Philadelphia Eagles vs. Chicago Bears Pick
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7 SU, 7-9 ATS) vs. Chicago Bears (12-4 SU, 12-4 ATS)
NFL Wild Card Weekend
Date and Time: January 6 at 4:40pm ET
Where: Soldier Field
By Ted Walker, NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: PHI +6/CHI -6
Over/Under Total: 41
The games on the NFL’s Wild Card Weekend are some of the most fun to watch in my opinion. The teams taking the field are good but not great and that leaves us with potential upsets as the difference between the 6-seed and 3-seed is often not that meaningful. In fact, the 6-seed has won 30-of-80 games on WildCard Weekend since the NFL made the switch to the current playoff format in 1990. The magic is often confined to the opening weekend however as just four 6-seeds have won multiple games, with two eventually going on to win the SuperBowl. The defending champion Philadelphia Eagles are looking to be the next 6-seed to put on a Cinderella run but they will need a strong effort in Chicago to knock off the Bears. Chicago is in the playoffs for the first time since 2010 so it is Philly that has a large experience edge this weekend. Only six players on the Bears roster have significant playoff experience, most notably TE Trey Burton who was part of the Eagles run last season. The Eagles got hot at the right time, despite losing Carson Wentz, and needed some help to even make the playoffs so they are playing with house money at this point. Will momentum and a nothing-to-lose attitude be enough to knock of the NFC North champs?
The Best Unit on the Field
There is little doubt that Chicago defense has a decided advantage over any opponent at this point and is probably the best single unit in the entire playoff draw. The Bears are first in points allowed at 17.7 per game and are also the best run-stopping unit in the league. Philly has the 7th best passing game, including averaging 282 yards per game under Nick Foles but Chicago is 7th against the pass and 3rd in total yards allowed, giving up just 299 per game. Khalil Mack is the centerpiece with 12.5 sacks, ten tackles for loss and six forced fumbles but he is far from the only productive member on this balanced defense. As a unit, Chicago is holding opponents to 34% conversions on third downs, good for 3rd in the league with QBs averaging just a 70.4 passer rating on average. Holding the L.A. Rams to just six points a few weeks ago seemed to upgrade the Bears D to a terrifying level that all but eliminated any thought that they weren’t going to be a factor in these playoffs. Doug Pederson will have conjure up a strong gameplan to get some points on the board but anyone that can beat Bill Belichick in the playoffs deserves some serious credit.
The Eagles Answer
Getting consistent production against that Bears defense has to be job #1 for Philly and they will again have to do things with their backup quarterback. The good thing is that Nick Foles might be the best backup in the biz and the offense doesn’t miss a beat with Foles completing 72% of his passes. He has only thrown for seven touchdowns in relief of Wentz but that has been good enough to win five of the last six, including W’s against the playoff-bound Rams and Texans. Philly was hit hard by injuries this season, including losing RBs Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement for the season but Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood have stepped in to at least give some stability to the Eagles backfield. The homerun ability is lacking with neither back over 4.3 yards per carry but both are capable pass catchers good in pass protection. The ageless Darren Sproles rounds out the backfield and has scored three times since returning from injury in early December. The Philly run game ranks 30th in yards per carry but they stick with it and that helps the Eagles rank 2nd in time of possession. Zach Ertz will likely command the attention of a cornerback in coverage with Chicago’s Eddie Jackson potentially out again this week. Ertz leads the team in catches, yards and touchdowns (8) with rookie TE Dallas Goedert adding another four scores. Philadelphia is going to challenge Chicago with that short, middle passing game that also gets the ball out quickly to keep Foles upright. Alshon Jeffery and Golden Tate have seen just about all you can see in the NFL and are trusted to make those tough catches in big spots. Considering the Eagles are only 18th in scoring and missing a true standout playmaker on offense, the recipe is there for them to grind it out on offense and find a way to make this a four quarter affair.
How Many is Enough?
The required amount of points for Chicago to win is the big factor in this game for me. On paper, that total might not be very high at all considering the Bears would have won ten games this season by simply scoring 20 each week. The defense has been so good that they have contributed nearly nearly three points per week to Bears total of 26.3 points per game. That is the 9th best per game average but the offense has only accounted for 23 per week on average, a total that is much more league average than anything else. Chicago is likely to be short some skill players as WRs Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller are all listed as questionable. Missing all or even some of that trio really helps the Eagles pass D which ranks near the bottom of the league in allowing 269 yards per game. Jordan Howard is closing in on 1,000 rushing yards for the season but at just 3.7 yards per carry, he can’t move the Bears very fast down the field. Tarik Cohen leads the team with 71 catches out of the backfield but has been quiet over much of the last month with just 61 receiving yards in the last four games. Philly isn’t a statistically strong defense but they play the bend-don’t-break style well in giving up just 21.8 points per game. Mitchell Trubisky has taken a step forward in his second year as a starter but the Bears are just 21st in passing before they were hit with a rash of wide receiver injuries. I still do think Chicago is good for 20 points and that will be enough to win but their margin for error will not be large.
My eyes tell me Chicago is the superior team and Soldier Field is going to be rocking this Sunday. My eyes also tell me that Philly has regained much of the swagger that carried them through the playoffs against Atlanta, Minnesota and New England last season. The Eagles had the benefit of home field last year but they were able to hang 38 on the Vikings who had the best defense in the league at the time. That recent success will be front and center for the Eagles as they prep this week. No one wants to play the Bears right now but the Eagles have to think they can take advantage of this Chicago team that will take time to figure out how to play in the postseason. The Bears get their first playoff win since 2010 but Philly gets enough on the board to cover the spread. Chicago 20 Philadelphia 16
Ted Walker’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Eagles