Talk about an up-and-down game. That game in Cleveland one week ago was seriously like a roller coaster ride. That sounds cliché, but with every passing minute, it felt like one team had the game in the bag and the next minute it felt the opposite. In the end, the Bears pulled it out, despite turning the ball over 3 times, twice by Jay Cutler. Martellus Bennett’s fumble that was returned for a touchdown felt like it was the biggest momentum shift, but it ended up not being a turning point. The Browns lost Joe Haden, and the Bears picked Cleveland apart from there on. Alshon Jeffery made another unbelievable catch, giving him three of those in three straight weeks. Earl Bennett is now being used in a way that is beneficial to the Bears, and Brandon Marshall is still Brandon Marshall. The running game has been great whether it’s been Michael Bush or Matt Forte. Forte has now rushed for 100 yards in 3 straight games and Bush has a touchdown in 2 straight. This Chicago offense is one of the most fun and productive offenses I’ve seen in my lifetime. Luckily, the defense played well in this game when the offense was struggling. Despite only recording two tackles plus a tackle for loss, Jeremiah Ratliff had a strong game, and Zack Bowman recorded two interceptions, one of which went for six points.
The Eagles have had a crazy season. They started out the season with a great primetime win in Washington, but then proceeded to lose their next three games by an average of 15 points per contest. They quickly turned it around, and that can be credited to Chip Kelly’s decision to switch from Michael Vick to Nick Foles early on, thanks to inept play from Vick plus his typical injury issues. For some reason, Vick has always been given the benefit of the doubt from every fan and member of the media despite never being any good. Foles, a second year player from Arizona, has been great since taking over. Explosive WR DeSean Jackson and rookie TE Zach Ertz have greatly benefited from the quarterback switch. In 11 games, Foles has only turned the ball over 3 times and has thrown for 23 touchdowns, which of course has taken quite a bit of pressure off of All-Pro RB LeSean McCoy. McCoy is having another terrific season, and his December has been downright dominant. In three games this month, he is averaging 6 yards per carry and almost 10 yards per catch. Philadelphia has needed every bit of their offense; their defense has been getting ripped apart through the air. Their run defense is decent, but teams have been going away from the run because their secondary is so poor.
Both teams have a lot to play for in this game. If the season came to an end today, Philadelphia would be the 3 seed while Chicago would be the 4 seed. If Philadelphia can win their final two games, they will win the NFC East. The Bears can put a strangle-hold on the NFC North with a win tonight and losses by the Packers and the Lions. However, nothing can be clinched today for the Bears or for Detroit or Green Bay.
College Football Recap
There have been a few bowl games. USC and Fresno State, Colorado State and Washington State, Buffalo and San Diego State, and Louisiana-Lafayette and Tulane all played yesterday. The two best games on paper were the first two listed. USC handled the Bulldogs with ease, making Derek Carr look human. Colorado State had a great 15-point comeback in the last 4 minutes to win by a field goal in regulation over the Cougars. That game may go down as one of the best this year when all of the games are over, thanks to the tremendous comeback by the Rams.
Somehow someway, the temperature is actually going to be beautiful tonight. Temperatures will be in the mid-60’s at kickoff, something that is very uncommon in Philadelphia at this time of the year. The elements, however, are a different story. Rain and wind could be a factor.
Lance Briggs (shoulder) is finally back, which can only help the Bears. Otherwise, they once again remain healthy. However, it was announced this week that Charles Tillman (triceps) will miss the rest of the season, playoffs included. Like the Bears, the Eagles have a healthy team with no major players missing. CB Brandon Boykin (head), Najee Goode (hamstring), Earl Wolff (knee), and LB Mychal Kendricks (knee) are all probable, while special teams aces Kurt Coleman (hamstring) and Colt Anderson (knee) are both out for this one.
Did you know?
From week 1 of the 2010 season until week 10 of this season, the Eagles were 9-18 at home. Since week 11 of this season, they are 3-0 at home.
There are a lot of good games today, and in them, I like Carolina to slip by New Orleans, Kansas City to beat Indianapolis, New England to top Baltimore, Green Bay over Pittsburgh, and Seattle to cruise by Arizona. (35-25-1 on the year)
Players to Watch
LeSean McCoy- This game might feature the two best pass catching running backs in football with Matt Forte and LeSean McCoy. As I mentioned above, McCoy is having a special season. He already has gone above 1,300 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards. The Eagles will likely give McCoy the ball a ton tonight, especially after only giving him 8 carries last week in their upset loss in Minnesota. McCoy was vocal this week about wanting to get the ball more, and at night against the league’s worst run defense by far, he will probably get his wish.
Stephen Paea- After what I would consider to be a solid first two years in Chicago, Stephen Paea has done next to nothing in 2013. Paea was counted on heavily at defensive tackle after the injuries to Nate Collins and Henry Melton, but he has disappointed in a big way. In fact, he lost his starting job last week to Jeremiah Ratliff, who got the start next to Corey Wootton. Paea’s biggest strength has always been his prowess against the run, and the Bears will definitely need that tonight and moving forward, hopefully into January.
Devin Hester- Nobody has been harder on Joe DeCamillis and his special teams unit this year more than I have. It seems like every return and every ball punted by Adam Podlesh draws a flag on one of his 11 players. However, there has been a bright spot. Quietly, Devin Hester has put together a solid year. I have been pretty tough on Hester, too, but his 12.18 yards per punt return ranks him sixth in the league and his 28.6 yards per kick return ranks him fifth in football. Still, I feel like Hester is too passive. He calls for way too many fair catches, and he still has a tendency to run east and west. The Eagles’ special teams have really had a rough time this year. They have given up three returns for touchdowns so far, and last week, they refused to kick or punt to Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson. That resulted in the Vikings’ average starting position to be their own 39-yard line, something the Bears would gladly take, I’m sure. With the aforementioned Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson being out, two of their better special teams players, Hester has a good chance of making a huge dent in this game.
The Eagles and Bears have a lot in common. Their defenses have been poor and their offenses can light up the scoreboard. The media has taken notice of the offenses, hence the switch from a noon start to a 7:30 start. The weather could have an interesting effect here. When the Lions went to Philadelphia earlier in the year in a snowstorm, the Eagles’ offense really struggled in the elements. Eventually, the snow stopped and the field was cleared, which opened up the floodgates. Today, the rain and wind should be a factor throughout. However, the Chicago offense will likely be affected as well, since Philadelphia’s run defense is much better than their porous pass defense. In a game where the teams are evenly matched, I have to give the edge to the home team, especially when their strength is the visiting team’s biggest weakness. If McCoy gashes them, their only hope is to get pressure on Nick Foles, but after a putrid performance by their pass rushers against a bad offensive line in Cleveland, I can’t believe in that unit for the Bears today. Trust me, I really hope I’m wrong. Eagles 35-31. (9-5 on the year)
-Brian Ociepka (@bjociepka1)