EAGLES // BEARS OVERVIEW
Wild Card weekend will wrap up with Nick Foles once again leading the Eagles into January — though whereas last year’s Eagles finished 13-3 and had home field advantage throughout the playoffs, this year’s team squeaked into the postseason with a white-hot finish and a 9-7 record that will send them on the road to take on the 12-4 Bears and the best defense in football. Recent wins against the Texans (home) and Rams (road) give the Eagles some hope in this spot — as does their playoff experience against mistake-prone, second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky — but there is no getting around the fact that the Bears are the better team on paper, and this shows in the Vegas line, where Chicago has been installed as 5.5 point favorites (the only game on this awesome Wild Card weekend with a spread of more than a field goal). As with the second and third games on this slate, this game carries a low Over/Under of 41.0, with offensive fireworks expected to be minimal on either side of the ball.
EAGLES PASS OFFENSE
The Chicago Bears — with the third most sacks in football, the most interceptions in football, and the fewest yards allowed per pass attempt in football — have unsurprisingly been one of the most challenging matchups for quarterbacks this year. Through 16 games, the only quarterback to reach even 290 passing yards against the Bears was Brock Osweiler, on a crazy, YAC-driven day in Miami in which he passed for 380 yards in this matchup.
All of this sets up poorly for media darling Nick Foles, who continues to hammer the short areas of the field — somehow managing only 6.7 yards per pass attempt last week in spite of completing 84.8% of his passes. As noted heading into last week: outside of a few deep shots each game, everything from Foles is coming close to the line of scrimmage. Across the last three weeks, an incredible 92 of Foles’ 113 passes have traveled 12 or fewer yards — with a stunning 71 of these passes coming within five yards of the line of scrimmage (including 19 behind the line of scrimmage). With the Bears allowing the fourth fewest pass plays of 20+ yards this year and the Eagles rarely attacking downfield, it will be difficult for any individual pass catcher on the Eagles to pile up yardage — making volume important for comfortably targeting these players.
In the “volume” department, target counts with Foles under center have looked like this:
:: Zach Ertz — 7 // 16 // 4
:: Alshon Jeffery — 8 // 5 // 5
:: Nelson Agholor — 2 // 7 // 6
:: Golden Tate — 5 // 3 // 6
Only five teams have allowed fewer yards to tight ends than the Bears, but Ertz is still one of the best individual players on a small, ugly slate — keeping him in the tourney conversation for his upside. (His floor — as he has shown in two of three games with Foles — is less than lovely.)
The Bears have allowed the sixth fewest wide receiver touchdowns, and they have allowed a completion rate to wideouts of only 60.5%, though with this defense shutting down running backs and tight ends, they have faced the fourth most wide receiver targets and allowed the fifth most wide receiver catches. Upside will be difficult to come by for Alshon, but his locked-in role should give him a path to a respectable score.
The same could be said for Agholor — though upside is more difficult to come by in his primarily short-area role (all of his targets last week came within five yards of the line of scrimmage, with his two downfield targets in Week 16 the exception rather than the rule). He’ll need another big play or multi-touchdown game to truly matter.
Tate continues to play far fewer snaps than Alshon or Agholor, though the Eagles continue to proactively scheme him the ball when he’s on the field, keeping him in the conversation on this unappealing slate.
If you want to dig deep, Dallas Goedert’s role is typically game plan dependent. His big games tend to come without warning, making him a low-floor Upside bet as a differentiator on this slate.
EAGLES RUN OFFENSE
The Bears have allowed the fourth fewest yards per carry in the NFL, the fourth fewest rushing yards, the seventh fewest receiving yards, the fewest rushing touchdowns, and the second fewest total touchdowns to the running back position.
If wanting to attack this matchup, it is worth noting that Darren Sproles has out-snapped both Josh Adams and Wendell Smallwood in back-to-back weeks. While the Eagles are the most opponent-specific backfield in the NFL (i.e., recent deployment is no guarantee of future deployment), Sproles’ “multiple” skill set makes him a more dangerous player than either of the other two options available for this team. With that said: Sproles has touch counts across the last two weeks of only 12 and nine, while Adams and Smallwood (who have split the remaining snaps roughly down the middle across the last three weeks) have recent touch counts of 15 // 11 // 14 (Adams) and 12 // 5 // 16 (Smallwood). If trusting recent trends: all three of these backs will see work, and none of them will see enough for “floor” to be targeted. Consider all three hope-to-guess-right Upside pieces in a tough matchup this week.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
As explored in this space throughout the year: although the Eagles have an “attackable secondary” on paper, their pass rush and their disciplined, scheme-based play on the back end have allowed them to compete all season — with this pass defense ranked a respectable 14th in yards allowed per pass attempt while quietly allowing the eighth fewest passing touchdowns in the league (tied with the respected pass defenses of the Bears, the Bills, and the Cowboys).
Of course, those numbers don’t tell the whole story, as the Eagles’ stout front has continued to chase teams to the air against them (in spite of the fact that the Eagles have actually been one of the more attackable run defenses this year on a per-play basis), leading to the Eagles facing the highest opponent pass play rate and the third most pass attempts in the league. This has led to the Eagles facing the third most wide receiver targets and allowing the third most wide receiver yards. The Bears (27th in pass play rate) have shown a tendency to lean run-heavy regardless of matchup, but there is an outside shot they adjust to a more pass-heavy approach, and that target expectations on the Bears’ receivers can be bumped up as a result.
Speaking to the typical slow-paced (30th in pace), run-heavy approach of this Bears team: Mitchell Trubisky has recent pass attempt totals of 30 // 28 // 29 // 26. He has not topped 250 yards in any of these games. He has four total touchdowns in these four games. Even more disappointingly: he has rushing totals of 23 // 16 // 3 // 16 in these games.
Target totals for the Bears’ primary pass catchers across these four weeks have looked like this:
:: Allen Robinson — 8 // 7 // 8 // DNP
:: Taylor Gabriel — 7 // 3 // 3 // 4
:: Anthony Miller — 1 // 0 // 3 // 0
:: Trey Burton — 5 // 7 // 5 // 6
Trubisky has really struggled with downfield passing this year, and the route trees on these pass catchers have been adjusted accordingly — leading to Burton not topping 40 yards since Week 7, Gabriel not topping 61 yards since Week 6, and Miller topping 49 yards only once all year. The one player still seeing somewhat reliable downfield targets is Robinson, who has six targets of 15+ yards across his last three games, and who has recent yardage totals of 79 // 42 // 54 // 85. He is the best bet for yardage upside. All four of these pass catchers have roughly equal red zone roles: 9 targets for Gabriel // 11 for Miller // 12 for Robinson // 14 for Burton. Burton has the most difficult matchup, with the Eagles allowing the fewest tight end touchdowns and the ninth fewest tight end yards in the league.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
There is a chunk of missing targets from the list above that belongs to Tarik Cohen — though this chunk is smaller than it was earlier in the year, with this team leaning on the ground more heavily lately and scaling back Cohen’s targets as a result. After a stretch that yielded 34 targets in four games, Cohen has 14 targets across his last four games (4 // 6 // 1 // 3). With his carries remaining in their typical range in this stretch (9 // 5 // 6 // 5), he would benefit from the Bears allowing the matchup to push them a bit more pass-heavy than normal this week.
If the Bears instead continue to remain committed to the ground game, it will be Jordan Howard who will again have a chance to matter. Across the last four weeks, Howard has touch counts of 20 // 20 // 15 // 22, with his first pair of hundred-yard games on the season in this stretch. The Eagles are allowing an attackable 4.57 yards per carry to running backs this year, creating some optimism that Howard can perform again if the Bears go run-heavy. His yardage-and-touchdown role, of course, introduces risk to this play.
As with the second and third games on Wild Card Weekend, there is not much to love in this game from a “typical Main Slate” perspective, with the short-area Philly passing attack and three-headed Philly backfield taking on the best defense in football, and with the slow-paced, run-heavy, spread-the-wealth Chicago offense taking the field on the other side. There are some bet-on-talent plays in this game (with Ertz standing out in particular), some bet-on-upside plays (Alshon and Robinson), and even some bet-on-funky-game-flow plays (i.e., perhaps Foles connects on some deep balls early, and the Bears open up their attack in response?), but ultimately this is a hope-to-guess-right game. Ertz // Alshon // Robinson are the best on-paper plays of the bunch, with Howard // Cohen behind them, but there are plenty of deeper options to consider in tourneys this weekend.