NFL Preview - Chicago (8-6) at Philadelphia (8-6)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - A division title could be clinched for either the Philadelphia Eagles or Chicago Bears when the two teams clash Sunday night at Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles can clinch their first NFC East crown since 2010 with a win Sunday coupled by a Dallas Cowboys loss in Washington, while the Bears, who also captured their last division title in 2010, must defeat Philadelphia and have losses by Detroit and Green Bay in order to take home an NFC North title.
Philadelphia will know by kickoff if it can wrap up the division versus the Bears because the Redskins host the Cowboys at 1:00 p.m. (ET). If the Redskins post an improbable victory, the Eagles have a chance to become division winners in the first year of head coach Chip Kelly.
But if Dallas wins, it will set up a huge matchup at Big D in Week 17. If that scenario occurs, Kelly said he will not rest his players versus Chicago because his team has to "get back on a winning track."
The Eagles took a five-game winning streak into last Sunday's showdown against the Minnesota Vikings and dropped a 48-30 decision. They trailed most of the game and allowed 455 yards of offense, including 370 through the air. Vikings rookie running back Matt Asiata, filling in for injured backs Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart, ran for 51 yards and three scores on 30 carries.
Vikings receiver Greg Jennings had 163 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches and Jarius Wright hauled in four receptions for 95 yards. The Eagles managed to sack Matt Cassel three times and pick him off once, but couldn't produce offensively to keep the winning streak alive.
"I thought we had a great week of practice, but we don't make excuses," Kelly said after the game. "We didn't play well enough to win today."
Philadelphia's dynamic offense still managed to produce 475 total yards and wide receiver DeSean Jackson caught 10 passes for 195 yards and a score. Jackson, though, got into a heated discussion with wide receivers coach Bob Bicknell before wideouts Jeff Maehl, Riley Cooper, another assistant coach, and running back LeSean McCoy intervened.
Jackson knows that winning is the most important thing right now.
"It's still the NFL," Jackson said. "Regardless of what the opposing team's record is, we still have to go out there and take it seriously. It was just a game we let slip. It's a game I felt we should have won. Going into it, I felt we had a great game plan but throughout the course of the game, we weren't able to get it going."
Jackson needs 135 more yards in the final two weeks to break Mike Quick's team record for most yards in a year. Quick had 1,409 yards back in 1983 for the Eagles, who will try to extend their home winning streak to four games after a 10-game slide in south Philly.
Chicago looks for its third straight win and some help to capture a division championship. Head coach Marc Trestman raised a few eyebrows when he named oft-injured quarterback Jay Cutler the starter again for Sunday's 38-31 win at Cleveland after Josh McCown played so well in his absence.
Cutler struggled at times against the Browns, throwing a pair of interceptions, but finished 22-of-31 passing with 265 yards and three touchdowns. Cutler has full support of his teammates and Trestman.
"He's a captain of this football team and he's elected captain of this football team," Trestman said. "I'm sure that he would tell you that, not just the offensive guys, but throughout our football team, they stuck together and won for each other today. I thought it was a real good win for us."
Bears running back Matt Forte helped take some of the load off of Cutler by rushing for 127 yards on 24 carries, while Chicago receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both had a receiving score. Marshall caught six passes for 95 yards and Jeffery ended with 72 on five receptions. Both Marshall and Jeffery pose as huge problems for the Eagles, who are 31st in passing yards allowed (291.6) and 30th in total yards allowed (402.4).
The Eagles, though, were able to contain Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit's Calvin Johnson, who played through a blizzard and was completely taken off his game. The Eagles were scorched through the air last week in Minnesota and their secondary is banged up for Chicago.
"You've got two really, really big guys that have great range and can go get it and even when they're covered one-on-one, it doesn't mean that they're covered," Kelly said of Marshall and Jeffery. "They've got maybe the most complete back when you look at (Matt) Forte, in terms of his pass protection pickup, his ability to be a receiver out of the backfield and then his ability to run. The one thing about them that you admire is that they didn't miss a beat when they went to their backup quarterback and that's kind of a credit to the system that Marc (Trestman) is running up there."
Both Marshall and Jeffery have eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark this season.
Eagles safety Earl Wolff may return from a knee injury and cornerback Brandon Boykin has been cleared to play after missing practice with a concussion. Another rookie safety, Keelan Johnson, was promoted from the practice squad to the active roster Wednesday with safeties Kurt Coleman and Colt Anderson both injured. Johnson could make his NFL debut Sunday.
Chicago has won two straight and four of the last five meetings with the Eagles, and leads the all-time series by a lopsided 29-11-1 ledger. The Bears recorded a 30-24 win in the last matchup on Nov. 7, 2011 and is unbeaten in the past two trips to the City of Brotherly Love.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is Pro Bowl bound and leads the NFL with 1,343 rushing yards and 1,850 yards from scrimmage. It didn't appear that way against the Vikings, as he carried the ball a season-low eight times for 38 yards. He did catch five passes for 68 yards.
McCoy didn't mind the lack of carries and believes in Kelly's system. He gave some insight on Sunday's meeting with the Bears.
"I feel like this game, I want to put the offense on my back," McCoy said. "I want to roll. I want to get going. I think that me and the guys up front, we have to set the tone. I think once we do that, we can worry about the other teams. For right now, I feel like the big guys up front and myself... we need to put this game on our backs and take care of business."
The Bears are last in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (152.4), so expect the Eagles' interior front line of Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans to push around Chicago's front and make some holes. Philly has the top rushing offense this season because of McCoy and is first in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt, plays of 20-plus yards, pass plays of 20-plus yards, touchdowns of 20-plus yards and yards per first down play.
Bears linebacker Lance Briggs hasn't played since Oct. 20 at Washington because of a shoulder injury and could return Sunday night. He would be a huge lift for a defense faced with a stiff challenge of slowing down Philadelphia's break-neck offense led by McCoy, Jackson and quarterback Nick Foles. Foles, who replaced Michael Vick as the Eagles' starting quarterback, has passed for 2,398 yards with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions.
Disrupting the quarterback is priority No. 1 for a defense and Briggs does a fine job at it. He can also drop back in coverage and impressed defensive coordinator Mel Tucker in practice this week.
"He looks like Lance," Tucker said. "He's moving around well. He's got good pep in his step. He's excited to be back out there working with the guys. He's just very experienced and steps right in and knows what to do. He plays fast. It's good to have him back out there working a little bit."
Trestman said he's optimistic Briggs will play, but doesn't know how much and has to see how Friday's practice goes.
"Certainly he hasn't played football in a long time," Trestman said. "Lance is a unique athlete. It would certainly be exciting to see him out on the field. How much? Who knows? But it certainly would be good for our football team to have him out there and have him playing."
Marshall, meanwhile, is bothered by a sore quad and it shouldn't hinder his chances of trying to harass Philadelphia's secondary.
Tucker's defense will try to prepare for what the Eagles will bring Sunday in what could be an extremely important contest for both squads, pending on what happens in the afternoon games.
"Everyone is at the point of attack on every play," Tucker said of Philly's offense. "You just can't hone in on just one thing. So you have to be sound in the run game and in the pass game, and you have to prepare for both."
It will be interesting to see how Philadelphia's special teams handles Bears return man Devin Hester, who has the potential to break one on any given play. The Eagles seemed to be afraid of Vikings returner Cordarrelle Patterson and avoided kicking the ball in his direction. Minnesota had great field position the entire afternoon because of the strategy.
"Don't put it in the hands of one of the best returners in the NFL right now," Coleman said. "He's (Patterson) done a phenomenal job with the ball in his hands. We tried to keep it out of his hands as much as possible and make everyone else beat us."
Don't expect the same strategy from the Eagles in back-to-back weeks, but the Bears will come away with a close win on the road.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Bears 24, Eagles 21
12/19 15:23:00 ET