I’ve been writing for Windy City Gridiron since 2011 and this is the very first postseason preview article I’ve had the pleasure of writing.
It is simply amazing and exciting, after a fun season with lots of wins, this is the reward. And after struggling through those long, Bears-less postseasons, as well as those horrible Marc Trestman and John Fox years with single-digit wins, bad defenses and horrible offenses, this has been a long, long time coming.
Savor it. Especially this week as we look forward to it, because come game time it will all be nerves, anxiety and panic.
The stress levels will be much higher in the playoffs, but it will be nice to have it again, just try and remember that the first time Cody Parkey lines up Sunday for a field goal.
The Eagles are coming to Soldier Field for their first road playoff game since 2009.
The Bears are playing in their first playoff game of any kind since 2010.
This should be a good one, the defending Super Bowl Champs trying to shake off a championship hangover against a young and up and coming Bears team.
Let’s get to it.
SB Nation site: Bleeding Green Nation
Game day/time/TV: Sunday, 3:30 p.m. CT, NBC
Last week: 24-0 win over Washington to clinch a playoff spot
Bears all-time record against: 30-14-1 (1-2 postseason)
Historical match ups: The last time these teams met in the postseason was in the Division round of the 2001 playoffs.
On Jan. 19, 2002, what would be the final game in old Soldier Field, the Bears fell 33-19 as Donovan McNabb threw two touchdowns, while Jim Miller and Shane Matthews combined to go 11/22 for 89 yards and three interceptions.
Last meeting: The Bears, struggling under John Fox, went to Philadelphia a three-win team and were smoked by the 8-1 Eagles 31-3.
Former Bears WR Alshon Jeffery did the electric slide with his teammates in the endzone. Carson Wentz threw three scores, while rookie Mitchell Trubisky had one of his worst games, throwing two picks.
Offense: The Eagles come into the playoffs with an offense ranked 18th in points and 14th in yards.
They have the 28th ranked rushing offense but the seventh best passing offense.
With Carson Wentz out with a back injury, 2017 surprise hero Nick Foles is thrust back into the starting role, with the hopes of Philly on him once again.
He started the year rocky but has finished strong (72.3 pct. cmp./1,413 yds./7 TD/4 INT).
He has plenty of weapons to throw to with TE Zach Ertz (116 rec./1,163 yds./8 TD), WRs Alshon Jeffery (65/843/6), Nelson Algholor (64/736/4), TE Dallas Goedert (33/334/1) and the trade-deadline acquisition Golden Tate (30/278/1).
Philadelphia’s backfield has suffered from the injury bug, losing Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement earlier this season and instead relying on the undrafted Josh Adams (120 att./511 yds./3 TD) and Wendell Smallwood (87/364/3) down the stretch.
Of course, any breakdown of the Eagles offense isn’t complete without mentioning Darren Sproles, Philly’s multi-faceted weapon, who returned from injury for their stretch run (29 att/120/1, 15 rec./160/2 in six games).
Smallwood is also a duel threat back, adding 28/230/2 as a receiver.
Defense: Philadelphia’s defense comes into the playoffs ranked 12th in points allowed and 23rd in yards allowed.
Their rush defense ranks seventh and their passing defense ranks 30th.
Even during their late playoff push they gave big passing numbers to everyone but Washington, who were down to their fourth quarterback.
Eagles opposing QBs are completing 66.6 percent of their passes and have a 93.4 rating.
Up front though, the Eagles remain very stout with Fletcher Cox (10.5 sk/12 TFL/34 QBH), Michael Bennett (9 sk/15 TFL/30 QBH/2 FF), Chris Long (6.5/3/20/2) and Brandon Graham (4/9/11/1).
At the linebacker level the Eagles are led by Nigel Bradham (97 tkl./2 sk/4 PD), Jordan Hicks (91/3/5) and Kamu Grugier-Hill (45/1/2/1 FF/1 INT).
The secondary has been a mess, they’ve gotten healthier but are still down some players. However, S Malcolm Jenkins is still on the back end (97 tkl./8 PD/3 FF/1 INT). Last week they started Rasul Douglas (58/4/3 INT) and Avonte Maddox (35/4/1 FF/2 INT) at CB and former Bear Corey Graham (56/5/1 INT) at safety.
Former Bears Cre’von LeBlanc and De’Vante Bausby have also started games for Philadelphia at different times this year. Deiondre Hall is also still on the Eagles.
Injury report: The Eagles listed 10 players on their Wednesday injury report, including some key names:
Limited participation: DT Fletcher Cox (knee), QB Nick Foles (ribs), C Jason Kelce (knee), T Jason Peters (quad), G Isaac Seumalo (chest), WR Mike Wallace (ankle)
Did not participate: LB D.J. Alexander (hamstring), DE Michael Bennett (foot), CB Sidney Jones (hamstring), QB Carson Wentz (back)
Key match ups: Perhaps the biggest match up is going to come down to the Bears’ defensive line against the Eagles’ OL.
There’s already been some clips going around of Lane Johnson facing off against Khalil Mack during a game last season and it shows how this really will be strength vs. strength. It’s going to be a great battle to watch.
But elsewhere on the line, Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks and Jason Peters are also some of the best in the league with Pro Bowls and All-Pro selections. This will be quite the test for Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd and Eddie Goldman. A real battle in the trenches that will surely have a lot of hardcore football fans glued to it every snap.
On the other side of the ball for the Bears it’s much the same. While the Bears OL doesn’t have the accolades of the Eagles’ OL, Charles Leno, Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long and emerging star James Daniels are going to have their hands full trying to buy time for Trubisky against Cox, Bennett, Long, Graham and Haloti Ngata.
This is a true match up that starts in the trenches.
If the Bears can keep things clean for Trubisky he should find some openings against a Philadelphia secondary that’s allowing 269 yards passing per game to opponents.
In the secondary on defense Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Sherrick McManis will have their hands full with Jeffery, Algholor and of course Ertz. Danny Trevathan and Roquan Smith will help out at times on Ertz, as I’m sure the returning Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos will be asked to as well. These are all huge match ups because these weapons can absolutely destroy secondaries.
And that’s not even mentioning Darren Sproles who can be a mismatch on just about anyone.
What to watch for: Look for the defense to try and pressure Foles into mistakes and get him out of rhythm. Foles isn’t the most athletic and while he gets good protection, if he is out of sorts he could make some bad decisions.
The Bears offense needs to score early and get set a tone to play their game. The Eagles have a lot of fire power and can score big if they are allowed. The Bears aren’t quite built to play from behind, just because they haven’t had to, not because they can’t, so it will be important for the Bears to play at their pace.
Look for the Eagles to try and use a lot of no huddle and quick passes to negate the Bears’ pass rush.
Key stats: The Eagles haven’t played a road playoff game since January 2010, when they lost to the Cowboys 34-14
Nick Foles stats his first three starts this season: 78/113, 69 pct. cmp., 721 yds., 1 TD, 2 INT, 81.8 rating
Foles last two starts: 63/82, 76.8 pct. cmp., 692 yds, 6 TD, 2 INT, 115.5 rating
Zach Ertz has five games with 10 or more receptions, the Eagles are 1-4 in those games
Ertz has five games with over 100 yards receiving, the Eagles are also 1-4 in those games
The Eagles have won the turnover margin in four games this year and have played only two games all year without an offensive turnover
The Eagles are tied with the Ravens for fewest takeaways on defense of any playoff team (17)
The Eagles have the worst turnover margin in the playoffs (-6)
The pick: This is likely to be a close game, perhaps back and forth, I think the defenses are going to be the difference here and I think that the Bears have the better defense. To see my analysis of the game from a betting perspective click here to see my column on Sports Bet Collective.
What do you think is the key to a Bears victory Sunday?