The Chicago Bears are in the NFC Playoffs, but their first-round opponent could offer a rude awakening.
That will be the New Orleans Saints, who went 12-4 and won the NFC South this season. The Bears are heavy underdogs against the Saints, which shouldn’t come as a surprise.
The line opened at eight and has steadily crept upward.
Chicago finished the season 8-8 and was once again uncompetitive in a Week 17 loss to the Packers.
The Bears and Saints will kick off at 3:40 p.m. CST on Sunday on CBS and Nickelodeon (yes, Nickelodeon).
Bears @ Saints playoff odds, preview
When both teams are at full strength, the Saints are clearly better than the Bears. But questions loom as to who will be available for both squads.
There seems to be optimism in New Orleans, though, regarding star offensive weapons Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas:
Thanks to the NFL schedule-makers, the #Saints are optimistic they'll have RB Alvin Kamara for their playoff opener against the #Bears … and WR Michael Thomas should be back too. @nflnetwork pic.twitter.com/NUE2nIqgBj
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 4, 2021
Kamara recently tested positive for COVID-19, causing the entire Saints running back room to miss Week 17 against the Panthers. Still, New Orleans topped Carolina 33-7.
Sunday is the first day Kamara is eligible to return. Provided there are no hiccups with his recovery as he appears to be on track.
That’s significant, considering Kamara might be the best running back in the NFL and scored six touchdowns in his last outing.
Kamara also diced up the Bears for 163 all-purpose yards when the two teams met on Nov. 1. Chicago played New Orleans tough but ultimately lost 26-23 in overtime.
Nick Foles was the quarterback.
Thomas has had an injury-riddled 2020, but he’s one of the best receivers in the league when healthy. He hasn’t played since Dec. 13, but his return could be huge — especially considering how decimated the Bears’ secondary is.
Two crucial Bears left the Packers game
Third-year linebacker Roquan Smith has arguably been the Bears’ best defensive player this season. He left the Packers game due to an elbow injury and did not return.
Standout rookie receiver Darnell Mooney, similarly, left the game with an injury and was immediately ruled out. Mooney had 11 catches for 93 yards on the day before injuring his ankle.
Neither have practiced all week.
The Bears’ second and third corners, Jaylon Johnson and Buster Skrine, missed the Green Bay game with injuries. Johnson has been limited in practice this week, and his return would be significant.
We don’t know if any of them will play against New Orleans, and Chicago isn’t loaded with depth at any of those spots.
Chicago offense, New Orleans defense improved since last meeting
The Bears might be encouraged by their earlier performance against the Saints, when they lost by a field goal in overtime.
Foles was the quarterback then, and Mitchell Trubisky is clearly an upgrade. But the Saints defense has jumped to another level since that matchup.
In the nine games since the Bears and Saints met, New Orleans has surrendered single-digit points four times. In comparison, Chicago has only held an opponent to single-digit points once all year.
The Saints finished the season fourth in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. It will easily be the best unit Trubisky has faced all year.
And yes, the Chicago Bears are better offensively now than they were then. But against the Packers, they showed their limitations — Trubisky struggles to throw deep, and good teams have a tendency of taking away Allen Robinson.
If Mooney is out, Anthony Miller becomes very important. And he’s essentially been exiled from the game plan in recent weeks.
Has the Bears’ offensive resurgence been real, or is it a function of playing bad teams? The answer is likely a bit of both.
On the other side, the Saints rank fifth in scoring offense and 12th in total offense. The Bears rank 11th in scoring defense and 14th in total defense.
But the arrow is pointing in the wrong direction on that side for Chicago. Without Smith, the outlook is bleak.
A stat to consider:
The Bears are currently 9.5-point underdogs against the Saints. Since 2011, teams favored by at least 9.5 points are 9-1 in the playoffs. The one upset came last season (Titans over Ravens).
All-time, the Bears are 2-6 when they're 6+ point underdogs in the postseason.
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) January 4, 2021
Remember: the Saints also lost to Kirk Cousins and the Vikings in a similar spot in the playoffs last season.
So, while it’s possible, there are not a ton of reasons for optimism here for Chicago.