On one hand, I’m shocked that the Eagles are in the playoffs. On the other hand, I remember that this is where the team was always supposed to be: a returning champion defending their Super Bowl title.
Of course, my expectations in the offseason—much like yours—was that the Eagles would cruise to another NFC East crown and perhaps a first-round bye. With most of the roster returning and an MVP quarterback ready to take back the reins of the franchise, how could anyone argue otherwise?
Nobody would have predicted that the team who rode their status as an underdog and afterthought to a Super Bowl victory would find themselves in the same exact position less than a year later, yet, here we are: the biggest underdogs of wild card weekend once again led by their backup quarterback.
With underdog masks swapped out for ski masks, the Eagles have leveraged their low national expectations into an identity and edge that suits the city of Philadelphia far better than the role of the favorites. The question is, do the similarities stop there? Or is this Eagles team on the cusp of another playoff run?
We’ll get a partial answer to that question on Sunday when the Birds face a 12-4 Bears team that, on paper, should have no problem disposing of us.
Here are three reasons why I think the Eagles can, and will beat the Bears on Sunday:
1. Playoff experience
It’s hard to put into words, but there’s something different about playoff football, and players will tell you that there’s value in having been there before. Beyond knowing how to manage your emotions before and throughout the game, playoff adversity is different, and having experience in responding to that is vital.
Chicago is loaded up and down the depth chart, but the one thing their roster clearly lacks is postseason experience. Only 12 of their players have appeared in the playoffs before, and of those names, only a few currently play meaningful snaps for the Bears.
Being that the Eagles have a roster fresh off a three game Super Bowl run, they have no shortage of such experience. Foles’ playoff experience stretches further back than last year, as it does for the rest of the members who remain from the 2014 team. Many members of our defense even had previous Super Bowl experience under their belt prior to 2017.
Outside of New England, there isn’t a team in the playoffs that can boast the same level of postseason experience as the Eagles. And when it comes to playing with your back against the wall, the Birds have been doing that for the past five weeks, if not much of the season. Not only do they have players who have been in the playoffs before, but the entire team has been playing with a ‘playoff mentality’ since week 13.
It’s not imperative to have playoff experience—you could argue that Philly was fairly inexperienced last season (although not as much as Chicago is now). But it’s hard to deny that the Eagles Super Bowl run, and even their past few weeks of ‘win-or-go-home’ football, will give them an edge in terms of maintaining a resilient mindset and understanding what it takes to win in the playoffs.
2. Chicago’s offense isn’t built to take advantage of our weaknesses
The path of least resistance against the Eagles is through the secondary. Despite the fact that their play has drastically improved in the past few weeks, it remains the best way to attack this defense.
Compared to the Rams and Saints, the Bears offense is largely predicated on establishing the running game and giving Trubisky safe throws to stay on schedule. While he is a very capable down field passer, he pales in comparison to Goff and Brees, who wouldn’t hesitate to throw the ball 50 times at the first sign of weakness in the secondary.
The Bears offense ranks 27th in the NFL in percentage of first downs that come on 1st or 2nd down; i.e.: they’re not looking to pick up chunk yards, they’re looking to stay on schedule and minimize mistakes. Out of all the playoff teams in the NFC, I would argue that Chicago is the least equipped to run up the score on the Eagles or exploit their shrinking holes in the secondary.
Their offense simply isn’t as versatile as the Saints or Rams, and for that reason, Matt Nagy isn’t going to reinvent what has made his offense successful. While Trubisky is actually capable of throwing for 400 yards and 4 TDs on Sunday, they know that if they get lured into a pass happy game plan they’ll be exposed to the Eagles red-hot pass rush.
What makes this such a positive is that Schwartz’s defense has been great at stopping the run these past few weeks (3.4 ypc in the past three games). If they’re able to slow down a very effective Chicago rushing attack, then the Bears will be forced to subject Trubisky to constant third-and-longs, or chose to abandon the running game and ask him to win with his arm—to reiterate, both of those situations would leave the Eagles pass rush licking their chops.
This is likely going to be a low scoring game, which plays into how both teams want to play. As long as the Birds offense doesn’t turn the ball over and give them short fields to work with, I don’t see the Bears finding the end zone very often.
3. Foles’ magic is real
The Bears defense is elite. There’s no way around that.
Their 72.9 opponent passer rating is one of the lowest in NFL history, and they allow just 3.3 yards per carry at Solider Field. They don’t give up big plays, and they’re a top five defense in red zone efficiency.
In other words, there isn’t a hole to attack, a crack to probe, or even a thread to pull at—this defense is as balanced and complete as can be.
The only blueprint for beating a defense like this is to have a balanced and unpredictable game plan in return, and to execute that game plan flawlessly. Not only do both phases need be effective, but they need to be a threat on every down.
Staying on schedule and keeping the entire playbook open is crucial against the Bears. But with a quarterback who just completed 25 consecutive throws against Washington, and finished the season with a 72.3% completion rate—the second highest in NFL history—staying on schedule won’t be as daunting as you may think. On top of that, for the Eagles to consistently move the ball, Foles needs to continue winning on third downs and taking advantage of his few opportunities down field.
Through the calendar year of 2018, Foles stats on third down are as follows: 72/90 (80%), 874 yards, 9 TDs, 1 INT, with a 135.8 passer rating. Those are truly historic numbers that will need to be duplicated if he wants to beat Chicago.
And it’s hard to discuss Foles’ success without mentioning the downfield throws to Agholor and Jeffrey that have suddenly become a part of our offense. While the Bears don’t give up many big plays, the Eagles will almost certainly need to connect on one or two of them to get easy yards and take some pressure off the line of scrimmage.
Chicago’s defense—while elite in every sense of the word—isn’t impervious to good execution and a little Foles magic. As they say, good offense beats good defense every day of the week, and if Foles merely continues his level of play from the past few weeks then he’s more than capable of hanging crooked numbers on the Bears.