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NFL Playoff primer: What you - and Bears - should be watching

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NFL Playoff primer: What you - and Bears - should be watching

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.

Complementary wins

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.

[MORE BEARS: Playoff field provides lessons for Bears: Draft defense high, Cutler backup]

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.

[NBC SHOP: Gear up, Bears fans!]

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. 

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

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USA TODAY

Trey Burton, Adrian Amos earn Bears’ top grades from Pro Football Focus for Week 7

The Bears were not at their best against the New England Patriots on Sunday. They made plenty of mistakes on all three phases and gave Tom Brady too many opportunities to control the game.

It wasn’t all bad from Chicago, though. Trey Burton emerged as a new favorite weapon of Mitchell Trubisky, and the tight end was the Bears’ highest-graded player in the game by Pro Football Focus.

Burton had a career high 11 targets, nine catches and 126 yards with a touchdown, giving Trubisky a 144.7 passer rating when targeting his top tight end.

Seven of Burton’s targets and six of his catches traveled 10 or more yards in the air, according to PFF.

Defensively, safety Adrian Amos led the pack with a 74.6 overall grade. He did not miss a tackle after missing a career-high five last week, and he allowed only one catch for eight yards against the Patriots.

On the bottom of the scale, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd received the second-lowest grade of his career (38.9 overall) for his performance. He did not record any pressure on the quarterback in 13 pass rushing snaps, and he allowed two catches for 13 yards and a touchdown in coverage against running back James White.

Wide receiver Allen Robinson had a career-low grade as well at 44.9 overall. He was clearly limited by his groin injury, targeted five times with one catch for four yards and a dropped pass.

Overall, the Bears were able to stick with one of the top teams in the AFC while also leaving a lot of room for improvement. It’s a step in the right direction from where Chicago was in recent seasons.

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

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USA Today

NFL Power Rankings Week 8: Jags, Eagles, Bears all see stock fall

Take a look over the NFC landscape and try to find me a team that can compete with the Rams. 

Packers? Held back by Rodgers' knee and Rodgers' coach. Saints? Might not even win their own division. Washington? Does Alex Smith really scare anyone in the playoffs? 

The Rams have one of the easier paths to the Championship Round/Super Bowl that we've seen in some time. Will it likely stay that way? Probably not. But there's a difference between parity and mediocrity and right now the NFC is toeing the line HARD. 

Outside the NFC's "elite", how did your team do this week? 

You can take a look here and see where they landed.