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The top matchup of the NFL weekend takes place tonight in the Windy City.
Two of the NFL’s best teams will clash on Sunday Night Football, when the Chicago Bears host the Houston Texans at 8:20 p.m. EST on NBC. Lovie Smith’s club stands at 7-1 after six straight victories, and Chicago has been led by an aggressive defense that seems to score on a weekly basis. The Texans are also 7-1, led by a balanced offense and a stingy defense of their own. Quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub are both 11-1 in their last 12 starts, and this game should be a well-played one between two clubs with Super Bowl aspirations.
When the Chicago Bears have the ball:
Chicago ranks 25th in the league (325.3 yards per game) in total offense, but Cutler and crew have shown flashes of becoming a solid attack. The Bears have run the ball well lately, with Matt Forte totaling 376 rushing yards over the last four games. Cutler has not thrown for big yardage, but he did toss three touchdown passes last week in Tennessee. All three went to Brandon Marshall, who has been huge with 59 receptions for 797 yards and seven touchdowns this year. The key tonight for the Bears will be limiting the Texans pass rush, as Cutler has already been sacked 28 times on the year.
The Texans rank third in the NFL in both total defense and scoring, allowing only 285.6 yards and 17.1 points per game. Houston has given up some big games to elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning, but the league’s second-rated run defense has been excellent. The Bears will have to game plan for defensive end J.J. Watt, who leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks. As a team, the Texans have 25 sacks and will look to add to their total of nine interceptions against the sometimes-erratic Cutler.
When the Houston Texans have the ball:
The focus with the Houston attack always starts with the running game, which ranks fourth in the league at 138 yards per contest. Arian Foster leads the NFL in total touchdowns with 11, but rushing yards may be difficult to come by versus the Bears stellar defense. Schaub has been very efficient – a big key tonight – this season, throwing for 1,918 yards and 12 touchdowns against four interceptions. The Texans may have to play this one without tight end Owen Daniels, who is questionable with a back injury.
The Chicago defense has been incredibly productive this season, ranking second in the NFL in points allowed (15.0 ppg) and first in the league in takeaways (28). In fact, the Bears already have seven interception returns for touchdowns this year (just two away from the all-time NFL record of nine). If Houston’s Watt is not the favorite for the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, then it has to be the Bears’ Charles Tillman. The veteran cornerback has an amazing seven forced fumbles in eight games, along with 43 tackles, two interceptions and two scores.
This is easily the NFL’s marquee matchup of the weekend, and it should be decided by the Texans offensive line versus the Bears defensive line. If Julius Peppers and company can control Foster’s productivity, Chicago can force Schaub into some rare mistakes. Look for a physical game that comes down to the fourth quarter, and we’ll take the Bears opportunistic defense with the home crowd to prevail.
Bears 20 Texans 17
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)