Mosher: 3 reasons the Chicago Bears can go to Super Bowl LIII
The Chicago Bears are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010, and boy is it sweet. In just one season, the Bears have drastically changed the direction of the franchise. We can debate and argue about who deserves the most credit for their rapid improvement another time, but this is a team that appears to be set to dominate the NFC North for years to come.
But before they can become a truly dominant team, the Bears need to find some success in the playoffs. That starts on Sunday afternoon as they host the Philadelphia Eagles in the wild-card round. But before that game begins, it’s time to look at the three biggest reasons the Bears have a chance to win the NFC this year.
1. The Bears Have The No. 1 Defense (DVOA)
After years of watching playoff football, one thing that holds true each postseason is that having an elite defense can take you to the promised land. And for the Bears, they certainly have a great defense. According to Football Outsiders, the Bears had the No.1 defense in DVOA at -25.6 percent. What is DVOA, you may ask? DVOA is a method of evaluating teams, units, or players. It takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on the situation.
According to DVOA, the Bears’ 2018 defense was one of the best in NFL history and the best overall since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who won the Super Bowl. Chicago finished the season as the No.1 scoring defense, allowing just 17.7 points per game. Chicago led the league in takeaways (36), the most in the NFL in a season since the 2015 Carolina Panthers (39).
Not only do they take the ball away at a high level, but the Bears also pressure the quarterback at an absurd rate. Chicago finished the season with 50 sacks, which was good enough for 3rd in the NFL. A defense that gets sacks creates the most amount of turnovers in the league and holds teams under 18 points per game seems pretty good if you ask me. The more you dive in, the more obvious it is that the Bears have an all-time great defense. Here are some defensive categories the Bears led the league in:
Opponent Touchdown Drives (28)
Yards allowed on 1st down (4.7 yards)
Total Touchdowns Allowed (30)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per Game (80)
Three-and-Outs Forced (49)
If the Bears advance to the divisional or championship round of the playoffs, they are likely to face some of the best offenses in the league, likely the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints. Their elite defense can single-handedly win them games, and we saw that play out multiple times throughout the season. The Bears’ defense alone is a reason to consider them one of the favorites to bring home the Lombardi trophy in 2019.
2. Chicago’s Red Zone Offense
Unlike most teams with a historically great defense, the Bears have one of the better offenses in the league to pair with their defense. In 2018, they finished the season as the 9th ranked offense, scoring 26.3 points per game despite being 21st in yards per game (343.9). How is that possible? Because they have one of the league’s best red zone attacks.
According to Team Rankings, the Bears scored touchdowns on 67 percent of their red zone attempts this season, sixth-best in the NFL. Not only are they scoring at a high-rate in the red zone, but they are also one of the best teams concerning success rate as well (56.7 percent). They don’t have many negative plays when they are near the end zone, and that is a big part of their success.
With the additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Anthony Miller, the Bears have all sorts of weapons in the red zone. Not only can they throw the ball exceptionally well inside the 20, but they also have the option of running with Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, and Mitchell Trubisky, depending on the opponent.
In the playoffs, points come at a premium, so having one of the best red zone offenses and a top play-caller in Matt Nagy should pay dividends. Expect the Bears’ red zone effectiveness to help guide them to victory in Round 1.
3. Special Teams
One of the things that makes the Bears such a dangerous opponent in the playoffs is that they can win in all three phases of the game; offense, defense, and special teams. Chicago has been outstanding in nearly every aspect of special teams, minus their kicker. On the season, the Bears have averaged 12.5 yards per return on punts, second-best in the NFL. On the flip side, they allowed just 7.5 yards per return, the 10th fewest in the NFL.
While their punt return average on both sides has been fantastic, it doesn’t tell the whole story. One of my favorite stats in the special team’s game is the number of 20+ yard returns both created and allowed. Why is this one of my favorite stats? Because the special teams’ phase of the game is all about creating big plays and preventing them. For Chicago, they were able to do both this season. The Bears led the league in punt returns of at least 20 yards with seven, and they also led the league in 20+ yard returns allowed with zero.
While their kicking game has struggled some this season, I fully expect their Bears’ punt return unit to be dominant in the playoffs. Don’t be surprised if and when Tarik Cohen makes one or two big plays in this area that flips the field position like he has done all season.
Chicago has all of the pieces to make a run in the playoffs. In my opinion, they are the most well-rounded team in the NFL and maybe of the last few years. However, as we know, the most balanced team doesn’t always win the Super Bowl as the NFL playoffs tend to be random. But don’t be surprised if the Bears make a run this postseason. This is simply one of the best teams in the NFL.