Playoff football ultimately returns to Chicago and in bursting fashion, treating Bears fans to a reinvigorated team popping with personality and swagger. Whether in the form of the lovable Club Dub moniker or the overall fight in this team compared to the lifeless mush of previous years, the Bears put a stamp on Chicago football this season and it’s only fitting to see it end in a playoff berth. While being matched up against the reigning Super Bowl champions ordinarily spells disaster, especially in the wild-card round, the Eagles struggled mightily early on this season. Obviously, injuries have ravaged the secondary and the run game but the fundamental attitude in Philadelphia almost doomed this season.
Lacking the gritty chutzpah that fueled last years Super Bowl run, it seemed as if they had grown comfortable with the one win and stopped striving altogether until they shoved their own backs against the wall by nearly eliminating themselves. The arrival of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles after an ill-timed Carson Wentz back injury has infused much-needed life back into the franchise, going 4-1 in the final five games to clamp a playoff spot. After the magic worked last playoffs, won’t roll over like a typical six seed these playoffs. Obvious talent advantages aside, the Eagles might have been worst case scenario for round one for that reason but so long as the Bears can get these few details right, Chicago could be in for a run.
Take advantage of the home field advantage
This may seem trivial and a bit of a given but playing at Soldier Field offers a huge lift to both sides of the ball for the Bears that cannot be wasted. When playing at home, every major stat category from yards per game to points against per game take a huge leap, contributing to the 7-1 record at home. While the Bears haven’t quite figured out how to replicate this on the road, that’s a concern for another week. Having the Eagles come to Chicago in front of fans who’ve waited nearly a decade for playoff football works intensely in the Bears favor.
The atmosphere promises to be electric and in the forecasted thirty-degree weather, Soldier Field will probably be the most difficult stadium to play in this postseason. The Eagles also don’t fare too well when on the road either. Netting a 4-4 record on the road, their defensive yards per game rise from a solid 334 yards when at home to dismal 398.4 yards on the road. Their offensive yards per game at home compared to away shares a similar drop-off, going from 379.25 yards per game at home to 351.38 yards per game when on the road. For both teams, the home boost is a real one, so the Bears must take advantage.
Get to Nick Foles
Every quarterback will, without fail, perform worse when under pressure. Foles may be among the finer quarterbacks at handling defenders in his face but the Bears defense might as well be impenetrable when they can knock down the quarterback. In wins, the Bears have a total of forty-two sacks, good for an average of three and a half per game but in losses, they have eight in total and average two sacks. On top of that, the Bears also have lost only two of the twelve games they have two or more sacks in. The defense runs through getting to the quarterback and are at their finest when the pass rush takes over.
Sacks also will ruin the Eagles passing rhythm, making passing effectively near impossible. Allowing for passing offenses get going could be a deathwish for the Bears, as they have yet to win a game against a quarterback with a rating above ninety, going 0-3. It may be a rarity against the suffocating defense but seeing as Foles has only a single game under a rating of ninety (a game in which he still won), the concern lies in allowing for a passing clinic. Though the Bears usually bottle opposing quarterbacks, Foles’ redemption tour has to be shut down by knocking him down.
Don’t Let the Moment Get Too Big
This one feels more like a coach’s pregame ramblings than a key to the game but really, this notion of the spotlight will define these playoffs for the Bears. As a wildly young team barreling into the wild-card weekend, viewed as one of the heavy hitters of the NFC, this aforementioned spotlight grows even brighter and hotter than the Bears have ever experienced. The concern for this Bears team isn’t talent-it’s the inexperience. And with a playoff-hardened Super Bowl champion who understand how to pull off big wins on the other side, the Bears very possibly could come out star-struck and frankly, unready from a mentality perspective.
Though constructed for a dynasty, a team helmed by a sophomore quarterback could trip themselves up and crumble under the pressure if (and honestly when) the Eagles put up some fight. Luckily, head coach Matt Nagy, after years under playoff regular Andy Reid’s wing, understands January football far better than a typical rookie head coach and should provide the stoicism and preparedness necessary to contend for a deep run.
Overall, the Bears should beat the Eagles. The simple difference in talent should prove to be too great to overcome, no matter how much Hollywood pixie dust the Eagles try to spread, and really, the Bears deserve this more. Lucking into the playoffs after a Vikings implosion, the Eagles will be stumbling into a deep football city unbelievably proud of their rejuvenated Bears. Both the separation in talent and in pure want will put this contest out of reach for the unready Eagles. After eight years without January football, it’s about time the founding franchise of the NFL makes a return to form. And it all starts with a win over the Eagles.