The Bears’ big offensive revival late in the season came against the Lions, Texans, Vikings and Jaguars. As they learned last weekend, it’s much harder to keep that going against even an average defense such as the Packers’.
The Saints are even better defensively, and if what the Bears showed against the Packers was truly the high end of what their offense can manage, they have no shot at keeping up with veteran quarterback Drew Brees in their wild-card game Sunday.
New Orleans was fifth in the NFL in points allowed (21.1 per game) this season, fourth in opponent yards per carry (3.9) and fourth in opponent passer rating (83.3). The Saints had 45 sacks (eighth in the league) and 26 takeaways (third).
So they aren’t the Jaguars.
As the Bears move up a weight class or two in the playoffs, there’s little evidence to suggest they can hold their own.
They went 1-6 against playoff teams this season with a minus-66 point differential in those games. Their lone win was a late escape to beat the Buccaneers 20-19. The eight teams they beat this season had a combined winning percentage of .336, the lowest strength of victory for any playoff team.
The three teams the Bears beat to climb out of their 5-7 hole were all in the bottom four in scoring defense, bottom 10 in opponent passer rating and yards allowed per carry.
Predictably, that’s when quarterback Mitch Trubisky looked his best. He always has excelled against those teams and rarely managed strong performances against good defenses.
He is 16-5 with a 106.4 passer rating against teams that finished the season in the bottom 10 in opponent rating. Against everyone else, he has thrown 29 touchdowns against 28 interceptions, registered a 75.1 rating and gone 13-16.
As soon as he ran into a halfway competent defense against the Packers, Trubisky’s limitations were clear as could be. His completions covered just 3.1 air yards per pass, allowing him to complete 78.6% of his throws (fourth-best of his career), but the Packers were fine with letting the Bears have all those dinks and dunks.
The Saints and Brees, conversely, are built to play at this level and went 3-2 against playoff teams this season, including a three-point loss to the defending champion Chiefs in which their defense held Patrick Mahomes to one of the worst games of his career.
They view this opening playoff game as a mile marker on their journey to topple the Seahawks and Packers en route to the Super Bowl. That’s a far different scenario than the 8-8 Bears lucking into a spot on the final day of the season because the Cardinals lost.
Even at nearly 42 years old and with clearly diminished arm strength, Brees remains one of the NFL’s most lethal quarterbacks. He was second only to Aaron Rodgers in completion percentage (70.5%) and finished sixth with a 106.4 passer rating.
With Brees at the controls, the Saints were one of five teams to average 30-plus points per game this season. Dual-threat running back Alvin Kamara is their star at this point, but remains questionable after testing positive for the coronavirus last week. Brees, though, remains an excellent point guard.
That means it won’t be enough for the Bears’ offense to make merely incremental progress from last week and somewhat resemble how they looked in the last three games. Instead, in order to keep up with the Saints, it’ll require their best performance of the season.