The Bears have taken full advantage of facing the weakest strength of schedule in team history over the first 5 games of the season. They’ve rode their dominating defense to a 4-1 record and now stand alone at the top of the NFC North after the Minnesota Vikings fell to the Washington Redskins this past weekend.
In my first 2 installments of “Quarter Previews” (1, 2), I correctly predicted the Bears would be 4-1 through the bye week. The next 3 games remaining in the 2nd quarter of the season remain to be seen, but the Lions, Panthers, and Titans aren’t striking much fear in me.
I have the Bears heading into the 3rd quarter with a 7-1 or 6-2 record. In either scenario, 6+ wins will likely be enough to have the NFC North lead at the midway point of the season.
But no matter how good the Bears play over the rest of the first half of the season, the 3rd quarter will prove to be their toughest test. The Houston Texans,San Francisco 49ers, and Seattle Seahawks all rank in the top 6 in the NFL in overall defense, and the Viking’s Adrian Peterson loves to feast on the Bears.
But with 3 of these 4 games coming at home, I think the Bears have a few tricks up their sleeve that may lead to a surprise in the standings when the 3rd quarter is said and done.
Game 9: Home Game vs. Houston Texans, November 11th, 7:20 PM
The Texans have relied heavily on their defense, which is among the NFL’s best when it comes to total yards allowed per game. They’ve also sprinkled in a healthy dose of Arian Foster on offense en route to a 5-1 record.
Even with their former Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing on IR, the Texan’s defense features one of the best young pass rushing defensive ends in the league in J.J. Watt. Watt leads the league with 9.5 sacks, and he could be giving right tackle Gabe Carimi fits all night long.
But I have a strong feeling the Texans will be leaving Soldier Field with a loss in week 10. The Bears simply don’t give up yards on the ground any more. They lead the NFL in rushing yards allowed with an average of only 65.8 rush yards allowed per game, and that average drops to just 61 yards in home games.
Aaron Rodger’s dismantling of the Texan’s pass defense laid the blueprint for success for Jay Cutler. Rodgers was able to throw for 6 touchdowns with a less-than-100% Greg Jennings and no Jermichael Finley at his disposal. I know the Bear’s passing offense isn’t quite Green Bay’s, but it’s comparable to the one that lit up the previously undefeated Texans.
It will all come down to how much time Cutler has in the pocket, but I see the Bears pulling this one out.
Game 10: Away Game vs. San Francisco 49ers, November 19th, 7:30 PM
Unfortunately, I’m not so confident about this Monday Night Football matchup in Candlestick Park. The 49ers are the cream of the crop in the NFC, and they dominate on all fronts.
They lead the NFL in total defense and rushing offense, and quarterback Alex Smith has proven to be a serviceable game manager. He hasn’t quite had the #1 pick impact the 49ers had expected from him, but he’s been able to shed the “bust” cloud that has been hanging over him for years.
The 9ers have already suffered a home loss this year, and the Bears are 4-1 on Monday Nights since 2010. But asking the Bears to put together winning efforts against arguably the best teams in both conferences in back to back weeks might be too tall of an order to fill.
The 9ers pass rush is deadly, and even if they get stopped up by the offensive line, their defensive secondary is one of the best units in the NFC. Their All-World linebacker Patrick Willis will have their defense in top gear, and for some strange reason I can see Frank Gore punching some holes in the Bear’s rushing defense.
It won’t be as bad as the melt down we witnessed against the Packers in week 2, but the Bears offense is in for a rough night on the road in San Francisco.
Game 11: Home Game vs. Minnesota Vikings, November 25th, 12:00 PM
The Vikings have surprised a lot of critics with their 4-2 record to start the season. They pulled off upset wins against the 49ers and the Lions. They sport a solid defense, an offense that prides itself on ball security, and a re-built Adrian Peterson who looks as good as he ever has.
But outside of AP, the Vikings have no aspect to their team that jumps out at you. Their grab-bag group of wide receivers won’t have much luck against Tim Jennings and the Bear’s secondary, and I expect the Bears pass rush to wreak havoc on Christian Ponder.
On offense, the Bears won’t have much to worry about outside of Jared Allen rushing off of the end of the line. Once again, if the line can provide enough time for Cutler, I expect the Bears to win, and win BIG.
Game 12: Home Game vs. Seattle Seahawks, December 2nd, 12:00 PM
The Seahawks are an interesting team this year. They have an incredible defense filled with young studs and a late round draft pick at quarterback in Russell Wilson who won the starting job over Matt Flynn, their big money free agent signing this past offseason.
The Seahawks are holding on to first place in the NFC West. Their suffocating defense has only allowed 93 points all season, and they’re 1 of only 5 teams to allow less than 300 yards per game on defense.
But their offense is another story entirely. Even though Russell Wilson had a bit of a coming out party with 3 touchdown passes in their week 6 victory against the Patriots, the Seahawk’s receiving corps is a slightly taller version of the mediocre unit that the Vikings have. And Marshawn Lynch has had a bit of a down year so far and has only found the end zone 2 times.
I can see this first game in December being a classic defensive struggle on the frozen (and hopefully snowy) tundra of Soldier Field. In the end, I see the Bear’s offense being the deciding factor in a low scoring game.
So even though the Bears will be going up against a group of 4 opponents who are currently 17-7, I can feasibly see the Bears pulling out 3 home wins in this stretch. For the extreme optimists, these 3 victories can put the Bears win total at 10, which could be enough to lock up a playoff berth at an early stage in the season.
A slightly more realistic approach would still leave the Bears at 9-3. The way the division is shaping up right now, 9 or 10 wins should put the Bears firmly in first place heading down the home stretch of the season.
The final and deciding quarter of the season will feature 3 road games and a December matchup at home against the Packers. Hopefully that matchup will have playoff implications, because everyone loves those rivalry games in the frigid Chicago winter weather.Follow paulmbanks