The Bears have something of an informed perspective on the 2015 playoffs: They played five of the eight wild-card teams this season, plus the Cincinnati Bengals in the third preseason game (“the best roster we’ve seen,” said one Bears coach), and two (Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals) of the four top seeds.
Extend it through a portion of last season and the list expands to include the Carolina Panthers and New England Patriots. Not that simply playing teams is necessarily any sort of “tell,” since the Bears were 2-9 in the games played against the current elites.
But several constants run through the playoff teams, slightly different ones from some other postseason collections. How these teams win is worth closer looks. The NFL may be a copycat league, but that’s not altogether a character flaw; if something works, of course you learn from, borrow and adapt it.
It was noted previously that, for Bears’ drafting and free-agency purposes, strong defense remains a constant. No AFC playoff team ranks worse than No. 11 (Pittsburgh) Steelers in points allowed. Only the Green Bay Packers (12th) and Washington Redskins (17th) are out of the top seven, and one of those two will be gone after Sunday.
But coach John Fox is among those placing great stock in complementary football, not simply each unit playing its best, but also manage their playing styles in ways that benefit the other units.
Not infrequently, teams have been able to reach the playoffs with one dominant unit. The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Bears in the 2006 Super Bowl despite a defense that ranked just 23rd in points allowed. But Peyton Manning and his offense were No. 2 in scoring and No. 3 in yardage. The Bears that year were tied with the Colts in scoring per game, but that was inflated by five Devin Hester return touchdowns and three other defensive touchdowns. Ultimately the Colts and Manning were able to overwhelm the Bears.
This year fully half of the playoff teams (Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, New England, Arizona, Carolina and Cincinnati) rank in the top 10 in both scoring points and fewest points allowed.
Ball security wins
Of the 12 playoff teams, only one (Denver, minus-4, same as the Bears) has a negative turnover ratio. The difference for the Bears is that their defense ranked 20th in points allowed; the Broncos were fourth, including No. 1 rankings in six major defensive categories. The Bears had none better than No. 4 in passing yards allowed.
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Of the 12 starting playoff quarterbacks, only Ben Roethlisberger and Manning, who both went through injury riddled seasons, had interception percentages higher than 2.0.
Jay Cutler began eliminating interceptions from the first day of training camp and went into Week 17 against the Detroit Lions at a rate of 1.7 percent before throwing three picks, not all on Cutler by any means, left him at a very respectable 2.3 percent for the season.
That part of the Chicago structure is very much pointing in the right direction.