Analyzing the Bears’ potential divisional round opponents

January 5th, 2011 - 11:31 am

Due to the NFL’s scheduling rules which ensure that the No. 1 seed in a conference will play the worst seed in the divisional round of the playoffs, the No. 2 Bears have three potential opponents from this week’s wild card round. The fourth team — the Packers — would not face the Bears in the divisional round because they have the worst seed and would thus face Atlanta, if the Packers beat the Eagles this weekend, of course.

Here’s a breakdown of each of the Bears’ potential divisional round opponents, including their strengths and weaknesses and how the Bears would match up.

No. 3 Philadelphia Eagles

Overview:
The Bears already have game film as well as game experience against the third-seeded Eagles from their Nov. 28 contest at Soldier Field. The Bears prevailed, 31-26, and ensured that quarterback Michael Vick would not beat them with his legs. Vick rushed for 44 yards on 9 carries, a good average for a quarterback but one that would not defeat them. Vick did throw for 333 yards and two touchdowns on 29 of 44 passing, though. But a lot of that came due to the Eagles having to play from behind.

Strengths:
The Eagles have a strong offense — the third-highest scoring team in the league with a 27.4 average — and are loaded with explosive young talent. Vick is a candidate for the Most Valuable Player award. He’s fourth in the league with a 100.2 passer rating and has throw 21 touchdowns to just six interceptions, a remarkable achievement for a quarterback that not only spent two years away from football but also was never a strong passer early in his career. Running back LeSean McCoy and receivers Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant and DeSean Jackson have been big weapons for Vick in the passing game. McCoy led the team with 78 receptions, Jackson is their big-play threat and led the team with 1056 receiving yards, and Maclin led the team with 10 touchdowns. The Eagles have an opportunistic defense that finished third in the league with 23 interceptions. They also forced, and recovered, 11 fumbles and returned one for a touchdown.

Weaknesses:
Despite his elusiveness, Michael Vick has been sacked 34 times this season, fifth-most in the NFL and he also played in just 12 games, which is even more alarming for the Eagles. Their pass protection is suspect and gives the Bears an opportunity to operate — and succeed — in the Cover 2 defense. The Eagles have a pretty solid, well-rounded defense, but they rank around average against both the pass and the run, which means they yield a decent amount of yards each game. The Eagles’ pass defense has given up 31 passing touchdowns this season, third-most in the league.

No. 4 Seattle Seahawks

Overview:
The Bears have to be licking their chops about this potential matchup. Not only are the Seahawks the worst of their potential divisional opponents but Seattle defeated the Bears, 23-20, at Soldier Field on Oct. 17. Jay Cutler was sacked six times, Julius Peppers had perhaps his worst and most ineffective game as a Bear, and the team ran just 12 rushing plays: eight carries, 11 yards for Matt Forte and four carries, 31 yards from Chester Taylor. Cutler attempted 39 passes but completed just 17 for a completion percentage of 43%. This game, along with their loss to the Redskins the following week, was part of the reason that Mike Martz and the offense transformed into a more balanced one following the bye week. If the Bears are fortunate enough to face the Seahawks again, I think they’ll pound them by at least two touchdowns.

Strengths:
The Seahawks aren’t a very good team so their strengths are limited. First and foremost are their special teams. Kickoff returner Leon Washington had a Pro Bowl-caliber season but lost out to Devin Hester, obviously. Washington averaged 25.6 yards per return and scored three touchdowns. Although the stats don’t reflect it, running back Marshawn Lynch is a good player the Bears would have to be ready to face. He runs hard and can break arm tackles, so a lapse in technique could hurt. Charlie Whitehurst has started in place of the injured Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is obviously a savvy veteran and is probably more comfortable in a playoff situation. Wide receiver Mike Williams has had a rejuvenation with the Seahawks and finished 34th in the league with 65 receptions for 751 yards and two touchdowns. Sadly, the Bears allowed him to have a career game against them with 10 receptions for 123 yards.

Weaknesses:
The Seahawks finished the regular season with the 28th ranked offense, including 31st in rushing yards. Defensively, the Seahawks ranked 27th overall. They were 21st against the run and 27th against the pass. If the Bears are fortunate enough to face the Seahawks, they’d be lucky to face Whitehurst at quarterback if Hasselbeck cannot go. The Seahawks defense has intercepted just 12 passes this year, sixth-fewest in the NFL. They, like the Eagles, have given up 31 passing touchdowns, third-most in the league.

No. 5 New Orleans Saints

Overview:
The Bears did not play the Saints in the regular season this year, like they did their other two potential playoff opponents. There was a four-year stretch from 2005-2008 when the Bears played the Saints — and won — each year, including the 2006 NFC conference championship game. The last time the Bears lost to the Saints was in 2003, and that was on the road. The Saints haven’t beaten the Bears at Soldier Field since 2000 — they beat the Bears in Champaign in 2002, though. Despite all the success the Bears have had against the Saints, I still don’t want any part of this team. The Bears have struggled against precision passers and that’s exactly what Drew Brees is. The Saints have had their bout with injuries this year and they’ve struggled away from home and in cold weather, but the Bears have had trouble with good offenses.

Strengths:
Brees is clearly the strength of the team and the engine that runs their high octane offense. The Saints offense is essentially what Mike Martz wishes he could run in Chicago and it’s also the most exciting downfield offense we’ve seen since Martz’s version in St. Louis. It’s predicated on good pass protection and a strong offensive line, which is what the Saints possess. Brees has been sacked just 25 times this season. Nineteen quarterbacks have been sacked more, and only one — Peyton Manning — has attempted more passes than Brees has. When the Bears have struggled to rush the passer, they’ve typically lost or have been in a tight game, so this is a major cause for concern. The Saints have the No. 6 overall offense, including the No. 3 passing attack. Marques Colston led the team with 84 receptions for 1023 yards and seven touchdowns in the regular season. Lance Moore and Robert Meachem are solid targets. Brees does a great job incorporating the tight ends into the offense as well. Defensively, the Saints are ranked No. 4. They’re ranked fourth against the pass and seventh in points allowed.

Weaknesses:
The Saints don’t do a very good job of running the football as they ranked 28th in the regular season. Making matters worse is that their leading rusher, Chris Ivory, was placed on IR. The Saints aren’t all that great at defending the run, either. They’re ranked 16th in the NFL while allowing 112.3 yards per game. Although the Saints are ranked highly against the pass, they have not been an opportunistic defense this year and are ranked dead last with just nine interceptions on the season.