The Chicago Bears clinched the NFC North title last week, a huge accomplishment considering their last place divisional finish in 2017. But such turnarounds haven’t always translated into playoff success. According to the NFL’s media research department, 23 teams have completed worst-to-first turnarounds since 2003, yet only nine of them managed a win in their first playoff game.
Luckily for Chicago, the playoffs haven’t started yet, and it should have no problem defeating this week opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.
Chicago Bears, 77 percent win probability
Teams highlighted so far (in order): Saints, Rams, Vikings, Jaguars, Patriots, Texans, Colts, Steelers, Panthers, Chiefs, Ravens, Chargers, Packers, Titans and Falcons
After three straight seasons with no Pro Bowlers, this year’s squad had five players selected: outside linebacker Khalil Mack, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, cornerback Kyle Fuller, safety Eddie Jackson and running back Tarik Cohen.
Mack, the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, leads the team with 57 total pressures (12.5 sacks, four hits and 40 hurries) and is the seventh-best edge rusher of 2018, per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. Fuller and Jackson have seven and six interceptions, respectively, and have combined to hold opposing quarterbacks to a 54.8 passer rating against in coverage. Hicks has made 40 stops at or behind the line of scrimmage, one fewer than teammate Roquan Smith, who leads the Bears with 41.
Together these four defenders help Chicago maintain a league-low scoring rate of 1.5 points against per drive this season, with more than a third of those drives (36 percent, fifth) going three-and-out. Looked at another way, teams are scoring almost 10 points per game less than expected against the Bears, after you account for the down, distance and field position of each offensive play, per data from TruMedia. Not only is that tops in the league this season; it would also be the ninth best mark since 2002, the year the league expanded to 32 teams.
Good luck getting points on the board against that, San Francisco.
The 49ers have managed a below-average 1.8 points per drive this season, 21st in the NFL, but after adjusting their total offense for strength of schedule they drop to the sixth-worst offense in 2018, per Football Outsiders. Backup-turned-starting quarterback Nick Mullens has completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,754 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, but this will be one of the toughest tasks he has had this season. In fact, the only pass defense Mullens has faced this year with a Football Outsiders ranking better than 19th was Denver in Week 14. Granted, he threw for 332 yards and two touchdowns with an interception in that game, but Denver’s pass-coverage unit is the 21st best of 2018, per the game charters at Pro Football Focus, whereas the Bears rank No. 1.
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