By: Russ Goldman
After the Patriots beat the Jets 45-3 on Monday Night, they are on the road to play the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.
WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on CBS at 4:15 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.
GAME NOTES: The Chicago Bears come into the game at 9-3, and in first place in the NFC North. They won their last game on the road at Detroit 24-20. This club is a legitimate contender to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl once we get to the playoffs. Their defense is one of the best in the league, and offensively they have been very efficient lately. This team will be very difficult to beat at home.
On defense the Bears are very tough against the run, ranking 2nd in the NFL and they also get after the quarterback. They only give up up 16 points per game. The strength of this defense is in their front seven. On the defensive line this group is led by Julius Peppers who already has 7 sacks. Brian Urlacher is still one of the best linebackers in the league, and he already has 94 tackles and 3 sacks. The weakness of the defense could be the defensive backs.
On offense, the Bears have improved as the season has gone along. The running game is led by Matt Forte who has 748 yards and 5 touchdowns.
The passing game is led by quarterback Jay Cutler. He has been playing more under control lately, and his statistics back that up. He is completing 63% of his passes, and has thrown for 17 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Cutler has some weapons with wide receiver Johnny Knox, and tight end Greg Olsen.
The Bears special teams group is very good. Their kicker, Robbie Gould, is one of the best in the NFL and their punter is solid in Brad Maynard. Devin Hester is very dangerous in punt returns, and has already returned 2 for touchdowns.
The Bears are a very good team and deserve to be 9-3. They also are excellent at home. Weather could also be a factor as it is expected to be very cold and windy. However, if there is a team that can play in tough conditions, and also play well against great defenses, it is the Patriots. I still like their chances in this match-up.
Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.
1. The Patriots special teams unit needs to contain Devin Hester. I have seen this player change a game with a punt return. He is so dangerous, and the Patriots special teams needs to keep him in check. I would obviously punt away from him and I expect we’ll see them try and keep it out of his hands whenever possible.
2. The Patriots offensive line has to do a great job in protecting Tom Brady. The Bears love to get after the quarterback, and the offensive line needs to keep Peppers and Urlacher away from Brady. If they give him time to throw he should be able to take advantage of the Bears secondary.
3. The Patriots running game has to be efficient on Sunday. Since weather could play a factor on Sunday, it is imperative that the Pats running backs gets some decent yardage against a very tough defense. You might see a surprise at running back with Fred Taylor playing on Sunday. He did play in the last game very late and got a few carries. However, Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead will probably shoulder the load in the running game.
4. The Patriots defense needs to shut down Matt Forte. One of the main reasons the Bears offensive improvement is the play of Forte. If the Pats can contain him, they could force the ball in the hands of Cutler and make him beat you.
5. The Patriots need to put pressure on Jay Cutler. The Bears offensive line this season has not been a strength of the team. The Pats need to take advantage of this unit like they did against Pittsburgh. In that game they blitzed often while keeping Roethlisberger in the pocket. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a similar game plan against Cutler.
This will be a tough game on the road with potentially bad weather conditions. I think this game comes down to the play of Brady. He is playing right now at an MVP level, and has shown he can handle windy conditions. I am predicting a 21-17 Patriots victory.
What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.