Final 4: What the Bears can learn from each team in the NFC, AFC title games
The Bengals, Rams, Chiefs and 49ers have each gotten one essential component right that the Bears haven’t.
One of the best things about this time of year in Chicago is firing up a pot of chili, lighting the fireplace and watching the NFL playoffs as the snow accumulates outside.
And we’re not the only ones doing that. So are the Bears. Celebrities, they’re just like us!
But as the Bears sit home and watch the upcoming conference championship games on TV for the 11th consecutive year, they had better be taking notes. Here’s what they can learn from each of the final four teams standing:
Hire the right coach
Sean McVay inherited a team that had gone 60-131-1 in its previous 12 years, and he has done nothing but win.
The Rams have had double-digit wins in four of his five seasons, been to a Super Bowl and are on the brink of reaching another. During his tenure, his team has scored the third-most points, gained the third-most yards per play and managed the 11th-highest passer rating despite Jared Goff being its quarterback most of that time.
That’s what it looks like to get the coach right. A lot of teams thought they were hiring the next great young coach — including the Bears with Matt Nagy — but there’s no doubt the Rams and general manager Les Snead nailed it with McVay. He’s the best of them.
Whoever your QB is, protect him
Over the last five seasons, the 49ers have played Jimmy Garoppolo, rookie Trey Lance, Nick Mullens, C.J. Beathard and Brian Hoyer at quarterback. None of them has been great, but they’ve had a chance — especially this season — thanks to one of the NFL’s best offensive lines.
The 49ers gave up the 11th-fewest sacks (33) and allowed the sixth-least pressure at only 19.3% of their drop-backs. The Bears gave up a league-worst 58 sacks and allowed pressure on 24.3% of pass plays.
They’re anchored by nine-time Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams, who was an All-Pro this season. It took a six-year, $138.1 million contract to keep him in free agency last year, but the 49ers don’t regret a single cent of it. Compare that with the Bears’ situation. They dispatched Charles Leno and are now hoping second-round pick and former college right tackle Teven Jenkins can make the transition to the left side.
Here’s the template at wide receiver
Remember how Nagy gushed about all the talent the Bears had at wide receiver going into this season? He couldn’t believe they had not only Allen Robinson and Darnell Mooney, but also Marquise Goodwin and Damiere Byrd.
Mooney had 1,055 yards, but none of the other receivers hit even 500.
Meanwhile, take a look at what the Bengals have. If Tyler Boyd was on the Bears, he’d probably be their best receiver. But he’s third on his own team behind star rookie Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. When the Bengals drafted Joe Burrow as their quarterback, they immediately tried to supply him with weapons.
A great QB can fix everything
The Chiefs will be good as long as they have Patrick Mahomes. And he’s 26, so that’ll probably be another 15 years.
The Bears could’ve drafted him in 2017, you might have heard.
It’s the same luxury the Colts enjoyed with Peyton Manning, and the Packers have had with Aaron Rodgers. Their defenses haven’t always been great, and they’ve had to make some painful decisions with skill players because of the salary cap, but it’s a great starting point to have the quarterback and try to figure out everything else.
The Bears, of course, have been trying the opposite approach for a while — everything but the quarterback.
The Chiefs can win no matter how their defense plays, as evidenced by Mahomes leading them on scoring drives twice in the final minute of regulation and withstanding a 36-point night by the Bills on Sunday to win in overtime.
The Bears need Justin Fields to be that kind of game-changer. And if he isn’t, they need to know quickly.