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Eagles-Bears: NFC Wild Card Weekend preview

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The Backstory

The Eagles and Bears meet for just the fourth time in the postseason, the last time coming way back in the 2001 NFC Divisional Round, signaling prior playoff history between the two teams shouldn't count for too much.

What will matter, however, surrounds the familiarity between the two head coaches on opposing sideline.

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson and Bears first-year head coach Matt Nagy know each other well dating back to 2010 when both served on the Eagles coaching staff under Andy Reid, who brought both to Kansas City. Pederson served as the Chiefs' offensive coordinator with Nagy as the quarterbacks coach, and then Nagy took over as a co-offensive coordinator when Pederson left for the Eagles in 2016. Given the ties to Reid's version of the West Coast offense, both coaches run similar offensive concepts and really shouldn't surprise the other.

Still, the opposing coaches' relationship is but one part of the game.

The Eagles shook off a 4-6 start and won five of their last six games to clinch a postseason berth in consecutive years for the first time since the 2009-10 campaigns. And the Eagles did it with quarterback Nick Foles, who took over as the starter in Week 15 with Carson Wentz shelved with a back injury. As one of the league's hottest teams down the stretch, the Eagles (9-7) hope to become the first repeat Super Bowl champions since the New England Patriots accomplished the feat in 2003-04.

As for Chicago, the Bears clinched the NFC North for the first time since 2010 and experienced a remarkable turnaround under Nagy, who guided the Bears to a 12-4 record after the team went 5-11 in 2017 and 3-13 in 2016.

The Bears locked up home-field advantage for the first round, and the Eagles face a daunting task on the road when considering Chicago went 7-1 at Soldier Field in 2018.

Under Pressure

Nick Foles, QB, Eagles: Huh? How is Foles considered here as under pressure given his 9-2 record as a starter since 2017, including the playoffs? There is little doubt the Eagles hit gold with Foles as a backup to Wentz, and Foles has responded with a 4-1 record this season, averaging 282.6 yards passing with seven touchdowns against four interceptions for a 96 passer rating in five games. Foles also proved a bright star in 2017, averaging 323.7 yards passing with six touchdowns against an interception for a 115.7 passer rating en route to a championship and the Super Bowl MVP award.

That said, Saturday's path won't be a cakewalk for Foles against one of the league's top defensive units. The Bears finished the 2018 regular season ranked first in scoring defense (17.7 points allowed per game), takeaways (36) and interceptions (27), and third in sacks (50) and turnover differential (+12).

Mitchell Trubisky, QB, Bears: Trubisky made tremendous strides in his second professional season, throwing for 3,233 yards and 24 touchdowns with 12 interceptions while completing 66 percent of his pass attempts. He also showed he could hurt an opponent with his legs by rushing for 421 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 6.2 yards per carry.

Nevertheless, the biggest questions entering Sunday will surround playoff experience and if the bright lights on a national stage will affect Trubisky against a battle-tested playoff team. The Eagles defense, which finished the season with 44 sacks, closed out the campaign with 10 sacks, 24 quarterback hits and two interceptions over the final three games.

Matchup to Watch

Eagles offensive line vs. Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack: Foles (9) and Wentz (31) were sacked a total of 40 times in 2018, and now the front five prepares to face Mack, who led the Bears with 12.5 sacks. Mack has done plenty of damage playing at Soldier Field, totaling 8.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery. His ability to line up on both sides of the formation causes headaches for opponents, and he is one of the rare defensive players in the league capable of taking over a game.

The Eagles, however, closed out the season by facing some of the elite pass rushers in the league, notably Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald in Week 15 and Houston Texans bookends J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney in Week 16. Foles was sacked just once in that span, courtesy of Clowney.

Prediction

History hasn't been kind with battles featuring experience against inexperience in the first round of the postseason. Over the last 10 seasons, Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks are 9-1 against quarterbacks making their first playoff start in the wild-card round. Additionally in that same span, 8 of 13 first-year head coaches to make the playoffs have lost on Wild Card Weekend.

The Bears, however, are about to buck that trend in front of their faithful fans at Soldier Field. Chicago proved dominant at home this season with a 7-1 mark and will emerge victorious from a hard-fought defensive battle.

Chicago Bears 23, Philadelphia Eagles 17

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