Week 12 of the 2022 NFL season features another matchup pitting the NFC North vs. the AFC East as the Chicago Bears make their way to MetLife Stadium to take on the New York Jets.
Both teams come into this game off of disappointing losses. The Bears (3-8) came up short again in last week's loss in Atlanta, but the bigger concern is the health of quarterback Justin Fields. The Jets (6-4) did a great job on defense but the offense struggled mightily, producing just one field as New England won the game thanks to a last-second punt return for a touchdown.
Despite the loss, New York is very much in the playoff hunt in the jam-packed AFC East but has lost two of its last three games and will be making a change at quarterback. Chicago has lost four in a row, but the last three have each been decided by three points or fewer. The Bears get another opportunity to play spoiler while continuing to lay the foundation for 2023.
Chicago (3-8) at New York (6-4)
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Justin see the Field(s)?
Justin Fields dislocated his left (non-throwing) shoulder late in the loss to Atlanta last Sunday. After throwing a game-clinching interception with a little more than a minute left, Fields was carted off the field due to the injury. After some initial confusion regarding the severity of the injury, Fields confirmed on Wednesday that he had separated his shoulder and also is dealing with a partially torn ligament (AC joint).
While it would be understandable for the team to shut Fields down for the rest of the season given how far the Bears are out of the playoff picture already, that doesn't appear to be the plan at this point. In fact, Fields has been a limited practice participant and has said he has every intention of playing on Sunday.
Despite the tough loss, Fields had another strong game against Atlanta. He accounted for 238 of Chicago's 313 total yards, once again using both his legs (game-high 85 rushing yards) and arm (153-1-1) to make things happen. He's fifth in the NFL in rushing (834 yards) and has accounted for 20 total touchdowns (13 passing). Even if Fields is cleared to play on Sunday, it would make sense for the game plan to center solely on him, especially as a runner. It also wouldn't be a surprise to see former Jet Trevor Siemian get significant playing time, especially if the game gets out of hand.
Fields is obviously a huge part of the league's No. 1 rushing offense (197.9 ypg), and the backfield is without Khalil Herbert, but that just means David Montgomery and Trestan Ebner will need to carry more of the load.
Whoever is at quarterback, look for wide receiver Darnell Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet to continue to see the bulk of the targets. The duo has combined for 34 receptions, 360 yards, and seven touchdowns over the last four games, which is a big uptick from what they were doing at the start of this season.
Outside of the running game, the Bears' overall offensive numbers don't look that great, but it's been a different unit over the past five games. Fields' health moving forward is a mystery, but Chicago hopes the offense can continue to show progress and growth. The Jets' stout defense will certainly provide another strong test.
New York is ranked among the top 10 defenses in the league when it comes to total yards (310.5), rushing yards (109.7), passing yards (200.8), and points (18.6) allowed per game. Last week, the defense gave up just a field goal to New England (touchdown came on a punt return), limited the Patriots to 3.8 yards per carry, and sacked Mac Jones six times. The Jets have had strong performers on every level in defensive tackle Quinnen Williams (8.0 sacks), linebacker C.J. Mosley (97 tackles), and rookie cornerback Sauce Gardner (league-leading 14 passes defended, 2 INTs). This defense is a big reason why New York is in the thick of the playoff hunt and will either be facing a quarterback who won't be 100 percent healthy, or a backup that's thrown just one pass this season.
2. Jets raising the White flag on offense
As crushing as the last-second punt return for a TD was for New York last week, the bigger issue was an offense that produced 103 total yards, six first downs, and just one field goal. Zach Wilson struggled mightily, completing just nine of 22 pass attempts for 77 yards (was sacked four times), and also was the leading rusher with just 26 yards. The frustration felt by different players on both sides of the ball was evident throughout the game, whether it was expressed on the field or the sideline, but what happened after the game generated even more attention.
While he wasn't specifically mentioned by name in some pointed comments, most notably those by rookie wide receiver Garrett Wilson, plenty of people pointed fingers at Zach Wilson. However, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft responded with "no" when he was asked if he had left the defense down with his poor performance. Head coach Robert Saleh would not commit to Wilson as the starter and on Wednesday morning, the news came out that Mike White would get the call against Chicago with Joe Flacco serving as the backup as Wilson will be inactive. Saleh made it clear that the plan is to go back to Wilson at some point, but for now he's getting a chance to "reset."
Enter White, who will get his fourth career start on Sunday. He's yet to play this season (Flacco took over for Wilson after he injured his knee in the preseason), but last season he appeared in four games (three starts), posting a 66.7 percent completion rate with 953 yards, five touchdowns, and eight interceptions. It was a mixed bag for White, who threw for 405 yards and three touchdowns (with 2 INTs) in leading the Jets to a 34-31 win at home over the Bengals but also threw four picks in a blowout loss to the Bills two weeks later in what ended up being his final appearance of the 2021 campaign.
The hope is that White will be able to connect with the Jets' receiving corps more, namely Wilson, who is leading the team with 44 catches for 533 yards but only has two touchdowns. The offense also may get a boost with Corey Davis returning. Davis, who is averaging 18.5 yards per catch, has missed three games because of injuries. Tight end Tyler Conklin (35 rec., 331 yds., 3 TDs) also has been a reliable target.
The other key for New York is getting the running game going. Losing rookie Breece Hall (5.8 ypc) to a torn ACL in Week 7 was a devastating blow, but the team also ran for 174 yards in the Week 9 upset of Buffalo. Michael Carter (3.8 ypc) is handling the bulk of the carries with Hall sidelined and it's been a pretty straightforward equation for the Jets' ground game this season. In the six wins, the Jets are averaging 139 rushing yards per game. In the four losses, it's just 67.3.
Wilson wasn't getting the job done and now White will get his chance. But it's not fair to any quarterback to expect them to carry this offense single-handedly.
3. Bears' defense is a mess
There's no other way to explain it, although White certainly isn't going to complain. Chicago's defense has struggled all season, but especially during this four-game losing streak. The Bears have given up 35.5 points and 356 yards per game during this stretch. Takeaways and sacks (three each) have both been few and far between, as Dallas, Miami, Detroit, and Atlanta have pretty much been able to do whatever they wanted on offense.
Overall, Chicago is near the very bottom of the rankings against the run (142.6 ypg, 29th), which needs to be taken into consideration when assessing its top-10 passing defense (196.8 ypg). New York's struggles running the ball combined with a backup (third-string at one point) quarterback making his first start in more than a year could be what this defense needs to get things turned around but the recent performances haven't been encouraging.
If there's been a bright spot it's the play of undrafted rookie linebacker Jack Sanborn, who has made the most of his increased playing time following the trade of Roquan Smith. Sanborn has made plays all over the field over the past four games (30 tackles, 2 sacks) and is making a case for him to be a building block on that side of the ball. Unfortunately, there's a chance that the secondary will be shorthanded as rookies Jaquan Brisker and Kyler Gordon are both in concussion protocol and will need to be cleared to play on Sunday.
The Bears are making their second trip to MetLife Stadium this season. In Week 4, rookie Velus Jones Jr.'s fourth-quarter muffed punt proved costly in a 20-12 loss to the Giants, but this also was a game in which the offense struggled to move the ball. The offense has made significant strides since then, but there are questions about Fields' health and effectiveness entering this game. On the other side is a Jets team making a change at quarterback even though they are very much in the playoff chase. But a big reason for New York's success to this point is a solid defense that should make things difficult on the visitors, regardless of whether Fields plays or not, to take enough pressure off White and the offense as the J-E-T-S bounce back with a needed win.
Prediction: Jets 24, Bears 20
— 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.
*Price as of publication.