In my mind, Philadelphia is an ideal opponent for Chicago to encounter.
Something I learned while working in the NFL is that most clubs embrace facing the best opponent possible, not the easiest one. That's reflective of competitive nature of all involved. If you want to be the best, you have to beat the best.
The Bears-Eagles matchup is an intriguing one, in large part because head coaches Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson are close friends. Before landing in their current positions, both worked under Andy Reid in Philadelphia and then Kansas City. Both have also brought the Chiefs' playbook to their new teams -- I would even venture to say that 85 percent of the playbooks of the Bears and Eagles overlap. The difference is how the plays are called and how each team attacks the different down-and-distance situations.
Nagy and Pederson will each consult their respective defensive coordinators to key them in on the foe's offensive philosophy. That alone could make this game a remarkable chess match.
The Eagles' Nick Foles is hailed as a great backup quarterback by many, but some forget that he's been a starter previously as well. He threw for 2,891 yards, 27 touchdowns and just two interceptions in 2013, when he played in 13 games, starting 10. The Eagles were 8-2 in those starts and won their division. Foles has plenty of starting experience and usually rises to the occasion when games are important, as he did in leading Philadelphia to a championship last season.
The Bears have the better roster, but the Eagles have more playoff experience. This will be a new experience for most of the Bears. The most important player with no playoff experience is quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. While he played exceptionally well down the stretch, he has never been in a game that comes close to a playoff atmosphere. That includes the Bears' win against the Vikings last Sunday -- while the atmosphere was crazy, there was little pressure for Trubisky in the sense that it wasn't a win-or-go-home game for Chicago. The intensity and physicality will be different come Sunday, and how Trubisky handles and responds to it will go a long way toward determining whether the Bears win.
As good as the Eagles are playing right now -- they've won five of their last six -- they lack the depth that the Bears have. They can’t afford to lose any more players. Cornerback Ron Darby, cornerback Jalen Mills, safety Rodney McLeod and defensive end Derek Barnett and defensive end Josh Sweat are key defensive players who are on injured reserve. Notably, the Eagles can’t utilize a defensive line rotation as they were earlier in the season. It will give the Bears the chance to control the clock and wear down the Eagles' defense.
A key matchup will be Eagles slot receiver Golden Tate against Bears slot cornerback Sherrick McManis. Since McManis took over for the injured Bryce Callahan, he hasn’t faced a foe as talented as Tate, who has the ability to make big plays. The Eagles receiving threats are as good as there is in the game with Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Zach Ertz and Tate.
All that said, it's playoff football between two good teams. I expect it will be close. I'm predicting the Bears win by three.