The New Orleans Saints (12-4) play host to the Chicago Bears (8-8) in the opening weekend of the 2021 NFC Playoffs. The two teams met back in Week 8 at Soldier Field in Chicago where the Saints were victorious in overtime by the final score of 26-23. Both sides will be without key pieces to their defense as the Saints will be without leading sack artist DE Trey Hendrickson while the Bears will be without young stud LB Roquan Smith.
Despite being without Hendrickson, New Orleans does receive reinforcements as they begin their Super Bowl run. Both WR Michael Thomas and RB Alvin Kamara have been activated to the active roster from injured reserve and reserve/COVID lists.
Below the Saints News Network Krewe shares their biggest keys to moving on to the NFC Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Biggest Key to Saints Victory: SAINTS OFFENSIVE LINE vs. BEARS PASS RUSH
The Saints have allowed 29 sacks this season, but only 13 on Drew Brees in the 12 games he played. Tackles Ryan Ramczyk and Terron Armstead have a lengthy track record of shutting down the league's top edge rushers. Second-year C Erik McCoy has developed into an outstanding interior lineman but guards Andrus Peat and Cesar Ruiz have both had issues with interior pass protection. Chicago has 35 sacks and 88 quarterback hits this season, well below their typical production.
The Bears have multiple sacks in just two of their last 10 games but have the defensive personnel to take over a game. All-Pro LB Khalil Mack, who leads the team with 9 sacks and 30 pressures, can single-handedly wreck an opponent's blocking scheme. He is flanked on the other edge by dangerous pass rushers Robert Quinn and Barkevious Mingo, while former Saint DE/DT is a powerful interior rusher. New Orleans must be able to establish a consistent running game to maintain balance, but keeping the 41-Yr old Brees upright is vital for any offensive success. Ramczyk has dominated Mack in the last two meetings between these teams, and Armstead has typically done well against Quinn throughout their respective careers.
The Saints need to give Brees a clean interior pocket against Hicks and the Chicago stunts, an enormous challenge for any offense. The Bears have several playmakers in their secondary, so Brees must be given the time to go through his reads and find a weapon from a New Orleans offense finally back near full strength.
Kyle T. Mosley
Biggest Key to Saints Victory: 4 Quarters of Consistency and Focus
The recent playoff failures have been due to a lack of consistency and focus. Where do I begin? It's simple, but let's start with the defense. We have witnessed the Saints defense to have strong 3 & 3/4ths of games, only to lose their focus in the final minutes. Either by extending drives with penalties, or allowing receivers to get open in busted coverages, or not being able to affect the quarterback - all have been their downfall in the playoffs.
Next, Sean Payton and the Saints' offense must be consistent on the ground. Patience is the key. Chicago's defensive line is susceptible to wearing down in the second halves of football games. However, you can only wear them down if you decide to pound them in the gut with the rushing game. Kamara, Murray, and Taysom Hill can create problems for Chicago. Yet, they can only be effective if Coach Payton is patient enough to stick with the run.
New Orleans wins with a strong running attack all four quarters and no defensive "let downs" in the final minutes before time expires.
Biggest Key to Saints Victory: Don't Come Out Flat
The Saints enter Sunday as close to full strength as humanly possible. There's no excuses. You might see a few struggles here and there between Michael Thomas and Drew Brees, but it should be minimal. Alvin Kamara should be good to go, assuming Sunday gets an all-clear. They also got back Deonte Harris back, who can be a game-changer.
New Orleans is favored in this game, and as long as they don't struggle and come out flat against Chicago, they should be able to win convincingly. The last thing and worst-case scenario for New Orleans is not being able to move the ball well and let the Bears get long and sustaining drives to put Drew Brees and company on the bench. With so much at stake, it's hard not to think the Saints come out with plenty to prove in this one.
Biggest Key to Saints Victory: Start Strong!
The New Orleans Saints will walk into their matchup with the Bears full throttle. The Saints has played without Drew Brees, Michael Thomas, Marquez Callaway, Alvin Kamara, Latavius Murray, and every other running back on the team roster. With all the adversity this season, New Orleans persevered to No. 2 seed in the NFC. Most of the Saints' offense should be back to face the bears, including Alvin Kamara, Michael Thomas, and the underrated addition of Deonte Harris.
The keys to victory over the Bears is having a strong first-half performance, solid offensive line performance, and impeccable defense. If all the offensive pieces play near their peak, there is no team in the league that will defeat the Saints.
Biggest Key to Saints Victory: Win Early Downs Defensively
The Chicago Bears won three of their final four regular-season games to squeak into a playoff spot despite a blowout loss in Green Bay to conclude the regular season. Chicago's late-season turnaround is due in large part to David Montgomery and the Bears' run game not only grinding out tough yards but setting up play action for Mitchell Trubisky.
The game plan should be similar for Chicago but they battle one of the league's best rush defenses inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. In the team's regular-season matchup, New Orleans surrendered 96 rushing yards and a 33% conversion rate on third down. In order to mimic their Week 8 result, Dennis Allen's group must contain Montgomery on first and second down, forcing Trubisky into third and long situations.
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