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NFL Playoff Preview: Chicago Bears

Brace Hemmelgarn- USA TODAY Sports

The Bears enter the playoffs in the midst of a four-game winning streak and will look to capture their second Super Bowl title in franchise history.

The Chicago Bears and their top-ranked scoring defense, which is allowing just 17.7 points per game, enter the playoffs as one of the league’s hottest teams, having won their final four contests. First-year head coach Matt Nagy has made a compelling case for Coach Of The Year, as he has transformed this team from a 5-11 cellar dweller to a legitimate Super Bowl contender in just one season.

Much like the 2015 Broncos (who eventually captured Super Bowl XLIX), the Bears have benefitted from a dominant defense that not only paced the league in points allowed, but also topped the remaining 31 teams in total turnovers (36), interceptions (27), and rushing yards allowed (80.0).

The @ChicagoBears were MONSTERS on defense this season 😱 pic.twitter.com/ycGXJCZY7K

FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 31, 2018

They’ve been led by their preseason acquisition Khalil Mack, who is shaping out to be one of the best offseason pickups in recent history, and prepares to lead this defense against Nick Foles and the Eagles. However, if they wish to take down the Super Bowl champs and advance in the playoffs, they’ll need quarterback Mitchell Trubisky to continue his elevated level of play in his sophomore campaign. 

Key Players

Offense: QB Mitchell Trubisky, RB Tarik Cohen

As mentioned above, Trubisky severely upped his game from his rookie season — a year in which he completed 59.4% of his passes for 2,193 yards and seven touchdowns, and finished with a meager 31.6 Quarterback Rating. 2018 saw Trubisky improve in all four categories, as the second-year man out of North Carolina finished with a 72.8 QBR, throwing for 3,223 yards and 24 touchdowns, while also completing 66.6% of his passes.

The Mitchell Trubisky Breakout Game
September 30, 2018

354 yards, 6 TDS, 0 INTS pic.twitter.com/twNlzSpO5k

— Mitch Trubisky (@TRUTHbisky) September 30, 2018

A player whose monster season was aided by Trubisky’s improved play, Tarik Cohen continued to flash his breakaway speed and playmaking abilities en route to 1,170 total yards from scrimmage (725 receiving, 444 rushing, one passing) and nine total touchdowns (five receiving, three rushing, and one passing). Trubisky’s elevated performance and Cohen’s continued excellence have been the driving forces in Chicago’s productive offensive attack. Look for these two to establish a connection early and often against Philadelphia’s injury-battered secondary.

Defense: LB Khalil Mack, LB Roquan Smith

After drafting Roquan Smith with the eighth overall pick in last year’s draft, the Bears’ addition of Mack quickly formed one of the more potent linebacking corps in the NFL. Virtually unblockable at times, Mack showed why he was worth every bit of the $141 million that Chicago gave him after sending two first-round picks to the Raiders in exchange for the former fifth-overall pick. Mack finished the year with 47 tackes, 13.5 tackles for loss, 12.5 sacks, and a whopping six forced fumbles. If that wasn’t enough, he even added a pick six. There’s a reason Mack is a former Defensive Player of the Year award winner, and he’s made a strong case to be crowned again.

Khalil Mack has seen his snaps from a left alignment (RT side) drastically reduced (80% > 52%) as the Bears move him around. Regardless of what side he’s on, his speed-to-power is eye-popping - pic.twitter.com/L4JCEH7SWN

— Michael Kist (@MichaelKistNFL) January 3, 2019

Meanwhile, in the middle of the field, Smith also had a very productive season. The rookie was a force and presence all over the field, leading the Bears with 122 total tackles, while also amassing eight tackles for loss, five sacks, and an interception. Mack and Smith will look to anchor Chicago’s front seven as they attempt to slow down Foles and the red-hot Eagles.

Best Win And Worst Loss:

Best Win: 15-6 over the Los Angeles Rams (Week 14)

No surprises here. Although it was an ugly game that included seven interceptions between both teams, the Bears showed just how dominant and dependable their defense truly is. In arguably Trubisky’s worst performance of the season, Chicago’s defense took it upon themselves to carry their team to an impressive victory over the two-seeded Rams. 

The high-powered #Rams offense can’t do anything vs the #Bears defense. Eddie Goldman sacks Jared Goff for a safety. pic.twitter.com/C320r8GvF2

NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 10, 2018

Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio’s crew recorded four interceptions and three sacks on Jared Goff to consistently give the Bears’ offense manageable field position. From there, with Trubisky struggling against Los Angeles’s equally-stingy defense, Nagy deployed the strong rushing attack of Cohen and Jordan Howard to effectively move the ball down the field. The imposing running back duo combined for 170 yards on 28 carries to seal the win, which gave Chicago their first non-losing season since 2013 and firmly established them as legit title contenders.

Worst Loss: 31-28 to the Miami Dolphins (Week 6)

Although Miami was playing good football at the time, entering this contest at 3-2, the Bears’ defense was exposed by Brock Osweiler and Frank Gore — yes, you read that correctly. Osweiler picked apart Chicago’s secondary to the tune of 380 yards and three touchdowns, while Gore rumbled for 101 yards on 15 carries on the ground.

Not only that, but after squandering a touchdown lead late in the fourth quarter, the Bears were given two opportunities to answer Albert Wilson’s game-tying score — both of which they failed to capitalize on. A Tarik Cohen fumble late in regulation, as well as a missed field goal in overtime by Cody Parkey, in particular, provided the Dolphins with a golden opportunity to secure the come-from-behind victory. This loss questioned Chicago’s ability to close out games and perform in clutch situations.

Previous Matchups With Playoff Teams

Week 2: 24-17 Win vs (5) Seattle Seahawks

Week 7: 31-38 Loss vs (2) New England Patriots

Week 14: 15-6 Win vs (2) Los Angeles Rams

Positives: The Bears were able to secure two wins out of the three playoff teams they faced, with their lone loss coming against the reigning AFC Champions — a game in which they came up, literally, one yard short of tying the game on a last-second Hail Mary. Chicago displayed a comfortable ability to perform against playoff contenders. Moreover, they came away with a convincing defensive victory over the Rams — a team they are sure to face should they get past the Eagles in Sunday’s Wild Card contest.

Negatives: Not only did the Bears only face three eventual playoff teams in the regular season, but none of them came on the road. Having earned the three seed in the NFC playoffs, the road to the Super Bowl isn’t going to go through Chicago. Moreover, as previously mentioned, if the Bears defeat Philadelphia, they get the Rams in the Divisional Round. That potential matchup would be on the road.

Performance Entering The Postseason

The Bears come in on a four-game winning streak and having won nine of their final ten games. Their only loss during that stretch came at the hands of the Giants in an intense overtime battle with career backup Chase Daniel at quarterback. Chicago comes in as hot as anyone at the moment, particularly on the defensive side. During their current win streak, while they are only putting up 19.3 points per game, they are surrendering just 10.5 per contest. Defense is going to have to win games for the Bears in the playoffs, and they appear up for the task.

Level Of Contender: High

In a league where momentum is vital, Nagy and company enter the playoffs with plenty of it. With the Saints and Rams finishing the season on rather mediocre levels, the path to the NFC Championship is wide open. Chicago’s stout defense, coupled with their serviceable offense, presents a tough matchup for any team they face. I like the Bears to defeat the defending-champion Eagles at home, and if their defense can continue to be the backbone of their success, they have a great chance to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIII.

Edited by Jeremy Losak.

SQuiz
What year did the Bears' first and only Super Bowl win come in?
Created 1/5/19
  1. 2007
  2. 1986
  3. 1990
  4. 1985

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