The Bears have nothing but doubters after the drubbing they took from the Rams last Monday night and many believed the New Orleans Saints were the best team in the NFC at the beginning of the season.
It’s gotten so bad in Chicago that the Bears are three-point underdogs at home Sunday and many have had visions all week long of how the Saints came to town just one year and one week ago and pummeled the Bears on the ground behind Latavius Murray with Alvin Kamara on the sidelines.
But at 5-2, the Bears are a half game better than the 4-2 Saints, and so far this season these haven’t been “those Saints." They are 3-2 since an opening-week win over the Bucs, and while they have won their last three, none has been by more than one score, and the New Orleans defense has struggled noticeably.
Both clubs will be looking to make a statement Sunday.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray vs. Bears Run ‘D' and Saints Pass Rush vs. Bears O-Line.
Sean McVay might as well have written Sean Payton’s gameplan for him last Monday night, or did McVay steal it from Payton’s plan a year ago. The Bears had shored up the run defense after it leaked noticeably the first three weeks of the season until the Rams game and they better plug the holes Sunday.
While the Saints secondary has taken most of the heat for New Orleans’ defensive woes, their pass rush has been M.I.A. and in particular All Pro Cameron Jordan has been stifled.
Trey Hendrickson is actually their best rusher right now on the other end. Jordan and Hendrickson will flip but more often than not Hendrickson is likely to be across from Charles Leno with Jordan testing Bobby Massie.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
Will Matt Nagy commit to his run game, stay with it and not forget about it?
Nagy knows he has to run the football, believe it or not he does want to and it’s impossible to believe he doesn’t know how to with his Andy Reid bloodlines.
While folks scream about his play calling, it appears the problem may be more schematic.
Regardless, if he doesn’t have something new or at least better planned this Sunday, he’s in trouble.
PLAYER(S) TO WATCH
Saints’ Murray, WR Tre'Quan Smith, TE Jared Cook
Michael Thomas and Marquez Callaway were ruled out Friday afternoon and Emmanuel Sanders is unlikely to come off the COVID-19 list, so obviously all eyes will be on Alvin Kamara, who is not only the leading rusher but far and away the Saints' leading receiver right now.
The Bears cannot allow Murray to get off in his change-of-pace role in the run game to allow Kamara breathers, and while Smith isn't anything special, he is what the Saints have right now at receiver.
Cook is still a dangerous receiving tight end.
I know everybody has them and they’re no excuse. Guard Cody Whitehair (calf) has already been ruled out. Outside linebacker Khalil Mack (ankle), receiver Allen Robinson (concussion), receiver/running back Cordarrelle Patterson (quad), safety Eddie Jackson (knee) defensive back Sherrick McManis (hamstring) are all listed as questionable for Sunday.
Without that quintet at least at partial strength the Bears might as well wave the white flag.
WILD-CARD PLAYER(S) WHO COULD SURPRISE
Bears WR Anthony Miller and TE Cole Kmet
If something good is going to happen here for the Bears, guys who haven’t stepped up yet are going to have to. Kmet has been showing flashes and we know Miller can, but he hasn’t yet.
Saints are fourth in the NFL stopping the run but just 17th vs. the pass, 17th in sacks and 25th in points allowed.
THE FINAL WORD
Saints 27, Bears 24
My gut tells me the Bears are going to shock us here with a huge effort on defense and a very different gameplan on offense, and the Saints really haven’t played all that well. But that Bears' injury list and no certainty on where these guys are until kickoff tells me they may not have the healthy horses to get it done.