This kind of matchup is probably not what NBC had in mind when they were going through the early NFL schedule and saw this one penciled in for “Sunday Night Football.” While the game involves two big markets and historically significant franchises, it also involves two backup quarterbacks and an 0-2 team that looks destined for a top-10 pick next spring.
At least the Cowboys are used to playing with their backup under center. Dak Prescott has looked extremely good through the first two weeks filling in for Tony Romo and has yet to throw an interception. He really started to get the offense going against Washington in a win last Sunday and has benefited from playing behind one of the best offensive lines in the league. Even the much-maligned Dallas defense has held its own and should be licking their chops to play this Bears offense.
Speaking of Chicago, they will be without Jay Cutler for the next few weeks after he sprained his thumb last Monday night against Philadelphia. Brian Hoyer is set to start at quarterback and will do his best to jumpstart an offense that hasn’t had much to get excited about so far this year. The normally tough defense also has taken some hits on the injury front and will look to avoid getting torched by a rookie for the second straight game.
Dallas won in blowout fashion the last time these two teams hooked up in 2014 but the road team is 4-1 over the past five. The Cowboys also have lost eight straight at AT&T Stadium.
Chicago at Dallas
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Cowboys -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Brian Hoyer gets the start
Hoyer has been a starter in the league before and has pulled off more than a few surprises over the years but will have a tall task replacing Jay Cutler in an offense that already wasn’t doing much (especially in the second half). He’ll have the benefit of throwing to Alshon Jeffery (listed as Questionable on injury report with a knee injury, but expected to play) and Kevin White on the perimeter and a run game that should get going against a defense that is allowing nearly five yards a carry. With the offense stuck in neutral though, Chicago will need its new quarterback to get something going on the road if the Bears want to have any chance of winning this one.
2. Any kind of pass rush
Some of the Cowboys’ most productive pass rushers are still out due to suspension and the makeshift front isn’t anything to write home about as a result. They got to Kirk Cousins only twice last week for sacks and allowed 350 yards through the air. The Bears’ offensive line is meddling so if Dallas can’t get anything going this week then it could be a very long season for coordinator Rod Marinelli trying to help out his secondary on obvious passing downs. Chicago faces much the same obstacle with Lamarr Houston out at linebacker, rookie Leonard Floyd off to a slow start and free agent addition Akiem Hicks not quite having the impact expected. Dak Prescott’s ability to run may cause additional problems but bottom line, Vic Fangio’s defense has to make things uncomfortable in the pocket for the rookie.
3. Feeding Zeke
The Cowboys spent their high first-round draft pick on the rookie from Ohio State for good reason: to put up big numbers behind that great offensive line. He was corralled in the opener against the Giants but started to get things going against Washington with a touchdown and averaging four yards a carry, but he did fumble twice. As much attention as Prescott has gotten, Elliott is the key to the Cowboys’ success this year and he needs to have a breakout game under the lights on Sunday.
A rough start to the season for the Bears already has folks in Chicago pondering potential high draft picks in the spring but all is not lost just yet and a big win on the road at Dallas could turn the story around. It won’t be easy, especially without Jay Cutler around to make some big throws, but there’s hope to be had against a Cowboys team that simply hasn’t won much at home.
In order to pull off the upset though, some sort of run game will need to get going. Jeremy Langford is only averaging three yards a carry and his backups have just six rushing attempts through two games. It hasn’t helped that the Bears has been in the hole in the second half and had to resort to throwing the ball so much but they’ll head into this game with a clear focus on getting something going on the ground and playing better, more disciplined defense.
As for Dallas, this will be a game that can keep the momentum going from a good start to 2016. The team did end one unsightly losing streak last week, breaking a 1-12 run without Tony Romo as the starting quarterback as Dak Prescott picked up his first NFL victory. The rookie has been better than advertised and has yet to throw a pick in 75 passes to begin the year. The vaunted offensive line he’s played behind has been solid but not quite to the level it was on the past couple of seasons. The Bears may pose a few problems on Sunday night but this is simply a game where the Cowboys are the better squad and should be able to get a nice win at home over a reeling opponent.
Prediction: Cowboys 28, Bears 17
— Written by Bryan Fischer, an award-winning college football columnist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. You can follow him from coast-to-coast on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat at @BryanDFischer.