NFL Playoffs are now upon us. For the next month as we approach the Super Bowl, it’s win or go home. Some may tend to lean with the favorites (Saints or Rams), but I think Chicago has a great chance to win the NFC. Boasting one of the league’s top defenses they also have plenty of offensive talent to win on that side of the ball. While New Orleans has home field throughout the playoffs, the Bears have fared well on the road having ended the season with a 5-3 record away from Soldier Field. In their three road losses, their combined margin of defeat was just 7 points. Chicago also doesn’t get blown out. They’ve kept it close in all four of their losses by not suffering a loss by more than 7 points (vs Pats 38-31).
Chicago has managed to survive through some key injuries this season which have unfortunately led to losses. Khalil Mack was sidelined a few weeks with an ankle injury which was around the time of their back to back losses to Miami and New England. Mitch Trubisky suffered a shoulder injury which caused him to miss multiple weeks and may have been a reason for their loss to the Giants. Allen Robinson and recently Eddie Jackson have had their injury stints but with this full Chicago team, they are borderline the team to beat.
Potential Playoff Opponents (Higher Seeds)
Looking at the other playoff teams, they all have their flaws. Starting with the lower seeds, Seattle won’t be playing in the comforts of their home field. Chicago already beat Seattle once at Soldier Field, no reason they can’t do it again, although Seattle’s offense is playing some of their best football. Philadelphia has been cooking as of late with Nick Foles taking over at QB but they’ve struggled this season on both sides of the ball. Their secondary has been one of the most generous to opposing wide receivers and their offense has become more one dimensional with Josh Adams slowing down after his hot start. Dallas has the four seed locked up but they’ve had a roller coaster season. From Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliot torching the Redskins and Eagles to Dak Prescott getting smoked by the Colts, who knows what Cowboys team will show up. If they win their wildcard matchup and have to travel to Chicago, it could be a long game for Dak and the Cowboys, who have had their struggles on the road.
Potential Playoff Opponents (Lower Seeds)
That leaves the two presumable “favorites” with the Saints and Rams. Over the last few weeks, I’ve honestly seen some declines from both teams. In three of their last four games (Lions, Bears, and Eagles), Jared Goff has not looked himself and they’ve lost two of their last three. Pair that with not knowing the health of Todd Gurley’s knee, and there could be some questions marks surrounding the Rams come playoff time. The Saints have a very balanced team however their offense has been slowed over the past few weeks. They tallied an underwhelming 10 against the Cowboys and 12 on the Panthers. Pair that with a near loss to the Steelers and they as well have hit minor roadblocks. It remains to be seen whether these two juggernauts will have these flaws carry over into the playoffs or if they will show signs of their early season consistencies.
Chicago’s Road to the Playoffs
This Sunday in the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs the Bears have a home tilt with the defending Super Bowl Champ Eagles. Winning in Soldier Field is no easy task regardless of the team but drawing Nick Foles in the first round is a tough start for the 12-4 Bears. With Eddie Jackson expected to play, Chicago should have their full complement on both sides of the ball. Although Foles has brought a spark to this team, they still were 6-6 at one point and looking outmatched week in and week out. Going on the road against a dominant Bears defense, I don’t see much chance for the Eagles to come out winners. This game should be close but I don’t think the Eagles can keep up with the Bears the way Philadelphia’s defense has been playing this season. As long as Trubisky and the Bears win the turnover battle, I believe that will be enough for them to move on to the Divisional Round.
A win over the Eagles secures a Divisional matchup in L.A. against the daunting Rams. These two teams played each other towards the end of the season and Chicago controlled the game from start to finish. The only difference is that the game will switch locations to L.A. While that should swings things a bit in favor of the Rams, the Bears have shown resiliency every game this season. With Goff struggling as of late and not knowing the condition of Todd Gurley, this game will be very close. As long as the Bears don’t fall behind early and their defense clamps down when the Rams enter the redzone, they will be going to the NFC Championship.
While there are a number of teams Chicago could face in the NFC Championship, the most likely option would be the New Orleans Saints. Not having the benefit of hosting that game, they would have to travel to the Superdome for a legendary showdown. If the Saints look like the early season Saints, then this will be a tough game for Chicago to win. However, over the past few weeks, the Saints high-powered offense has seemed to slow down a bit. That’s good news for Chicago’s defense which has stymied most opponents this season. It’s tough to run on the Saints defense so this game may be put on Trubisky’s shoulders. If Chicago can get Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen involved consistently throughout the game and avoid becoming one dimensional (pass only), this should be one for the ages.
Who knows who will make it out of the AFC, but the Patriots seem to always find a way. Having already beat Chicago in Soldier Field earlier in the season, they know what it takes to defeat this Bears team (Khalil Mack was banged up). New England seems like a different breed in the playoffs and with Tom Brady at the helm, anything is possible for the Patriots. Although Brady hasn’t looked his best prior to the Jets game, they’ve got their running game to be very effective and kept a clean pocket for Brady. Chicago is among the league’s best when it comes to rushing defense so they could force Brady to test their stout secondary. One of the main keys to beating the Patriots for the Bears is to get persistent pressure on Tom Brady. In 2014, Denver abused New England’s offensive line, sacked and knocked down Brady, which led to their AFC Championship victory. Pittsburgh had constant pressure on Brady a few weeks ago and that led to holding the Patriots to 10 points. If the Bears want to beat New England in the Super Bowl, they need constant pressure on the future Hall of Fame QB.