Week 3 of the 2021 NFL season pits the Chicago Bears against the Cleveland Browns. Both teams are 1-1 picking up wins last week after losing their openers. Chicago used a big defensive play to outlast Cincinnati at home while Cleveland took care of Houston on the road.
Both teams enter this game with injury concerns and each is hoping to get back to the postseason. This game is important for both, as it could set the tone moving forward.
Chicago (1-1) at Cleveland (1-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 26 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Browns -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Quarterbacks take center stage
Justin Fields will make his first career NFL start on Sunday, which is music to the ears of Bears fans. Andy Dalton will not play this week, due to what's being called a bone bruise in his knee. He sustained the injury on a scramble against the Bengals last week. Fields replaced him and Chicago held on for the win, but it wasn't pretty.
Fields would complete just six of his 13 pass attempts for 60 yards. He threw a fourth-quarter interception that almost changed the course of the game. He also was sacked twice and had a fumble but was able to recover it. Perhaps that was his "Welcome to the NFL" moment, but there were some positives to take from his performance.
Fields never let anything bother him as he stayed cool under pressure. He wasn't afraid to attempt deep passes and he used his feet when needed — the upside is easy to see. There was his critical 10-yard scramble on 3rd-and-9 with less than three minutes to go that let the Bears run out the rest of the clock and seal the game. Head coach Matt Nagy says that Dalton will resume his role as the starter once he's cleared to play, but for now, the job belongs to Fields.
The Browns will counter with their gunslinger Baker Mayfield, who's already off to a strong start. He's completing 81.6 percent of his pass attempts for 534 yards and a touchdown. He's averaging 10.9 yards per attempt with a 101.9 passer rating but also has thrown two interceptions and has taken four sacks. The key for him will be how he fares against Chicago's pass rush and what decisions he makes when under pressure or flushed out of the pocket.
Mayfield will be shorthanded in terms of pass catchers this weekend. Wide receiver Jarvis Landry was placed on injured reserve with a knee injury, while fellow receiver Odell Beckham Jr. is still making his way back from a torn ACL. He could make his season debut on Sunday after practicing in full this week.
2. Don't forget about the defenses
Both teams rank in the league's top 15 in total defense, scoring defense, and rush defense. The Bears are tied for fourth in sacks (6), while the Browns are tied for third in yards allowed per rushing attempt (3.0). The Bears are right behind them in that same category (3.3). Chicago also is eighth in total yards allowed (634) and tied for third in takeaways (4). Both teams had solid games on this side of the ball in Week 2.
The Bears intercepted Joe Burrow three times, one of which was returned by Roquan Smith for a touchdown. They also recorded five sacks, two by Robert Quinn. Khalil Mack picked up his first sack of the season, which is a good sign moving forward. Smith is fifth in the league in tackles (20), and Quinn is ninth in sacks (2.5), while Jaylon Johnson leads the league in passes defended (5).
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman continues to work his way back from a banged-up knee, safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. is dealing with a hamstring injury, and defensive end Akiem Hicks has not practiced this week with what's being labeled as an "illness."
The Browns forced two turnovers against Houston last week, posted seven tackles for a loss, and held the Texans scoreless in the third quarter. Mack Wilson leads the Browns in total tackles (11), and fellow linebacker Anthony Walker leads this team in solo tackles (8). Defensive end Myles Garrett is the key for Cleveland and has one sack so far. This game could come down to which defense is able to flex its muscles more.
3. Run, run, run
David Montgomery and Fields combined for 92 of the Bears' 123 rushing yards against Cincinnati last week. Those yards didn't come in big chunks, as both averaged 3.1 per carry, but they provide Chicago with a double threat out of the backfield. Montgomery will still lead the way on the ground, as he's averaging 85 rushing yards per game. Fields has already shown what he can do with his legs, as his first carry in the NFL resulted in a three-yard touchdown in Week 1 against the Rams.
Cleveland also loves to run the ball and has the horses to do it. Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt combined for 146 rushing yards against Houston last week. Chubb is the No. 1 option, and he's fifth in the NFL with 178 rushing yards. Hunt (4.4 ypc) is just as capable of breaking off a long run, and both backs are reliable pass-catchers. Even with all of the attention directed to the quarterbacks, don't be surprised if both teams look to grind it out on the ground.
These teams do not play often because of the crossover rotation, but Chicago has won the past three meetings. Cleveland has struggled against the NFC North, going 1-7 in its last eight matchups, but the last ones came in 2017 back when DeShone Kizer was the starting QB. The Browns have become a tougher out at home (11-5 in last 16 games) and will be facing a rookie quarterback making his first start. Justin Fields gives the Bears offense a boost, but Cleveland's home-field advantage results in a close win.
Prediction: Browns 27, Bears 24
— 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.