By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
On October 21st at noon, the Chicago Bears will take on their toughest challenge in … lets say a while.
The Bears have had a very limited amount of high profile games in the past five years, other than perhaps a game in November that may have kept their low playoff odds alive.
This Sunday, things are different as the Bears are a real NFL team this season. This Bears squad has picked in the top ten every season under Ryan Pace in the first round. The reason is because the Bears haven’t been a real NFL team until this year when actual visible talent is evident.
A young team like the Bears have had a typical young team start to the season being 3-2 because they gave away two road games. The New England Patriots are doing what they do essentially every year. The Pats started out 1-2 and everyone was saying the Patriots are done, this is the year finally.
Well, that thinking is so three weeks ago as now the Patriots look as formidable as anyone in the AFC and maybe the NFL. The Bears are not going out to play in a statement game, although a statement will be made once the final whistle blows, instead this is a measuring stick game. On Sunday afternoon, Bears fans will get a better idea of what this Bears team is capable of.
A win improves the Bears to 4-2 looking legitimate and sky’s the limit. A loss brings questions as to what the actual ceiling is for this team this year. Here are the four goals for the Bears to measure up against New England and get a victory on Sunday.
Bears Young Duo = Pats Dynamic Duo? — The biggest advantage the Patriots have as a team is the play of their quarterback position. Then combined with the best head coach in football, its hard to beat unless your team can’t boast a similar combo. Nagy and Trubisky have to be close to equal with Belichick and Brady.
Under Belichick and Brady, they have had a ton of success against quarterbacks under the age of 25. The reason is because Belichick is really good at confusing quarterbacks then Brady is able to handle whatever a defense gives him. The Pats duo is a deadly one and one the Bears won’t survive if they can’t match.
Last week the Chiefs nearly beat the Patriots because of big plays generated by Patrick Mahomes in the second half. Mahomes was not good in the first half which was part of the reason why the Chiefs lost despite scoring 40 points. For the Bears to win this game, Trubisky has to make plays for four quarters and be consistent. Nagy has to make good aggressive play calls, not like the conservative third down call in overtime.
Mack’s Injured? Who Will Stand Up? — The Bears have a scary front seven and though it was lackluster last week against Miami, many teams have abnormal outings in the week to week league that is the NFL.
There is no reason to think that this group has regressed but there is another concern. Khalil Mack is dealing with an injured ankle and his status is day to day. Mack has not been practicing but, based on his track record, he should be available for the game on Sunday. Assuming Mack won’t be a hundred percent, someone else needs to step up. The opposite edge produced next to nothing in Miami.
The Dolphins also did what they could to take away Akiem Hicks as well and no one else on the defensive line made a play. The heat was a factor for the Bears and contributed to the overall poor performance. At the same time, Belichick will look at what Adam Gase did to game plan for the Bears defense and incorporate some of that in his gameplan. Someone else has to step up with all the attention paid to Hicks and Mack.
Coaching and Gameplanning and Play Calling, Oh My! — The big key to this game is the chess match between all the coaches and their gameplans for both teams.
Then of course how both teams adjust in the game when the ball is kicked off. The Patriots are facing the exact same offense they did a week ago against the Chiefs. The Patriots also have played the Dolphins and have extra context for the Bear’s game film last week.
Last year, Matt Nagy opened the season with a brilliant game plan in beating the Patriots on banner night. The Chiefs game plan in that week one contest started his rise as a head coach candidate. What does Nagy, Vic Fangio and Chris Tabor have for Belichick? The advantages favor the Patriots looking at the face of this match-up, how well the coaches perform all week and on Sunday will be a big factor in deciding this game.
By the Numbers — The Patriots look like a team that can get back to the Super Bowl with how good they have looked the last couple weeks. They aren’t perfect but the key guys haven’t slowed down.
The Bears very easily could be 5-0 but gave a couple games away. Even with those losses, the Bears have the lead in the division and have put up good numbers as a team statistically. Look how both teams stack by the numbers between each other from Pro Football Reference.
These teams are pretty even looking at the numbers. The Bears have been good at home and the Patriots have struggled on the road so far. The defense advantage goes to the Bears and the offense advantage goes to the Patriots.
Which team can give a full three phase effort? The over/under is set at 49, don’t be surprised to see a lot of points and a lot of drama like the Bears had in Miami.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR