1. How much will last year's playoff experience help the Eagles?
Dave Spadaro: Can't hurt, right? The Eagles go on the road this time, this is new for the team. No doubt playing in the postseason means something, and I'll point to last year's win for Atlanta over Los Angeles. The Rams were dominating all season and then they laid an egg in the playoffs. Chicago is going to learn that playoff football is different than the regular season. It just is. That doesn't mean anything for the Eagles, per se, but they know what it's like to be in the playoff environment.
Fran Duffy: This is absolutely critical, because not only did the Eagles win the Super Bowl last year, but they also won it with their backs against the wall when everyone had counted them out, much like this year. Despite all of the injuries and adversity this team has dealt with this fall, they're going to come in confident in themselves to get the job done. Chicago is a very "green" team. The majority of its offense, outside of Trey Burton, has never played in a playoff game. Defensively, the situation is very similar. If the Eagles can jump out early and take the crowd out of the game, we'll see if that experience (or lack thereof, on Chicago's end) can come back to be a factor.
Chris McPherson: I think what will actually help more is the fact that the Eagles have been in playoff mode for the past three weeks, so their backs have been against the wall for the better part of the past month. There are some key players on this Eagles team who are not playoff tested. Look at the secondary. All three cornerbacks – Rasul Douglas, Cre'Von LeBlanc, and Avonte Maddox – are playing on defense for the first time in a playoff game. The key will be at the quarterback position. I imagine Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is going to be hyped for this game and it could take him a little bit of time to settle into the game. If the Eagles can jump on him early, like Douglas' first-play pick last week against Washington, it could set the tone and, more importantly, take the crowd out of it. The last time the Bears had a home playoff game was the 2010 season. Those fans are going to be amped.
2. What is the best approach against the Bears' vaunted defense?
Fran Duffy: It's always tough to look at a defense like Chicago's and illustrate some kind of weakness on its team, because the Bears are at the top of most lists in pretty much every defensive category. They've been able to limit the top players at pretty much every position across the board from being impactful. That's why, much like the NFC Championship Game a year ago against that vaunted Minnesota defense, the Eagles just have to go and do what they feel most comfortable doing. Do what you do best. The moment you try and go out of your own comfort zone is when you get into trouble.
It's unlikely that the Eagles will walk into Soldier Field and put up 30-plus points, so just go in, stay the course with the game plan that the coaches put together this week, and chip away. One thing is for certain, this offense cannot get behind the sticks against Khalil Mack and that defensive front. Of all the key points, that one may be most important in this game. The Eagles must have some level of success on first and second down to prevent third-and-long situations.
Dave Spadaro: Be patient. Give Chicago different looks. Make sure Khalil Mack doesn't get on a roll and ruin the offense. I see the ball coming out of Nick Foles' hand quickly and I see a short-passing game. I see Doug Pederson making sure to play it so that the Eagles aren't playing behind the sticks. The Eagles aren't scoring 35 points in this game, until something goes completely haywire. I think the Eagles have to find good matchups and go at them. They can't make mental mistakes. They must get some semblance of a running game going so that the defense doesn't tee off on Foles. More than anything, the Eagles must avoid the giveaway. Chicago thrives on that. I'm not sure there is a weakness, per se, but the Eagles can get into some matchups here – outstanding safety Eddie Jackson is likely to play, but he won't be at 100 percent with an ankle injury – and so adjusting on the fly is going to be critical.
Chris McPherson: Wait, wait! I'm sure everyone wrote that the Eagles wouldn't score against the Vikings' defense in that NFC Championship Game and what was the score? As for the Eagles' approach against Chicago, I think we got a preview last week against Washington. Quarterback Nick Foles was efficient with a lot of quick, short throws to negate the pass rush. Methodical drives that ate up the clock. The Eddie Jackson situation bears watching. Thursday will be a big practice day. The thing to note about the Bears is that they typically keep their base defensive package on the field. Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio isn't afraid to drop a linebacker into coverage. The Eagles must exploit this with wide receiver Nelson Agholor and running back Darren Sproles. I actually think it's a HUGE Sproles game. My bold prediction for The Kickoff Show presented by Axalta (Sunday at 4:10 p.m.) is Sproles will have over 125 yards from scrimmage.
3. Which playmaker for the Bears' offense is the biggest concern?
Dave Spadaro: Tarik Cohen is the obvious answer, but I'll start at the head: Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is the biggest concern because he's the quarterback and if the Eagles don't get him off his mark then he will be a dangerous player on Sunday. Trubisky has come a long way in his second season, but he's not experienced in the playoffs and he hasn't seen a front four like this one. Take Trubisky off his game and the Eagles can force some takeaways and turn this game around. Cohen is someone the Eagles must account for and running back Jordan Howard is a good player, as is tight end Trey Burton and a good group of receivers. But it all starts with the quarterback, as it does every week.
Fran Duffy: To me it's without question Tarik Cohen. He's a matchup nightmare and a player that Bears coach Matt Nagy is very creative with. He lines up everywhere and makes plays, and he can impact the game as a runner and as a receiver. His instant speed and elite quickness make him a problem out in space. How will the Eagles match up to him? My assumption is with Malcolm Jenkins, but we will have to wait until Sunday to find out. I know this, Cohen is the man to stop on this Chicago offense.
Chris McPherson: Hmmm. I totally agree with Fran on Cohen. Funny story from LeBlanc, who played with Cohen in Chicago last season.
"He's probably the first guy that I've never seen get in a hot tub to warm up. He just puts his pads on and it can be rain, snow, sleet, hail, he's going to go out there and (run a) 4.42," he said. "He's a very unique player. He's a game-changer, a playmaker."
As for Trubisky, I made my point above with needing to get on him early. I'll be different for the sake of it and go with Trubisky's security blanket in ... Trey Burton.
In his first season in Chicago, Burton had 54 catches for 569 yards and six touchdowns. I don't think he's the most explosive weapon. Cohen is more of a concern because he is effective wherever he lines up. Taylor Gabriel is more of the deep threat, so he will stretch the secondary. Allen Robinson II has great size and contested-catch ability at 6-3, 211 pounds.
So why Burton? Burton can generate chunk plays – he has seven reception of 20+ yards on the season. He's got the athleticism to get open against linebackers. When the Eagles look to get off the field on third down, they can't let Burton help move the chains.