In all likelihood, the Bears will play either the Philadelphia Eagles or Minnesota Vikings on wild card weekend for their first playoff game in eight years next week.
There remains a small chance the opponent is the Seattle Seahawks — 5 percent, per Football Outsiders — which would happen if the Vikings beat the Bears and the Seahawks lost at home to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. There’s also a chance the Bears still get a first-round bye, too: 10 percent chance, according to Football Outsiders, which requires the Bears to beat the Vikings and the Los Angeles Rams to lose to the San Francisco 49ers, resulting in the Bears leaping into being the NFC No. 2 seed.
Otherwise, there’s an 85 percent chance the Bears play the Eagles or Vikings. So that begs the question: Which team would the Bears be better off facing?
Pro: A beatable offense
The Bears battered Minnesota’s offensive line and thoroughly knocked Kirk Cousins off his game in November’s 25-20 Week 11 win. Cousins was pressured 24 times that night, and beyond the two interceptions he threw he missed a number of throws that looked to be the product of hurried decisions.
The Vikings’ offense has been better after Mike Zimmer booted offensive coordinator John DeFilippo a few weeks ago, scoring 68 points and only committing one turnover against the Miami Dolphins and Detroit Lions. That success has been predicated on a renewed commitment to running the ball, with Dalvin Cook carrying 35 times for 209 yards with two touchdowns. Those are also two of the worst defenses in the NFL.
“They haven’t changed their offense at all,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “They’ve just changed what they’re focusing on.”
So here’s the “pro” for the Bears: Fangio’s defense is outstanding against the run, especially at home. The most yards a running back has gained on the ground against the Bears at Soldier Field this year is 55 (Green Bay’s Jamaal Williams). Todd Gurley rushed for 28 yards on 11 carries, Isaiah Crowell rushed for 25 yards on 13 carries and Cook, in Week 11, rushed for 12 yards on nine carries. Akiem Hicks had five — five! — tackles for a loss in that Sunday Night Football game against the Vikings.
“There's definitely have been some changes but how much can you really change in a short amount of time,” Hicks said. “We expect to see some different things, but we're still playing the Vikings.”
Con: A top-five defense
The Vikings enter Week 17 with one of the league’s best defenses, ranking seventh in points allowed, third in yards allowed and fourth in defensive DVOA. No team has allowed fewer passing touchdowns than the Vikings (15), while they’ve allowed 4.1 yards per rushing attempt, ranking eighth in the league.
The Bears only scored one touchdown in nine drives against the Vikings in Week 11, with Mitch Trubisky completing 20 of 31 passes for 165 yards with two interceptions and a passer rating of 61.9. Trubisky and Jordan Howard combined to rush for 106 yards on 28 attempts, critically, while the Bears do deserve credit for converting half of their 12 third downs against the league’s best third down defense (28.4 percent conversion rate).
“We know they're a tough defense,” Trubisky said. “They're gonna throw a bunch of different looks at us. They're really not weak in any one area and they're gonna get after the quarterback and guys up front and test us on the outside.”
Pro: A fitting style of game
Sort of an interesting wrinkle to the 2018 Bears is that this team is that they’re only 3-3 when scoring 27 or more points — meaning the Bears are 8-1 when scoring fewer than 27 points. This is a team that has made too many mistakes on offense and special teams in “shootout” type games: Trubisky’s end zone interception against the Dolphins was a turning point, allowing two special teams scores to the New England Patriots was a killer, and sloppy play from Chase Daniel cost the Bears against the New York Giants.
The Bears are particularly adept at grinding out defensive-oriented battles, which bodes well given that’s very well what a playoff game against the Vikings could turn into.
Toss-up: Third time in the season, on back-to-back weekends?
There have been 14 instances in the last 30 years of two teams playing each other in the final week of the season and then playing each other again in the first week of the playoffs, with the most recent occurrence happening between the Vikings and Packers in 2012. In those 14 games, the home team — which, in this case, would be the Bears — is 11-3. The three teams to lose: The 2009 Cincinnati Bengals, the 1993 Detroit Lions and the 1988 Cleveland Browns.
History, then, favors the Bears here. And it’s not inconceivable to beat a team three times in a season, either — the New Orleans Saints did it last year to the Carolina Panthers, for example. And back in 2012, the Packers lost to the Vikings on the last day of the season — which got the Vikings into the playoffs — then soundly beat Minnesota a week later at Lambeau Field.
Yes, the Vikings would have a good idea of the Bears’ tendencies — but the Bears, too, would have a good idea of the Vikings’ tendencies, especially after seeing their offense with Kevin Stefanski coordinating it. At worst, this is probably a push for the Bears; at best, it’s an advantage.
Con: Foles Magic and momentum
If the Eagles make the playoffs, they’ll have done it with an improbable three-game winning streak in which they’ll have beat two division winners (the Rams and Houston Texans) and then won on a win-to-get-in road game against Washington. This would be a team on a roll buoyed by having done it before earlier in 2018 on their way to a Super Bowl trophy.
And they did it last year behind stellar play from Nick Foles. Foles over his last two games, against the Rams and Texans, completed 74 percent of his passes for 741 yards with four touchdowns, two interceptions and a passer rating of 108.4 while only being sacked once.
Those numbers, once Week 17 is over, may not be too far off from what Foles did in three playoff games a year ago (73 percent completion rate, 971 yards, 6 touchdowns, one interception, 115.7 passer rating, two sacks taken). Bears tight end Trey Burton saw what sort of verve the Foles-led Eagles had on that run a year ago when he played in Philadelphia.
“We believed that we were going to win, that we were better,” Burton said. “… Everybody feeds off the quarterback, especially on the offensive side of the ball.”
Statistically, the Eagles have been wholly mediocre this year. They’ve allowed five more points than they’ve scored, lost by 41 to the New Orleans Saints and rank 18th in DVOA. But the league learned a year ago to not count this team out when Foles is the quarterback. The same should apply to this season’s playoffs.
Pro: A leaky defense
The Eagles have allowed 41 plays of 25 or more yards this year, nine of which went for touchdowns, though those explosive gains have been cut down in recent weeks (the Rams and Texans had one apiece). The Philadelphia front four, led by defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, is menacing.
But the Eagles’ cornerbacks have been decimated by injuries, with former Bears backup Cre’von LeBlanc receiving plenty of playing time recently. Over the last two months, the Eagles have held just two teams to fewer than 21 points — and those two teams were quarterbacked by Blake Bortles and Mark Sanchez. The Bears, at home, could probably manage to score a decent amount of points against this defense.
Toss-up: Momentum vs. defense?
The league’s old adage has come roaring back into relevancy over the last few weeks in which some of the highest-powered offenses in the NFL have been shut down by quality defenses. If the Bears’ defense can shut down Sean McVay, Jared Goff and the Rams on a cold night at Soldier Field, why can’t it do the same to Doug Pederson, Foles and the Eagles?
This pro/con list effectively boils down to this question: Would the Eagles’ offensive momentum be enough to overcome the Bears’ elite defense and turn a playoff game into a shootout? If the answer is yes, Philadelphia would have a good shot at winning. If the answer is no, the Bears should cruise to a win.
And your answer to that question, too, may be the answer to the larger question here: Eagles or Vikings?