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Wild Card Game Preview: Bears-Saints

For the second time in three years the Bears get a crack at postseason football, but the opponent is quite formidable.

New Orleans Saints v Carolina Panthers Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

The Bears haven’t won a playoff game since 2010.

And it sure wouldn’t seem like they’re set up to win their first one this year, as the lowest seeded team, going on the road to play the No. 2 seed.

Indeed, the Bears are 9.5 point underdogs to the Saints in Sunday’s game. It could be ugly.

But anything can happen in the playoffs. And let’s not forget that the Bears took the Saints to overtime back in week eight, just as their losing streak was picking up steam.

Both teams are a little different now, particularly the Bears’ defense. But Nick Foles was the quarterback in the first meeting and neither team broke 30 points.

The Bears are going to have to look back and see what they were able to do so well in week eight and build on their new-found offense as well if they have any shot.

After all, it’s the NFL, anything can happen on any week.

New Orleans Saints

SB Nation site: Canal Street Chronicles

Record: 12-4, first in the NFC South

Last week: 33-7 win over the Panthers

Game day, time, TV: Sunday, 3:40 p.m. CT, CBS

Bears all-time record against: 13-17 regular season, 2-0 postseason

Historical meetings: The tables were turned on Jan. 6, 1991 as the 11-5 Bears hosted the 8-8 Saints at Soldier Field.

The Saints were held without a touchdown as the Bears defense clamped down on Saints quarterbacks Steve Walsh and John Fourcade. They picked the QBs off a total of three times; Fourcade twice, Walsh once and sacked each of them once as well.

Neal Anderson rushed for 102 yards and James Thorton caught a touchdown from Mike Tomczak as the Bears won 16-6.

Last meeting: Back in week eight, the Bears hosted the Saints.

Despite being sacked five times, Nick Foles threw for 272 yards and two touchdowns; one to Darnell Mooney and one to Allen Robinson. David Montgomery rushed for 89 yards.

But the Saints were too much. Drew Brees was sacked only once and threw two touchdowns.

Cairo Santos sent the game to overtime with 13 seconds left, but the Saints were able to kick a field goal on their second possession of overtime, after the Bears moved the ball all of eight yards on six plays and punted back to New Orleans.

Injury report: The Saints listed six players on their Wednesday injury report:

Did not participate: C/G Nick Easton (concussion)

Limited: DB J.T. Gray (shoulder), DE Trey Hendrickson (neck), TE Josh Hill (hand), QB Taysom Hill (concussion), S Marcus Williams (ankle)

Offense: The Saints offense ranks fifth in the league in points and 12th in yards.

The passing offense ranks fifth in yards and the rushing offense ranks fourth.

It is, in a word, dangerous.

Led by Drew Brees (70.5 pct. cmp./2,942 yds./24 TD/6 INT) on possibly one last ride, is gunning for a second Super Bowl dishing the ball to all-around RB Alvin Kamara (83 rec./756 yds./5 TD), Emmanuel Sanders (61/726/5), the returning Michael Thomas (40/438/0), TE Jared Cook (37/504/7) and Tre’Quan Smith (34/448/4).

Kamara (187 att./932 yds./16 TDs) leads the way on the ground, followed by Latavius Murray (146/656/4).

Don’t forget about gadget player and backup quarterback Taysom Hill, who sees action often in games as a quarterback (72.2/928/4/2), running back (87/457/8) and receiver (8/98/1).

Defense: The Saints defense has improved since their first meeting and comes in to the playoffs ranked fifth in points allowed and fourth in yards allowed.

The passing defense ranks fifth in yards allowed and fourth in rushing yards allowed.

This is a big difference from the week eight meeting, when they ranked 17th in passing yards allowed, although they did rank fourth in rush yards at the time as well, but 24th in points allowed.

Trey Hendrickson (13.5 sk./12 TFL/25 QB hits) has been a monster this year, even with Cameron Jordan (7.5 sk/11 TFL/16 QB hits/3 PD/1 FF) garnering the Pro-Bowl nod. The secondary is one of the best in the league with Marshon Lattimore (2 INT/11 PD/2 TFL), Malcolm Jenkins (3 INT/10 PD/2.5 sk/7 TFL), Janoris Jenkins (3 INT/12 PD/55 tkl) and Marcus WIlliams (3 INT/7 PD/59 tkl).

LB Demario Davis (119 tkl/4 sk/10 TFL/12 QB hits/5 PD) is also a defensive playmaker and can’t go without mention.

Finally, someone tell Javon Wims to stay the hell away from Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (66 tkl/1 INT/13 PD).

Key match ups:

  • Perhaps the biggest match up for the Chicago Bears is their defensive line against the Saints offensive line.
  • That’s not to say it’s necessarily a weakness of the Saints; they’ve allowed 29 sacks and have one of the best overall offenses in the league, but the defensive line is supposed to the Bears’ defensive strength so it’s a logical place to start.
  • In the secondary, try slowing down Michael Thomas, who had an injury-plagued year but is supposed to be working his way back to 100 percent health for Sunday.
  • Otherwise, the key to slowing the Saints is stopping Kamara, which just about nobody has done throughout the season. He averaged 5.6 YPC against the Bears in the first meeting and added 96 receiving yards.
  • For the offense, it’s about getting the running game going with David Montgomery. Similar to last week’s game plan, you have to keep Brees and Kamara off the field to have any chance and limit Mitch Trubisky’s opportunities to make mistakes.
  • Expect more going for it on fourth downs this week as the Bears cannot afford to settle for field goals over and over again or the scoreboard will be similar to last week’s outcome.

Key stats

  • The Bears have lost six straight to the Saints, their longest active streak against any team in the NFL. They last defeated the Saints in 2008.
  • The Saints have scored 29, 52 and 33 points in their last three games (2-1 record in those games)
  • New Orleans has been good on defense but they rank 29th in red zone defense, allowing opponents to score 68 percent of their red zone drives.
  • They also rank 14th on fourth down conversions, with opponents converting 53.3 percent of their fourth down attempts this season.
  • The first Bears-Saints game was the only OT game the Bears had this season and only the third of the Matt Nagy era, but they’ve lost all three.
  • In the Sean Payton era the Saints have only lost their first playoff game twice; most recently last season against the Vikings.

Do the Bears stand a chance against the Saints? What do they need to do to win their first playoff game since 2010?