Sunday Night Football: Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
Chicago Bears (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6)
Sunday night on NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
Both of these teams could clinch their respective division titles with a win here, though both will also need a bit of help. Chicago takes the NFC North with a victory Sunday night, plus losses earlier in the afternoon by both Detroit and Green Bay; Philly wins the NFC East with a win plus a loss by Dallas. Rather than clinching a division title this week, more likely both clubs will be in a win or go home game next Sunday when Chicago hosts Green Bay, and Philadelphia is at Dallas.
LeSean McCoy leads the league with 1,343 rushing yards and 1,850 yards from scrimmage, though he was limited to 38 yards rushing on just eight carries last week. Expect that production to make a 180 Sunday against a Chicago run defense that is by far the NFL’s worst, allowing 5.2 yards per carry and 152 yards rushing per game. Yes, the return of Lance Briggs will improve the defense, but it is expecting too much for Briggs to single-handedly turn the D around in his first game in eight weeks. Chicago will still be without defensive tackles Henry Melton and Nate Collins, linebacker D.J. Williams, and corners Peanut Tillman and Kelvin Hayden.
Similar to the Patriots, Chip Kelly tends to game plan specifically for his opponents. That means that just because they passed often last week, they won’t necessarily do the same this week. I would expect to see Philly run the ball quite a bit, and then try to open things up with play action passes. The Eagles lead the NFL with 18 passing plays of more than 40 yards, and are third with four rushes of more than 40 yards.
That doesn’t mean the Bears are out of it though, as they can light up the scoreboard themselves, and the Eagles have yet to show they can stop an opposing passing attack. This should be a very competitive and entertaining high scoring affair. Jay Cutler is back under center and though he was rusty early in his return (two interceptions), he has much better arm strength than Josh McCown does. As well as McCown performed filling in over the last seven games, Cutler still brings an added dimension to the offense. His presence with the big targets – 6’3″ Alshon Jeffrey (80 receptions, 1,265 yards, 7 TD), 6’4″ Brandon Marshall (90 receptions, 1,185 yards, 10 TD) and 6’6″ Martellus Bennett (59 receptions, 659 yards, 5 TD) is a mismatch that heavily favors the Chicago offense against a Philadelphia pass defense is in dire need of upgrades, ranking 31st in yards allowed (292 per game).
The Eagles did go through a nine-game stretch where they did not allow more than 21 points even though they were giving up a lot of yardage. The formula for that should be familiar to Pats fans: force turnovers. Philly did not do that last week and Matt Cassel and the Vikings torched them to the tune of 48 points. Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher play outside for Philly but haven’t done anything special this season. They were signed because they are big and physical, so if there is a game for them to prove their value then this is it. The Eagle secondary also gets a bit of a lift with the return of slot corner Brandon Boykin (concussion) and safety Earl Wolff, who has missed four games with a knee injury.
This game could easily go either way and could come down to the last possession and/or a critical special teams play. Both teams have both benefited and been burnt on special teams this year, so even that area is difficult to predict. One possible caveat is that depending on what happens earlier in the day, one team may rest some of their key players. For example if Dallas wins, do the Eagles hold back some of their starters knowing that a win or loss makes no difference? Will the players have a different level of intensity depending on those other games? I’m doubting that will be the case, though it is a possibility. I’ll suggest just getting some appetizers and cold beverages ready, sitting back and enjoying what should be an entertaining, high scoring game.
Pick • Eagles 31, Bears 30
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