The Chicago Bears (3-2) face the New Orleans Saints (5-1) on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field. This is an important matchup when we look down the road at the NFC Playoff picture. Both teams may be involved in that conversation and home-field advantage is paramount in the playoffs. For now, the Bears just need to focus on getting to the postseason, as they have had a rough start combined with a competitive NFC North. These division opponents are all at or above .500, making this the best division in football so far.
The Bears Will Beat the Saints
Therefore, this week’s game is integral. The Bears need a victory, and after the bye week, they will earn a victory at home facing a New Orleans squad that is missing superstars Drew Brees and Alvin Kamara. Both the quarterback and running back are injured, which gives Chicago a huge break going into this game.
Plenty of Bears fans are panicking but there is little need to doubt this squad. At 3-2, the 2018 Bears went 9-2 the rest of the way to finish at 12-4 and win the NFC North Championship. This year they could do the same thing. The biggest difference between last year and this year is the team has more injuries to overcome. Both Akiem Hicks and Kyle Long landed on the injured reserve in the past week. However, in Long’s case, the Bears offensive line may benefit from ‘addition by subtraction’. With all due respect to the once-great Long, he is a shadow of his former self after so many years of wear and tear. Chicago will most likely improve with either Rashaad Coward, Ted Larsen, or rookie Alex Bars manning Long’s vacant right guard position.
As for Hicks, he is a mountain of a man to replace. Roy Robertson-Harris and Bilal Nichols will need to step up until Hicks’ return, which could come in Week 15. Nichols is recovering from a broken hand and will reportedly wear a fingerless cast on Sunday during his first action since Week 2 at Denver. His return should help smooth the absence of Hicks.
Another big positive for Chicago is the likely return of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. His left (non-throwing) shoulder is healed enough to where he can play with some pain. It may hurt but the Bears need him. Let’s be honest, the offense has been terrible. They are averaging just 266.0 yards per game (30th) and 17.4 points per game (26th).
Aikman Efficiency Ratings (AER)
Troy Aikman‘s NFL Efficiency Ratings (AER) are a reliable source to gauge a team’s overall strength as well as the offensive and defensive breakdowns. Using AER’s Week 5 ratings, we can see that Chicago’s offense is 26th. Meanwhile, the Bears defense is 4th best behind only the Patriots, 49ers, and Bills. Overall, Chicago places 10th.
What about New Orleans? They are surprisingly only 21st overall with the 17th best offense and 23rd best defense. These numbers are shocking but might be a clue that the Saints are not nearly as good as their record indicates. New Orleans has victories over the Texans, Seahawks, Cowboys, Buccaneers, and Jaguars. They lost to the L.A. Rams. Remember that Drew Brees was hurt in Week 2 in that loss to Los Angeles. Since then they have done well with Teddy Bridgewater.
Using Football Outsiders rankings, Chicago once again has the edge in defense over New Orleans (5th vs 14th). New Orleans has the edge in offense (16th vs 23rd). Overall, the Saints are 10th while the Bears are 12th. What does it all mean? We can surmise that New Orleans is not as good as their 5-1 record indicates while the Bears are probably getting too much criticism. They play in a much harder division than the Saints. Every NFC North team is at or above .500, while the NFC South has two underachieving teams in the 2-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the 1-5 Atlanta Falcons.
Pagano vs Fangio
Coming off of easily their worst defensive performance of the season in the disappointing loss to Oakland in London, is it time to start worrying about Chicago’s new Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano? Overall, it’s too early to make a clear judgment. The Bears have had only one poor performance on that side of the ball over five games and it was a strange circumstance being overseas. Maybe it was due to jet lag. Maybe it was the early injury to defensive line stalwart Akiem Hicks. Perhaps it was just a bad day with a game plan that didn’t work. Nonetheless, the Bears defense was quite miserable versus a Raiders squad that played well.
If the Bears have another bad performance on Sunday against the Saints, then maybe it’s time to really start worrying. For now, let’s give them benefit of the doubt and just say it was one bad game. Last year’s #1 ranked defense under Vic Fangio had a poor game in the 5th game at Miami. Ironically, it was a game with strange circumstances in that it was extremely hot in south Florida. Chicago lost in overtime to a poor Dolphins team 31-28. Plus, we’re not so sure Oakland is that awful. Jon Gruden has his squad off to a 3-2 start and they sure looked improved over last season in that London game. It’s too early to blame Chuck Pagano.
Chicago Bears vs New Orleans Saints Prediction
Chicago will get back on track in Sunday’s game. The Bears will beat the Saints because of several reasons. They have at least five things going their way: 1) home-field advantage, 2) the likely return of Mitch Trubisky and Bilal Nichols, 3) a well-rested team coming off a bye week, 4) an opponent with their two best offensive players on the sidelines (Brees and Kamara), and 5) a highly motivated bunch of professionals that had to sit around for two weeks stewing in the hot cauldron of media, coaches, and fans who have been miserable since the Bears last outing. Chicago is favored by three points. I expect a very good to dominant performance by Chicago over New Orleans. The Bears will beat the Saints both straight up and against the point spread.
Chicago Bears 27 New Orleans Saints 10
If all goes as expected, this will cool off the heat on Coach Matt Nagy for at least one week. If the Bears indeed beat the Saints in this pivotal game, then they host the Los Angeles Chargers the following Sunday in what could be the start of a winning streak. For now, it’s a ‘one game at a time’ focus. Chicago will win on Sunday. Mark it down.
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