The Chicago Bears were the epitome of up-and-down in 2020.
They’ll need to be way up if they hope to score a wild-card weekend upset of the New Orleans Saints.
Chicago started the season scorching hot, reeling off an unexpected 5-1 start that included a win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Observers were skeptical of the run that didn’t include any other wins against playoff-bound teams. It did include plenty of quarterback controversy.
Bears have not fared well against playoff teams
The Bears won that game and three of their next four before a six-game slide against a much tougher schedule appeared to confirm the skepticism. Trubisky replaced a hobbled Foles four games into the losing streak, and he has been Chicago’s quarterback ever since.
Once written off for the postseason, the Bears won three more games — again, against non-playoff teams — before backing into the playoffs after a Week 17 loss to the Green Bay Packers.
Their reward? A matchup against the NFC South champion Saints in a game that can be live-streamed on the Yahoo Sports app. They’ll carry a 1-6 record against fellow playoff teams into Sunday’s game.
Does Chicago have a chance?
The Saints look much more like the teams responsible for the eight losses on the Bears’ schedule. In fact, they accounted for one of them, a Week 8 win in Chicago. But the Bears may be able to build some encouragement from that game. They took the Saints to overtime before losing, 26-23.
They’ll have a tall task in facing the Saints in the Superdome. Chicago’s 26th-ranked offense has been a mess most of the season — regardless of who’s playing quarterback. And New Orleans’ success in 2020 is built much more around a stout defense than the explosive offenses of Drew Brees’ prime.
David Montgomery will be key
Chicago found a new gear toward the end of the season with the long-awaited emergence of running back David Montgomery as a force. After largely failing to meet the expectations of his feature-back role since being named the Chicago starter as a rookie in 2019, Montgomery closed the season strong with six straight games of at least 100 yards from scrimmage.
Montgomery finished the season with 1,070 rushing yards, 438 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. He also improved his rushing average from 3.7 yards per carry as a rookie to 4.3 yards per carry in 2020.
The Bears will need good Montgomery to show up against the Saints to have any chance of pulling off the upset. It will be a stiff challenge facing the NFL’s fourth-best rushing defense, a Saints unit that gives up just 93.9 yards per game on the ground.
Chicago can also look for an edge attacking New Orleans’ diminished passing game. Brees, 41, is far from the gunslinger who set the record for career passing yardage. The Saints ranked 19th in passing this season while leaning on a much more productive running game.
Lot of questions around Saints’ offense
That Brees suffered 11 broken ribs midseason and hasn’t looked his best since returning. New Orleans will likely continue to lean on running back Alvin Kamara when it has the ball — assuming he’ll be ready to return from a stint on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The expected return of All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas from a long-term ankle injury will add a wild card to the offense.
Even with the questions surround the Saints’ skill position players, Chicago will need a lot of breaks to fall its way to advance to the second weekend of the playoffs.
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