Week 5 of the 2021 NFL campaign brings quite the inter-conference matchup. The Chicago Bears (2-2) hit the road where they hope to start a new winning streak, but waiting for them is a Las Vegas Raiders (3-1) team that's eager to get back in the win column.
The Bears are riding high after last week's statement win over the Detroit Lions, while the Raiders have a chip on their shoulder after a loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on "Monday Night Football." Both teams are in need of a win for different reasons.
The Bears are looking to make back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2005-06, while the Raiders hope to reach the postseason for the first time since 2016. These teams will have to go through one another to try and make their goals a reality. It's a late-afternoon matchup between two of the NFL's charter franchises.
Chicago (2-2) at Las Vegas (3-1)
Kickoff: Sunday. Oct. 10 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Raiders -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Fields vs. Carr
The quarterback matchup for this week's game will be fun to watch. Justin Fields was named the Bears' starting quarterback moving forward earlier this week, but many felt this should have been the case from the beginning. Andy Dalton, who was signed in free agency, was named the starter initially. Even after the Bears traded up to draft Fields 11th overall. Fields took over when Dalton hurt his knee against Cincinnati in Week 2.
Now, while Fields numbers haven't exactly jumped out in the box scores yet — 48.1 percent completion rate, 347 passing yards, 6.7 ypa, 0 TD passes, 2 INTs, 53.9 passer rating, 55 rushing yards, 1 rush TD, 12 sacks — it's the little things he brings to this offense that make this Bears team go. His ability to extend plays with his feet, make throws into tight windows, and show fearlessness when throwing the deep ball have all been difference-makers for this Bears offense. Now Fields looks to increase his numbers and officially establish himself as a star in the NFL.
The task for the Raiders' defense will be slowing Fields down, just as Cleveland did two weeks ago. His counterpart will be veteran Derek Carr, who's thrown the ball with consistency and accuracy this year. He leads the league in passing yards (1,399) and ranks in the league's top 10 in completions (109, tied for fifth), yards per attempt (8.2, tied for eighth), and touchdown passes (8, tied for fifth). The key for the Bears' defense will be pressuring Carr consistently, as has taken 12 sacks this season.
2. Defense, defense, defense
The Bears are just above average in total defense (350.0 ypg, 12th), passing defense (238.0 ypg, 15th), rushing defense (112.0 ypg, 14th), and scoring defense (22.8 ppg, 10th). They're also sixth in takeaways (6), and they lead the league in sacks (15). They tend to give up big plays here and there, but lately they've been able to make stops when it counts. In last week's win over the Lions, they held Detroit to 4-of-11 on third downs and 1-of-3 on fourth downs. They'll need to do that against the Raiders.
Las Vegas, however, has had its struggles on this side of the ball. The Raiders are 19th in total defense (361.8 ypg), 14th in pass defense (229.5 ypg), 23rd in rushing defense (132.3 ypg), and tied for 17th in scoring defense (25.0 ppg). This game just might be decided by which defense can make the most stops.
3. Injury concerns
For the Bears, 13 players were listed on this week's injury report. The good news is that wide receiver Darnell Mooney and running back Damien Williams don't have an injury designation entering this game, meaning they are both fine for Sunday. On the other side of the coin, running back David Montgomery (knee), inside linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe (hamstring), and tight ends J.P. Holtz (quad) Jesse James (personal) have all been ruled out. Additionally, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks is doubtful because of a groin injury, and outside linebacker Khalil Mack (ribs/foot), defensive back Tashaun Gipson Sr. (hamstring), linebacker Christian Jones (back), and tight end Jesper Horsted (knee) are all questionable. Hicks would be a big loss for Chicago's defense but it would be a surprise if Mack doesn't play on Sunday. Taken by the Raiders fifth overall in the 2014 draft, this will be Mack's second shot at his former team after being traded to Chicago prior to the 2018 season. You know that Mack wants to be on the field and try and make Carr's life miserable.
Montgomery's absence also is significant, as he's expected to miss 4-5 weeks with a knee sprain. Williams will start at running back this week, and rookie Khalil Herbert will be the backup. Artavis Pierce was elevated from the active roster to take Montgomery's roster spot and the Bears also acquired wide receiver Jakeem Grant in a trade with Miami for a sixth-round pick in 2023. Grant is expected to take over the kick return duties (3,184 combined kick/punt return yards with 5 TDs in career), which will allow Herbert to focus on backing up Williams. Tarik Cohen remains on the PUP list as he's recovering from last season's torn ACL.
The Raiders actually have more players (15) on their injury report than the Bears, but only four carry a designation. Three players have been ruled out, including cornerbacks Trayvon Mullen (toe) and Damon Arnette (groin) while running back Peyton Barber is questionable with a toe injury. But starting back Josh Jacobs put in full practices on Thursday and Friday so he should be as close to full strength as he's been in several weeks and even though they missed practice time earlier in the week, safety Johnathan Abram (shoulder) and left tackle Kolton Miller (knee) appear to be good to as well. Injuries are part of football, especially now that we're more than a month into the season, but Las Vegas appears to be the healthier team entering this game.
These teams played each other two seasons ago overseas in London. The Raiders used a 17-point second quarter to build a big lead but the Bears responded with three touchdowns in the third to go ahead. Jacobs scored from two yards out on the first play after the two-minute warning and the defense held late to give Jon Gruden's team a 24-21 victory over Chicago, who entered the game a near-touchdown favorite. It's possible that Sunday's encounter in Allegiant Stadium could play out similarly, but this time around one team has a rookie quarterback and the other does not. The savvy veteran signal-caller playing at home ends up being the difference as the Silver and Black win another close one over the Bears.
Prediction: Raiders 28, 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.