Playoff Implications: Bears (8-6) @ Eagles (8-6)
This game has huge implications for the NFC playoff picture. The Bears lead the NFC North, but only by .5 a game over the Packers and 1 game over the Lions. The Eagles lead the NFC East, but only by a game over the Cowboys who they play in Week 17.
To clinch this week, the Eagles need to win and the Cowboys to lose to Washington. In any other scenario, it’s only Week 17 that matters. Still, at least Philadelphia controls its own destiny, win or lose this Sunday. Chicago, on the other hand, could lose control of its own destiny if it loses and Green Bay and/or Detroit win this week since it loses the tiebreaker to both. As is obvious, this nationally-televised game is huge for both teams.
Fantasy Watch: LeSean McCoy (PHI) and Brandon Marshall (CHI)
The Chicago Bears own the worst run defense in the NFL. 32nd. Last. And they are last by a lot; they give up nearly 20 more yards per game than the 31st-ranked run defense in the NFL, the Patriots. Their defense has come a long way since the dominating days of Lance Briggs and Brian Urlacher, and not in a good way.
When you add in Chip Kelly’s added incentive to run the ball this week, you have a must-start fantasy running back for any owners who are trying to advance to their respective league championships. After getting only eight carries last week, LeSean McCoy will be seeing the pigskin early and often against Chicago’s porous D, which will translate into plenty of yards and potentially even a score or two. Start him with absolute confidence.
Projected stats for McCoy: 23 carries, 124 yards, 2 TD, 27 rec YDS (27.1 points)
Eagles fans should be relieved to hear that defensive backs Brandon Boykin (team-leading four interceptions) and Earl Wolff will be playing this week. Just the fact they won’t have to see “Patrick Chung” penciled in as a starting safety should be enough to make them smile. The Eagles struggling pass defense, ranked 31st in the NFL, will need all the help it can get.
That said, Brandon Marshall is the most sure-fire starter of any Bear in all fantasy formats. Why him, and not Alshon Jeffery, or even Jay Cutler, who’ll be throwing to both? The Eagles defense could come out firing, with Billy Davis dialing up effective blitzes and Bradley Fletcher playing like he did during the five-game winning streak, like a Pro Bowl, shutdown cornerback on Jeffery. Brandon Boykin could be his usual playmaking self, jumping in front of passes and even intercepting Cutler once or twice.
What will not happen, however, is Cary Williams blanketing Brandon Marshall for 60 minutes of a football game. Marshall is just too physical and too athletic not to have a big game against Williams, especially if the Eagles start playing off receivers to protect a lead.
Projected stats for Marshall: 8 receptions, 131 yards, 2 TD (25.1 points)
Key Matchup: Nick Foles vs Bears Secondary
The Eagles are 6-2 in games in which Nick Foles starts or plays a majority of the game. In those six wins, he has been lights out, making big throw after big throw and moving his offense down the field methodically. In the losses, however, he’s made many-a-mistake, either missing easy throws or holding on to the ball too long and taking unnecessary sacks.
For this team to win, they need Foles to play well. Yes, LeSean McCoy will pick up yards against the league’s 2nd-worst zone-read run defense (per ESPN Stats and Information), but the Eagles will need to outscore one of the league’s most high-powered offenses. Last week could be an unnerving precedent for this week: Nick Foles put up gaudy numbers (428 yards, 3 touchdowns), but he missed too many open throws and took too many sacks at key moments in the game to outpace Minnesota.
Like the Eagles, the Bears have a pretty opportunistic defense, with 17 interceptions on the season. They are also pretty good in coverage, ranked 12th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game. Safeties Major Wright and Chris Conte are key, as the Bears are known for their blanketing Cover 2 defense. If Foles can recognize where they are leaning, go through his progressions, and hit the open receiver, he could have a field day. If he gets confused by the mixed coverages, however, and fails to find/hit the open receivers, it could be a long day for Chip Kelly and his offense.
X-Factors: Pass Rush (PHI) and Run Blocking (CHI)
If the Eagles want to win this game, they are going to have to stop Chicago’s offense eventually. How can they do that? It is pretty simple, actually: get pressure on Jay Cutler and get him off his rhythm early on in the game. While the goal is simple, the execution will be a lot more complicated. Billy Davis will not be keen on leaving his corners out to dry playing a lot of man-to-man on the outside, so when he does blitz, it will mostly be zone blitzes so that he will not get beat on the back end if the rush does not get there. This will require big games out of OLB Trent Cole, the team’s primary stand-up rusher in the 3-4, and DE Fletcher Cox, who has broken out this season. If they can generate pressure on Cutler consistently, he will not be able to get the ball down the field and could fold like a cheap suit as he has done in the past. If not, however, it is likely he picks this defense apart.
On the flip side, it will be very important to see whether the Bears can establish the running game early on. If their linemen can push the Eagles defensive line back a couple yards every play and open holes for Matt Forte, it will be very difficult for the Eagles to generate pressure on Cutler having to worry about the run. This will neutralize any of the zone blitzes Billy Davis decides to dial up and send at Cutler, and could open up the field for his QB to have a field day against the Eagles secondary.
Prediction: Bears 35, Eagles 38
This will be a very, very tough game for the Eagles to win. Nick Foles has never won on primetime (he is 0-3 in his career), and the Chicago Bears have been the Birds’ kryptonite over the past three seasons.
That said, I like Foles in a rebound game. Last time he struggled against Dallas, he put up seven passing touchdowns the next week against Oakland. A steady dose of LeSean McCoy coupled with big throws from Foles will help the Eagles overcome their struggling defense and possibly clinch the NFC East title this Sunday. CB Brandon Boykin will make a key interception late in the game, helping Billy Davis’ group salvage an otherwise poor effort against the league’s top passing attack.