensive side, a game-changing play can come from anywhere and anyone.
But the defense can’t just win the turnover battle and expect to win the game-the offense must win the possession game. Keeping the ball out of Brees’ hand must be top priority and it starts and ends with efficient driving down the field while limiting turnovers on the Bears part. Continuing to probe the wild Buccaneers game as the blueprint, Tampa had nearly five more minutes of possession and turned it into a win.
Slowing the game down can muddle an explosive offensive and stall a fiery passing game, and against the Saints, this must be the strategy. Preventing big plays from Brees starts by pressuring them into turnovers and the offense must get Jordan Howard rolling to gnaw down the clock. Attempting to fight fire with fire puts far too much into Trubisky, who on the biggest stage of his career, will be making mistakes trying to match Brees.
All season, the defense has allowed Trubisky to spread his wings a little and be free to screw up without much repercussion but that cannot be allowed against the Saints. The fewer mistakes this offense has and the longer they can hold the ball, the more likely the Bears will be able to topple the Saints. Removing Trubisky’s performance from the equation has to be a must, rather relying on the far more secure firepower of the defense to power the Bears to a win.
Inexperience will doom this contest, not lopsided talent. On paper, the Bears rival any team in the league with their defensive depth and offensive weapons but still must learn the necessary killer instinct to win tough games. The Saints may not be beatable. Seeing them in the playoffs probably will be the end of the line for the Bears. But if Chicago finds a way to stifle Brees and screech the game to a lull on offense, there just might be a chance.
In Chicago football we trust.