The Chicago Bears will travel to the Superdome on Sunday afternoon, looking to knock off the No. 2 New Orleans Saints. While the Bears are back in the NFC playoff field for the first time in two years, Chicago still finds itself on their back foot as they required outside help to back into the playoffs. With the Los Angeles Rams victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 17 securing the seventh-seed for the Bears—following their dismantling at the Green Bay Packers' hands—it's time for the Bears to show they belong.
Thankfully for Bears fans, there's reason to think they can do just that. Here are our four bold predictions as Chicago faces the New Orleans Saints in the NFC Wild Card Game.
1. The Bears will employ a five-man front
Though future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees still calls the plays for the Saints offense, make no mistake, this is Alvin Kamara's scoring unit. While the running back hasn't been active since Christmas Day following his placement on the reserve/COVID-19 list, there's ample reason to believe that he will be the focal point of New Orleans' offensive attack.
This will make stopping him the top priority for the Bears' defensive front.
While the Bears generally have prioritized pressuring the quarterback rather than stopping the run, the challenge that Kamara presents to Chicago is unlike any they have faced in the NFC North division. Given that Brees will play off the halfback, rather than the other way around, the Bears will need to readjust their thinking if they are going to be successful.
With that in mind, look for Chicago to get creative and employ a five-man front to deter the Saints' running game. Though the Bears' run defense ranks a mediocre 14th in yards allowed, opponents have consistently attempted to run against Chicago's defensive line, with the unit ranked in the bottom 10 at rushes per game. All told while the Bears may have lucked out in limiting the damage overall, opposing coordinators have clearly identified a weak link in Chicago's defensive scheme to try and exploit.
The Bears front line clearly has talent, but Sunday, they'll also need a change in thinking if they are going to win.
2. Mitch Trubisky throws for 300 yards
At this point, it seems even a positive outing for the Bears play-caller will keep him in the starting gig next season. However, that doesn't mean that Chicago won't greatly appreciate a productive performance from Trubisky and the offensive unit.
While the Saints have yet to allow a 300-yard passing performance against their secondary all season, look for Trubisky to break that streak Sunday afternoon.
With the former top draft pick exhibiting increased accuracy since his return from the bench earlier in the season, the Bears would do well to feast on their passer's mobility against a stout pass rush. With New Orleans' defensive backs vulnerable to exposure when the defensive line cannot bring pressure, Trubisky is uniquely suited to attack the Saints precisely this way.
By sprinting around the guards as the pocket collapses, the QB should be able to buy just enough time for his wideouts to create separation in the secondary. While Trubisky has historically struggled with fitting passes into tight windows, the type of space he will operate within New Orleans should mitigate his penchant for turning the ball over.
3. Allen Robinson II earns over 100 yards and a TD
Though Mitchell Trubisky may buy himself a half-second of time scrambling outside the pocket, that will mean little if his targets downfield don't get open.
Enter Allen Robinson II.
The Bears' top receiving option accrued 102 receptions on the year to go along with 1,250 receiving yards and six touchdowns during the regular season. With the offense switching between two quarterbacks that varied in effectiveness, Robinson's performance was an indicator that the wideout is capable of producing regardless of how well a pass might be thrown. While the throws should be on target Sunday, the Bears might have to ask that Robinson abandon his routes to come back towards the ball to rescue Trubisky.
Given the Saints' aforementioned pass rush, Chicago may have to do a bit of improvising against New Orleans if they are hoping to advance. While Trubisky should be able to buy time, the entire venture will likely rest upon Robinson's ability to create space downfield for his signal-caller to exploit. Given that most wide receivers in the NFL feel constrained by route running, there's a decent chance that Robinson is already looking forward to the opportunity.
4. Bears shock the Saints—and the NFL—with a 27-20 victory
Throughout a 16-game regular season, there is little indication that the Bears are a better team than the Saints. Whether it's on offense, defense, or special teams, New Orleans has exhibited a consistency for playing winning football that Chicago has quite frankly been unable to master.
The cruel reality of the NFL playoffs, however, is that none of that matters.
Working in a single game elimination, the Bears need only concern themselves with best the Saints over four quarters rather than a 17-week schedule. Given their talent on both sides of the ball, Chicago can do just that. A team that has struggled to execute at the most maddening of times finally comes through Sunday afternoon.