The NFL is nothing if not a copycat league, with successful innovations or stratagems invariably being replicated by others. So with the opening playoff weekend of the playoffs finished, did situations unfold in the four games that can provide useful object lessons for a Bears team that may not yet have talent to pull of certain things but certainly can learn from them?
Absolutely. Even allowing for a degree of oversimplification, consider:
Playoff Lesson 1: Teams without their No. 1 quarterbacks lost by double digits.
The Miami Dolphins may have earned new coach Adam Gase serious consideration for AFC coach of the year by reaching the playoffs. But forced to start Matt Moore instead of Ryan Tannehill (No. 12 passer rating, No. 6 completion percentage), the Dolphins were beaten 30-12 by the Steelers. Moore lost 2 fumbles and was intercepted once.
The Oakland Raiders dropped down from MVP candidate Derek Carr to rookie Connor Cook, who threw 3 interceptions on his way to a 30.0 passer rating in his first NFL start.
Bears Lesson 1: Don’t get down to your fourth quarterback.
[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]
Playoff Lesson 2: Every winning team out-rushed their opponent and ran the football at least 25 times.
The Green Bay Packers ran just 25 times in their rout of the New York Giants, which was more than the Giants did, and also, any team with Aaron Rodgers as its quarterback is by definition an outlier anyway.
Bears Lesson 2: Run the football 25 times.
Or at least start with that as a minimum. Obviously game and scoreboard situations can unravel any plan, but the Bears ran the ball 25 or more times in seven of their 16 games. They won three of those games; in one (Jacksonville) the defense gave up 17 fourth-quarter points and a 13-0 lead; in one (Giants) the quarterback (Jay Cutler) threw a late interception on a potential winning drive; and in two (Washington, Minnesota II) the Bears turned the ball over a combined 10 times (see Lesson 1).
Playoff Lesson 3: 10 of the 12 playoff teams drafted their No. 1 quarterback.
Houston acquired their quarterback (Brock Osweiler) in free agency. Kansas City traded for theirs (Alex Smith). All the rest drafted the quarterback who eventually led them into this season’s playoffs.
Of those 10 drafted quarterbacks, only Oakland’s Derek Carr (2014 draft) and Dallas’ Dak Prescott (2016) have been with their teams less than five years. Of those 10 quarterbacks, more than half were drafted when their teams already had a starter in place (e.g., Tom Brady behind Drew Bledsoe, New England; Aaron Rodgers behind Brett Favre, Green Bay).