Chicago at New England: 5 Things to Know
Seven weeks into the season, and there seems to be less certainty about these two teams than there was in week one. If the Bears lose on Sunday, they could be three-games behind both Green By and Detroit by day’s end. If the Patriots lose, the sky will once again be falling in New England, and they could be stuck in trench warfare with the rest of the AFC East until December.
Here are five things you should know entering this game.
1. Team "locker room discord" vs. Team "no distractions"
The Bears locker room meltdown was one of the big NFL stories of the week. Receiver Brandon Marshall reportedly called out quarterback Jay Cutler, and one of the players even chided the fans for booing the team at home. And the topper was that Marshall went on Inside the NFL and talked even more about it. A win in Foxboro might right the ship, but a loss, and the team might play Patsy Cline’s I Fall to Pieces on the plane home.
Conversely, if the Patriots had a theme song, it would be Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence. After their Monday Night Meltdown in Kansas City, nary a peep was heard from the organization all week. It was as if owner Robert Kraft had MP3s of “We’re on to Cincinnati” implanted in the speech centers of every player and coach.
Neither method is the right answer for every team. Some teams thrive on emotion and fired-up players. This game should us whether the Bears are one of those teams.
2. Bears offense could dominate, if…
If they are patient and take care of the football.
The Bears diversified attack is the type that gives the Patriots defense fits. And even though the Bears team stats are middling, running back Matt Forte is averaging 4 yards a carry and Cutler has a 107.4 QB rating in the team’s three wins. And the Patriots have trouble shutting down one facet of offense if their opponent can do both well.
As for ball security, Chicago has turned the ball over 12 times in their losses but just once in their victories. And the Patriots, have forced 11 turnovers in their wins but just three in their losses. That makes the turnover battle the most important place to win, if you want to win on the scoreboard.
If the Bears can stay patient, take what the defense gives them, and be careful with the football, they could dominate time-of-possession, just as the Jets did last week. If Chicago does that, they will come out with a victory. But if they fall behind, or if they take too many risks against the opportunistic Patriots defense, they will likely come out with an L instead.
3. Patriots defensive injuries come as the offense improves
If you want to see how the Patriots 2014 season is playing out, look to last year and the 2013 Patriots. Both seasons started with strong defenses, and offenses that were works-in-progress. And just like last year, defensive injuries look like they'll flip that script at mid-season. With injuries to defensive end Chandler Jones and a season-ending knee injury to middle linebacker Jerod Mayo, it’s beginning to look a lot like 2013 in New England.
The good news is that the Patriots offense has been steadily improving. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is looking more like his All-World self, wideout Brandon LaFell is working into the offense nicely, and quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t turned the ball over in the last three games (and compiled a 118.1 QB rating in that time).
Through week four, New England averaged just 20 points per game, but since then they are averaging 36 ppg. So don’t expect a low-scoring affair this Sunday and expect continued offensive improvement from the Patriots offense.
4. Tough schedules for both teams
Over the next seven weeks, the Bears play at New England, have three division games (two on the road), and play the red-hot Dallas Cowboys. Those teams are a combined 23-12, so Chicago will have to take full advantage of their bye week (November 2) and their semi-bye (November 23, against Tampa Bay).
After the Bears game on Sunday, the Patriots play Denver, Indianapolis, Detroit, Green Bay, and San Diego. Those teams are a combined 26-10. Who would have guessed that finishing the season with three division games would be the easy part of the schedule.
5. Home immovable object versus road irresistible force
The Patriots are flat-out impressive at home. They’re 40-3 at Gillette Stadium since 2009 and 24-1 in October home games since 2003. They are also riding a 12-game winning streak against NFC North teams.
However, the Bears have been very impressive on the road this year, sporting a 3-1 record. And their only loss came at Carolina, where they had a possession late that could have tied the game.
Something’s got to give, and it’ll be interesting to see which team builds on their reputation and which one undercuts it.
All things considered, a very interesting matchup. If the Bears can hold the locker room together and stay patient on offense, it could be a shootout. But if the Patriots can force early turnovers, or if the Bears simply can’t stop Brady and company, it could be a rout.
My prediction: it’ll be close most of the way, but the Patriots always find a way to win at home, so a Patriots victory.
Enjoy the game!