Two of the NFL's oldest franchises will meet this Sunday when the Chicago Bears welcome the Arizona Cardinals back to their original hometown. The NFC West-leading Cardinals (9-2) own the league's best record and are fresh off of their bye week. As for the Bears (4-7), they're looking for consecutive wins for the first time since Weeks 4 and 5. This will be the 92nd all-time meeting between these two original NFL franchises.
Arizona (9-2) at Chicago (4-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 5 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Cardinals -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Who starts at quarterback?
Bears head coach Matt Nagy announced that Andy Dalton will start again as Justin Fields continues to recover from cracked ribs. Dalton has done a serviceable job in relief of Fields, completing 56.5 percent of his passes for 518 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception over his last two games. Dalton won't have Marquise Goodwin (foot/ribs) to throw to and fellow wide receiver Allen Robinson (hamstring) is listed as doubtful, but Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet should continue to serve as the top targets. Over the last two games, Mooney and Kmet have combined for 321 yards on 19 receptions. Moony also has a touchdown catch.
The Cardinals also have dealt with injuries to the most important position, but the hope is that Kyler Murray will be able to return from the ankle injury that's cost him the past three games. Coming out of the bye, Murray is a game-time decision to play on Sunday but he seems to be headed in the right direction. If Murray can't go, Colt McCoy, who has filled in admirably, will get another start. Arizona also may get wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who has missed three games with a hamstring injury, back too. He's a game-time decision as well. Either way, both offenses have become plenty familiar with operating at less than full strength.
2. Which defense will step up first?
Both teams have been a mixed bag on defense this season. Arizona ranks in the top five in the NFL in several categories including total defense (317.8 ypg, 5th), passing defense (204.0 ypg, 4th), and scoring defense (18.4 ppg, 4th). If there's a weakness, it's against the run where the Cardinals are just 17th (113.8 ypg). Individually, linebacker Markus Golden is tied for sixth in the league with 10.0 sacks, fellow backer Jordan Hicks leads the team with 82 tackles, and cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. has three interceptions. He's questionable for Sunday with a foot injury.
As for Chicago, the defense has excelled when it comes to rushing the passer. The team's 32 sacks are second and linebacker Robert Quinn, who is fourth with 11 of his own, was just named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November. Quinn's production has been essential with Khalil Mack dealing with a foot injury that eventually ended his season. But the rest of the picture for the Beras' defense isn't as pretty. They are 10th in yards allowed per game (334.4 ypg) but 21st against the run (118.5 ypg) and in the middle of the pack in scoring defense (23.1 ppg, 15th). The defense could be in for a particularly tough time on Sunday if Murray and Hopkins return for Arizona as well as the fact that linebacker Roquan Smith is questionable because of a hamstring injury. Smith is fourth in the league in tackles with 113 and is the anchor of Chicago's D.
3. Lean on the run game more
With the questions at quarterback, it would make sense for both offenses to base their game plans around the running game, particularly since both have shown an ability to move the ball this way. Both are in the top 10 in the NFL in rushing offense with Chicago (126.3 ypg, 8th) slightly ahead of Arizona (123.0 ypg, 10th). Neither team is necessarily gobbling up the yards on the ground in big chunks but if there's one area of differentiation it's making the most of these carries.
The Cardinals have scored 17 touchdowns on the ground, which ties them for second in the league, while Chicago has totaled nine rushing scores. James Conner (555 yds., 12 TDs) and David Montgomery (476, 3) lead their respective backfields with the latter picking up where he left off before suffering a knee injury that cost him four games.
Look for both teams to try and establish the run early, and the success or lack thereof in staying grounded could dictate how this game develops.
Both teams have quarterback concerns, but part of the reason Arizona has the NFL's best record at 9-2 is that Colt McCoy has fared just fine in relief of Kyler Murray. The Cardinals could be getting Murray and Hopkins both back, which makes their offense even more dangerous. Chicago's offense won't be at full strength and while Dalton is a capable signal-caller in his own right, the Bears have had issues moving the ball and scoring points all season. Combine that with a defense that's also short-handed and there are just too many obstacles for Chicago to overcome, even at home. Arizona becomes the first team with 10 wins by staying undefeated on the road.
Prediction: Cardinals 24, Bears 17
— Written by Gabe Salgado, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.