Wild-card breakdown: Chicago Bears vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The 9-7 Eagles, the defending Super Bowl champions, are in the playoffs facing the Bears at Soldier Field because their 12-4 opponents eliminated the Vikings from the postseason in the regular-season finale.
The Bears’ 24-10 victory over the Vikings was their fourth straight and their ninth in 10 games. The Eagles squeaked into the postseason by winning five of their final six games, including back-to-back victories over the 13-3 Rams and the 11-5 Texans in Weeks 15 and 16, and getting help from the Bears in Week 17.
The last time the Eagles and Bears met in the postseason was after the 2001 season, when the Eagles won 33-19 at Soldier Field. The last regular-season meeting was in 2017, when the Eagles romped 31-3 at Lincoln Financial Field during their run to the Super Bowl LII title.
Bears rushing offense vs. Eagles run defense
Bears coach Matt Nagy has been criticized for not running the ball enough, but the Bears have run 129 more times than their opponents (468-339). They hadn’t run it very effectively for much of the year, except for QB Mitch Trubisky’s 421 yards on 68 attempts (6.2-yard average). That is, until recently. In the last four weeks, RB Jordan Howard has produced his only two 100-yard games. He’s coming off a 109-yard, two-touchdown outing on 21 carries last week, when the Bears ran 37 times, their second-highest total of the season, for 169 yards, their third-best total.
The Eagles finished No. 7 in rushing yards allowed with S Malcolm Jenkins and LBs Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham making the majority of the tackles thanks to the exceptional work up front of DT Fletcher Cox and DE Brandon Graham. Five years ago, when Bears DT Akiem Hicks and Jenkins were teammates in New Orleans, Hicks says he leaned on the veteran leadership of Jenkins when the Saints went to the postseason. “He’s a great leader, No. 1, and an even better guy to just be around in the locker room,” Hicks said of the 33-year-old safety. “Having guys like that, that have played the game at a high level, when you’re into the playoffs is invaluable. You can’t put a price on it.”
Bears passing offense vs. Eagles pass defense
The Bears should be a lot more healthy here after finishing the Vikings games without their top three wide receivers. WR1 Allen Robinson (ribs) was inactive for the finale, but he is expected back along with WR2 Taylor Gabriel (ribs) and WR3 Anthony Miller (shoulder), who were both forced out early last week. Coach Matt Nagy is hopeful all three will be back to their usual effectiveness, but if not, QB Mitch Trubisky could struggle to maintain his late-season flourish. Running a conservative attack since he bottomed out with three interceptions vs. the Rams in Week 14, Trubisky has completed 76 percent of his passes over the past three games with three TD passes and no interceptions.
The Eagles have suffered decimating injuries in their secondary, losing their top two cornerbacks to injured reserve, Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby, and they’ve plummeted to 30th in passing yards allowed. Rasul Douglas and fourth-round rookie Avonte Maddox are the current starters with former Bear Cre’Von LeBlanc, who was cut before the season, playing nickel. Cox led the way with 10.5 sacks, Michael Bennett added nine and Chris Long, the older brother of Bears OG Kyle, added 6.5.
Eagles rushing offense game vs. Bears run defense
The Eagles have struggled to run consistently with a backfield by committee led by undrafted rookie Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood, plus the recent return of Darren Sproles. Their top two running backs, Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement, are on injured reserve. The Eagles are 28th in rushing yards and 30th in average gain per rush at 3.94 yards per attempt.
The Bears led the NFL in rushing yards allowed (80.0 per game) and were No. 4 in average gain allowed per rush (3.78 yards). DL Akiem Hicks and NT Eddie Goldman demonstrated why they are the strength of the Bears’ run defense by imposing their will at the line of scrimmage vs. the Vikings, much as they have done all season. Rookie ILB Roquan Smith leads the Bears with 122 tackles, followed by veteran ILB Danny Trevathan with 102.
Eagles passing offense vs. Bears pass defense
QB Nick Foles has once again rallied the Eagles late in the season, this time with three straight wins in as many starts. He will play vs. the Bears after bruising his ribs on Sunday. Before he left the game, Foles completed 25 straight passes to tie the NFL record. Nate Sudfeld is listed No. 2 with injured starter Carson Wentz (back) not having improved enough to be in the mix. Foles, the Super Bowl LII MVP, is 9-2 over the last two seasons, including the playoffs. Former Bear Alshon Jeffery is the Eagles’ No. 1 wide receiver, but TE Zach Ertz is the top target with 116 receptions for 1,163 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Bears led the NFL with 27 interceptions, and CB Kyle Fuller tied for the NFL lead with seven, while S Eddie Jackson had six, despite missing the final two games with a sprained ankle. He’ll be a game-time decision after being limited throughout the practice week but is expected to give it a go. Six different Bears had at least two interceptions, and four players – Jackson, CB Prince Amukamara, OLB Khalil Mack and OLB Leonard Floyd – have pick-6s. Mack (12.5 sacks) leads the pass rush, and Hicks added 7.5 sacks.
PK Cody Parkey missed his third extra-point attempt of the season in Week 17 and a 37-yard FG attempt a week earlier and has made just 23 of 30 (76.7 percent) this year. Tarik Cohen is a first-team All-Pro punt returner on the strength of his 12.5-yard average.
The Eagles’ Jake Elliott has connected on 83.9 percent of his FG tries (26 of 31) and missed two of 35 extra points. Sproles’ return from injury boosts the punt-return game.
Nagy and Eagles coach Doug Pederson go back a long way.
Before taking over in Philadelphia in 2016, Pederson was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for three years (2013-15), during which time Bears head coach Matt Nagy was the Kansas City QB coach. Pederson was the QB coach in Philadelphia (2011-12) and an offensive quality control coach for two years before that, when Nagy was just getting started in the NFL coaching business as an intern.
“When I first got into this league, I was below a quality control coach,” Nagy said. “I was an assistant to the assistant, and Doug was a quality control coach. Then he got the QB (coach) job, and I bumped up and got the quality control job. And then he got the offensive coordinator job (with the Chiefs), and I became the QB coach.
“He’s a great friend of mine. I have a ton of respect for him, and we texted (Sunday) night. So we keep following this path here. I told him at the owners meetings this past offseason that he got that Super Bowl, (and) I’m trying to follow his lead here. He probably doesn’t want to hear that right now.”
Sunday’s overall edge
The Bears are 7-1 at Soldier Field, while the Eagles are 4-4 on the road. If turnovers play a key role, as they usually do, the Bears should have the upper hand. They were third in the NFL at plus-12, while the Eagles were 25th at minus-6.