By: Derek Havens
For some Patriots fans, Monday’s Jets victory celebration may not end in the foreseeable future. For the Patriots players however, they have already turned their attention to the Chicago Bears. Chicago is widely regarded as one of the NFC’s best teams with a 9 – 3 record through the first 13 weeks. Here are a few of my concerns about this week’s game:
- The Weather: As of now, the weather report does not bode well for anyone in Chicago around 4: 15 on Sunday afternoon. With the game time temperature projected in the single digits and a 60% chance of snow, it could be anyone’s game. When the weather is that much of a factor, anything is possible. If the weather plays that big of a factor, I believe the home team is heavily favored.
- Third Down: This game could be won or lost on third down. The Bears are the best third down defense in the league, getting off the field 68% of the time. Since the Patriots have made long, sustained, balanced drives a staple in their offense, I am worried about their ability to drive the length of the field. If the Pats cannot get their offense in sync with these drives, they could struggle mightily.
- Quarterback protection: The Bears run a “cover 2” or “Tampa 2” defense. This zone scheme is very different from the man-to-man defense the Jets ran just 6 days ago. This defense allows them to get pressure on opposing QBs with only four players; which means they can drop eight players into coverage. The statistics seem to show that this is effective, as the Bears have tallied a total of 25 sacks through the first 12 games. However, this defense can be vulnerable if the pressure does not reach the opposing quarterback in time.
- Attacking Cutler: On the other side of things, the Bears have struggled protecting Jay Cutler. Any team that has sacked Cutler multiple times throughout the game has been successful. The down side to this theory is sacking the opposing quarterbacks is New England’s achilles heel. To say Jay Cutler has displayed poor decision making against the blitz during his career would be an understatement. If the Pats can generate enough pressure to force some bad throws, the defense could have opportunities to capitalize.
- Defending Matt Forte: Not only is the Bears’ leading rusher dangerous, he also is an excellent pass-catcher. He leads the team with 748 rushing yards and is third on the team with 36 receptions. Forte is utilized in several different ways and he’s one of the NFL’s most productive players. Limiting Forte, would put a lot of pressure on the Bears offense and most certainly favor New England.
- Win the Turnover Battle: The Bears could not stop giving the ball away at the beginning of the season. In the first 7 games, they gave the ball away 21 times. In the last 5 games, they have only turned the ball away 5 times. The Patriots have done an excellent job taking advantage of opposing teams mistakes. Their +14 turnover margin is second in the league. If the Pats can generate some more turnovers, they should come out with a victory.
In the end, I do not feel comfortable picking the Patriots to lose. With Monday night’s victory looming in my mind, I feel confident the Patriots can make enough plays to win the game. They have been able to do that the past few weeks and have played very well in the process. The weather could be the ultimate factor and is my number one concern. Even with that in mind, I predict the Patriots to win 20 – 13.