Saints face Bears in NFC Wild Card Round

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The Saints offense will be near full strength as they enter the NFL Playoffs with the return of RB Alvin Kamara and WR Michael Thomas. Photo from facebook.com/neworleanssaints

 

No. 2 New Orleans Saints (12-4) vs. No. 7 Chicago Bears (8-8)

Sunday, Jan. 10, 3:40 p.m.

TV: CBS WWL 4, Nickelodeon, Amazon Prime

Radio: WWL 105.3 FM/870 AM; Spanish KGLA 105.7 FM/830 AM

 

Saints look to slay the “Monsters of the Midway”

The New Orleans Saints are marching into the 2020 NFL Playoffs with the No. 2 seed in the NFC and a Wild Card matchup with the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. It will be the second time the teams will face each other this season. The Saints defeated the Bears 26-24 in overtime at Chicago’s Soldier Field in Week 8.

The Bears have had an up-and-down season, starting 5-1, then losing six, and finishing 3-1, including a 35-16 loss to the Packers on Sunday to finish 8-8 and earn the NFC’s No. 7 seed.

Bears football is traditionally based on strong defense, and, with players like Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, they could give the Saints offense fits up the middle. But, as is usually the case in Chicago, the offense has a lot of question marks – most notably under center. All season, Chicago has been nagged with questions about head coach Matt Nagy’s play calling, the talent on its offensive line, and its ability to move the ball on the ground and through the air.

The Bears’ late season turnaround can be credited to the play of quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who was benched in favor of Nick Foles and then regained the starting job in Week 11 when Foles was injured. In the final six games of the season, Chicago averaged 30.2 points and rushed for 144.2 yards per game. The Bears offensive game plan will rely on running back David Montgomery (413 rush yards over his last four games) to establish the ground game to take pressure off Trubisky, whose ability to be a franchise quarterback is still being questioned.

New Orleans coasted to a 33-7 win over the Carolina Panthers in the regular season finale. The win lifted the Saints to 6-0 against their NFC South rivals this season, making them the first team to sweep the division since it was formed in 2002. Despite missing running backs Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, Dwayne Washington, fullback Michael Burton, and running backs coach Joel Thomas after Kamara tested positive for Covid-19 on Thursday and the others were ruled close contacts and forced to sit out, the Saints ground game didn’t suffer. Wide receiver Ty Montgomery lined up in the backfield and dashed for 105 yards on 18 carries (5.8 yard per carry average). Mighty Mormon Power Ranger Taysom Hill added 41 yards and a touchdown.

Quarterback Drew Brees completed 22-of-32 passes (69%) for 201 yards and three touchdowns. Brees looked the most comfortable in the pocket that he has in the last three games since returning after missing four games with 11 fractured ribs and a punctured lung.

Combined with the 52-33 thrashing of the Vikings on Christmas, Brees is using he run game to dominate the opposition and hitting multiple targets in the air (11 against Minnesota and nine against Carolina) to move the ball up field. Emmanuel Sanders had nine receptions for 63 yards and a TD on Sunday. He finished the year with 61 receptions, one more than he needed to secure a $500,000 bonus.

The Saints defense had a bend-but-don’t-break game against the Panthers. They gave up 320 yards, but recorded 5 interceptions – two in the end zone – and three sacks.

The Saints Top-5, but seemingly underrated, defense is ready to make a statement in this one.

With Michael Thomas returning from an ankle injury after missing the last three games and Kamara and the other backs able to return should they test negative, the Saints offensive will be back to full strength and have multiple options in their quiver to take down the “Monsters of the Midway.” The Black & Gold are better in every major team statistic and are big favorites to move on to the Divisional Round.

 

At the Line of Scrimmage

Here’s a snapshot of how the teams match up based on their average points, total yards, passing yards, and rushing yards per game and where they rank in the NFL.

 

When the Saints have the ball

PPG         TYPG         PYPG         RYPG

Saints Offense        30.1 (5)    376.4 (12)   234.9 (19)   141.6 (6)

Bears Defense        23.1 (14)   344.9 (11)    231.6 (12)    113.4 (15)

 

When the Bears have the ball

PPG         TYPG         PYPG         RYPG

Bears Offense         23.2 (22)  331.4 (26)   228.4 (22)  102.9 (25)

Saints Defense       21.1 (5)     310.9 (4)     217.0 (5)     93.9 (4)

 

Goal to Geaux

For the Saints to advance, they’ll need a balanced offensive attack that can move the ball, convert thirds downs, and win time of possession to wear out the Bears defense. QB Drew Brees has established rhythm and timing with multiple receivers over the past few weeks, and the offensive line has allowed the ground game to flourish no matter who is carrying the ball. The O-Line will be tested – especially in the middle – by the Bears D in hopes that they can force Brees to make mistakes.

The Bears offense is dependent on running back David Montgomery. They’ll need QB Mitch Trubisky to be a game manager and not to put the game squarely on his shoulders. The Saints’ defense will look to stuff the run and make the Bears’ quarterback beat them by applying a lot of pressure on passing downs. If the Saints can rattle Trubisky, it will be a long day for the Bears.

 

Three & Out – Thoughts on Week 17

  1. Five Saints – Malcolm Jenkins, Grant Haley, Marshon Lattimore, PJ Williams, and Ken Crawley, intercepted Carolina QBs. New Orleans has had six games this season with multiple interceptions.
  2. For the first time in franchise history, the Saints have won 12 or more games in three consecutive seasons.
  3. Quarterback Drew Brees earned his 150th win, including regular and postseason games, for New Orleans. Brees has thrown three touchdowns in 175 career games, including 150 as a Saint.

 

Quotes of the Week

“Look, I think we’re playing well up front. We’re blocking the perimeter well. That’s part of what we want to be able to do. You know, obviously, there’s an element that begins to allow you to control games a little bit more…. And look, Ty (Montgomery) was fantastic tonight. I mean, he played exceptionally well, and I’m proud of him. I’m proud of a number of the other younger guys that stepped in.” – Saints head coach Sean Payton on the success of the running game against the Panthers despite missing the team’s primary runners

 

“It was definitely electric, getting after the passer, getting them to throw bad throws, and then the coverage was great, because we were getting after the quarterback all night. So, that was one of the keys to victory. And we executed and you can’t say enough about our defense, playing and execution.” – Saints defensive end Trey Hendrickson on the defense forcing five interceptions against the Panthers

 

“Listen, phenomenal job. He’s always been such a great leader with this team, with the staff, I mean, really, in the whole building. Obviously, we were in this COVID season where there were just so many unknowns. It felt like rules and protocols were changing weekly, then combine that with the number of injuries and various situations that we kind of found ourselves in this year. And the roster having to shift and I was down for a few games. Jameis comes in and plays great. Taysom comes in plays great. You build the game plan around those guys. Defensively, having starting corners down at times and other guys coming up, I felt like DA (defensive coordinator Dennis Allen) did a great job on the defensive side of the ball and all the guys there and the entire staff. I think Sean will be the first one to tell you that, man, it’s about the culture that we’ve created here. And it’s about the staff. It’s about the way the guys care about one another. But he’s certainly done a tremendous job.” – Saints quarterback Drew Brees on head coach Sean Payton’s leadership during the 2020 season

 

Final NFC South Standings

                                                W   L   T   Win %   PF       PA     DIV

New Orleans Saints               12  4    0    0.750      482     337    6-0

Tampa Bay Buccaneers         11   5    0    0.688      492     355    4-2

Carolina Panthers                  5    11   0    0.313       350     402    1-5

Atlanta Falcons                      4    12  0    0.250      396     414    1-5

 

Final NFC Standings

Below are the final NFC standings for the 2020 regular season. The NFL expanded its playoff format from 12 to 14 teams for the 2020 season. Each conference will have seven playoff teams–four division champions and three wild card teams. Only the top seed from each conference will have a first-round playoff bye.

 

Seed  Team                 Division  W L   T

1          Packers – z          North         13  3    0

2         Saints – y         South       12  4   0

3          Seahawks – y      West           12  4    0

4          Washington – y  East            7    9    0

5          Buccaneers – x   South         11   5    0

6          Rams – x             West           10  6    0

7          Bears – x               North          8    8    0

8          Cardinals – e      West           8    8    0

9          Vikings – e          North         7    9    0

10        49ers – e               West           6    10  0

11         Giants – e            East            6    10  0

12        Cowboys – e         East            6    9    0

13        Panthers – e         South          5    11   0

14        Lions – e              North         5    11   0

15        Eagles – e            East            4    11   1

16        Falcons – e          South         4    12  0

 

Legend

z – Clinched home field advantage

y – Clinched division title

x – Clinched playoff birth

e – Eliminated

 

The Playoff Picture – Wild Card Weekend

 

NFC

  1. Green Bay (13-3) – Bye
  2. New Orleans (12-4) vs. 7. Chicago (8-8), Sun., Jan 10, 3:40 p.m. (CBS)
  3. Seattle (12-4) vs. 6. L.A. Rams (10-6), Sat., Jan. 9, 3:40 p.m. (FOX)
  4. Washington (7-9) vs. 5. Tampa Bay (11-5), Sat., Jan. 9, 7:15 p.m. (NBC)

 

AFC

  1. Kansas City (14-2) – Bye
  2. Buffalo (13-3) vs. 7. Indianapolis (11-5), Sat., Jan. 9, 12:05 p.m. (CBS)
  3. Pittsburgh (12-4) vs. 6. Cleveland (11-5), Sun., Jan. 10, 7:15 p.m. (NBC)
  4. Tennessee (11-5) vs. 5. Baltimore (11-5), Sun., Jan. 10, 12:05 p.m. (ABC)

 

Record Watch

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, 41, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady, 43, battled all season to cement their legacies in the NFL history books. Brees entered the season in the lead for the NFL career records for passing touchdowns and yardage, but slipped behind Brady in TDs when he missed four games this season.

 

Rank    Player   TDs

1             Brady      577

2             Brees       568

 

Rank    Player   Yards

1             Brees       80,157

2             Brady      78,805

 

The Extra Point: Enjoy what remains of 2020

The 101st NFL season can be described in many ways – unique, exhilarating, and, of course, different. The COVID-19 pandemic caused leagues around the world to adopt safety protocols and delay and adjust their seasons. While the NFL was affected by measures to prevent the disease’s spread, the league was able to play all of its 256 regular season games within its 17-week schedule. Commissioner Roger Goodell, NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills and medical professionals with the league and its 32 teams and infection control officers should be commended for making it happen.

Sure, there were situations players, coaches, and team executives had not faced before and had to adjust on the fly. Goodell ran the draft from his basement. Preseason games were cancelled, limiting opportunities for player and coaches to show and evaluate talent. For the first time, NFL games were played on every day of the week.

The Saints were affected in the season finale when all of their starting running backs were sidelined as a safety measure after Alvin Kamara tested positive in the days leading up to the game. While that didn’t turn out to be a disaster, New Orleans faced a Denver team whose three quarterbacks were ineligible to play 21 hours before kickoff for violating protocol-adherence. The Broncos started “quarterback” Kendall Hinton, a practice-squad wide receiver who had never played in an NFL game and had not thrown a pass in two years since he played QB at Wake Forest. He finished 1-of-9, and the Saints won 31-3.

Right now, it looks as if the virus won’t affect the Saints as they head into the Playoffs. But cases are again on the rise nationwide. The NFL has 13 playoff games left in the 2020 season. Let’s hope the league can enjoy pinnacle of the season without being affected by the virus.

 

 

 

Categories: Pre-Snap Read