The 8–8 Chicago Bears and quarterback Mitch Trubisky backed their way into the seventh seed of the NFC playoffs, and are set to face the second-seeded New Orleans Saints. FiveThirtyEight gives the Bears a 15 percent chance at winning against the Saints, ranking them the least likely team to advance to the next round of the playoffs (6 percent less than the 7–9 Washington Football Team). But while the Bears might come into this game as underdogs, they’ve made adjustments down the stretch that will give Trubisky a fighting chance of shocking New Orleans and proving Chicago deserves their place in the playoffs.
There’s a lot of good reasons for those low odds, like the Saints’ top-five defense, running back Alvin Kamara, or Chicago’s laundry list of injuries. But there is one man that can throw a wrench into all that sound logic and common sense: Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
Leading up to the playoffs, Trubisky was rolling. Since winning the starting job back in Week 12, the team has gone 3–3. While Trubisky was out, the team went 2–5 under Nick Foles. With Trubisky back under center, the offense scored 30 or more points 4 times over the course of the last five games. During those final five games, he completed 73.55 percent of his passes and put up 7.83 adjusted yards per attempt.
These stats deserve some context. Trubisky didn’t magically become a more efficient and capable passer while riding the bench for a third of the season. Watching him play, he looks like the same old Trubisky that we’ve seen for the past four seasons. What’s changed has been the play calling.
The Chicago offensive staff have created a play-action heavy offense based on the offenses employed by the San Francisco 49ers and Cleveland Browns. The offense focuses on well-timed bootlegs and rollouts, taking advantage of Trubisky’s legs. Reads are simplified, so Trubisky does not have to scan the entire field; most of the time, Trubisky only needs to read one or two defenders before he makes a throw.
A prime example of this is the Bears’ win over the Houston Texans in Week 14, arguably Trubisky’s best performance of the season. Trubisky used play-action on 15 out of 33 total pass plays, and he scored three touchdowns in the first half and threw zero interceptions. Trubisky’s passes were not high-difficulty throws: he only attempted one pass over 20 yards and was 2-for-5 on passes over 10 yards. The majority of his completions were check downs. But the Bears still won.
I don’t know if Trubisky is a good quarterback — four seasons worth of game film show that he probably isn’t — but I do think that he and the adjustments made by the Bears coaching staff have a chance to win against the Saints. Trubisky is a limited passer, but he does have a clear set of talents and Chicago’s offense has adjusted to emphasize them. So long as the Bears coaching staff stays aware of Trubisky’s shortcomings and doesn’t put him into challenging situations, I believe the Bears have a fighting chance.
If nothing I’ve said so far has convinced you, then consider this. The Saints have a ton of bad playoff juju. Over the past three years, New Orleans’ postseason runs were spoiled by miraculous late comebacks at the hands of NFC North teams or refs going momentarily blind during big plays. The Bears, on the other hand, have exorcised their playoff demons. Bears kicker Cairos Santos has made 93.8 percent of his kicks this season and isn’t double-doinking anything.
Bad quarterbacks have won playoff games before and, especially with the adjustments Matt Nagy and the Bears offensive staff have made, Trubisky isn’t that bad. So, I’ll say it again: if Blake Bortles can win a playoff game, so can Mitch Trubisky.
Prediction: Bears, 25–18
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