For the second straight season, former division rivals will meet when the Chicago Bears visit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At one time part of the old NFC Central, these teams played each other at least once from 1977-2001. The Bears dominated that stretch (33-15), but that also goes back to when the Buccaneers were in their infancy as an NFL franchise. Much has changed since.
This season, Tampa Bay is the defending Super Bowl champion, has won three in a row, and enters this game tied with the second-best record in the league (5-1). Chicago is 3-3 after another tough loss to archrival Green Bay last week.
And not that Tom Brady or the Bucs need any motivation, but there is the matter that they lost to the Bears last season when the two teams played in Soldier Field. In that game, Chicago's defense harassed Brady all night long, sacking him three times, but what people remember more is how the future Hall of Famer had a memory lapse of sorts at the most inopportune time. You don't think Brady has forgotten about that, do you?
Chicago (3-3) at Tampa Bay (5-1)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 24 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Tampa Bay -12.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Fields vs. Brady
Justin Fields was just a year old when Tom Brady was a rookie in New England. Twenty-one years later, the two will be on opposite sidelines. What more can be said about Brady that hasn't already been said? There are multiple reasons why many consider him the NFL's G.O.A.T. Besides all the career records he already holds, he currently leads the league in passing yards (2,064) and completions (183) and only trails Patrick Mahomes in touchdown passes (17). Is it possible the 44-year-old could win another MVP trophy?
Brady continues to prove that to him, age means nothing. Chicago fans are already excited about Fields, but he has just four starts under his belt. Brady has started 305 games in the regular season alone. It's ridiculous to compare the two right now, although Bears fans can only hope that Fields' career develops into anything close to what Brady has accomplished (and continues to do).
As can be expected, Fields has endured his share of growing pains. But the 11th overall pick in this year's draft also has flashed his immense potential and appears to be getting more comfortable with each start. He's completing 53.5 percent of his passes and still has more interceptions (three) than touchdowns (two), but the arm talent is obvious to say nothing about his athleticism (102 rushing yards, TD). The decision-making will need to improve, which should game as he comes more familiar with the offense and what to expect from NFL defenses, but the offensive line also must do a better job of protecting him. Even with all his mobility and speed, Fields has already been sacked 18 times, which ties him for second in the league.
Fields gets another stern test on Sunday against a championship-caliber defense. As great as Brady is, he can't do it alone, and his strong supporting cast (tight end Rob Gronkowski remains out with fractured ribs and Antonio Brown won't play on Sunday because of an ankle injury) is one of the reasons why he continues to succeed. So while the Bears certainly need Fields to continue to develop and improve, this also is a golden opportunity for his supporting cast, on both sides of the ball, to step up and remind everyone that football is a team sport.
2. Defense could decide this game
Speaking of defenses, Chicago's could certainly leave its mark on this game. The Bears are tied for the NFL lead in sacks (21), but they still couldn't make enough stops to beat Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay last week. Overall, Chicago is top 10 in the league in total (330.8 ypg), scoring (20.7 ppg), and passing (218.7 ypg) defense. It's the run defense (112.2 ypg, 14th) that has slipped a bit. Last week, the Packers went for 154 on the ground, averaging five yards per carry.
Tampa Bay isn't gaining much traction on the ground (85.3 ypg), but the Buccaneers haven't needed to with Brady and the passing game clicking. The defending champs are third overall in both yards (426) and points (32.5) per game. The Bears' pass rush will have to be effective to try and get Brady out of a rhythm or else the burden falls to the cover guys.
But Chicago's D isn't all full strength to begin with and could be even more shorthanded on Sunday. Robert Quinn, who is tied for fifth in the league with 5.5 sacks, is on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and may not be cleared in time to play. Defensive end Akiem Hicks (1.5 sacks) continues to be hampered by a groin injury, and outside linebacker Khalil Mack (fourth in NFL with 6.0 sacks) is playing through a foot issue. They are both questionable for Sunday, along with defensive end Bilal Nichols (knee), linebacker Caleb Johnson (knee), and defensive back Duke Shelley (ankle). Safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. (hip) has been ruled out.
And while pass protection has been an issue for the Bears all season (league-high 22 sacks allowed), Brady has been kept relatively upright by his offensive line (and his tendency to get rid of the ball quickly). Tampa Bay has surrendered just nine sacks in six games.
The Buccaneers' defense is definitely looking forward to the opportunity to face a rookie quarterback and get their hands on Fields. Tampa Bay is No. 1 in the league against the run (54.8 ypg), but you know that Chicago head coach Matt Nagy can't expect Fields to throw it on every play either. The Bucs have registered 12 sacks (eighth) and seven interceptions (fifth), but they have some injuries on that side of the ball too. Linebacker Lavonte David will miss a second straight game because of an ankle injury and Jason Pierre-Paul, who is nursing shoulder/hand ailments, is listed as questionable. Tampa Bay has already dealt with several injuries in the secondary and while Antoine Winfield Jr. (concussion) is ready to return, recently signed Richard Sherman is expected to miss a few games after suffering a hamstring injury in his debut last week.
3. A rematch from last year
There's some familiarity here since these teams played in Soldier Field in Week 5 last season. Chicago won the "Thursday Night Football" matchup 20-19. There were several memorable moments, including Mack giving then-rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs a hip toss after sacking Brady, but what everyone remembers is when the Buccaneers QB forgot what down it was while attempting to orchestrate yet another game-winning drive. Obviously, Brady bounced back from that rare mental mistake (while the Bears went just 4-7 after that game before losing to New Orleans in the Wild Card Round), but he'll still get a shot at some payback on Sunday. Nick Foles, who got the better of Brady's team (again) last October, will be watching from the sidelines as the No. 3 QB while doing his part to help Fields figure out how to attack Tampa Bay's defense.
Fields has won two of his first four career starts while Brady has won 235 games in the regular season alone. Chicago holds a commanding lead in the all-time series with Tampa Bay, but all that really matters is the here and now. The Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions and brought every starter back this season to try and repeat. So far, so good, as Tampa Bay is 5-1 and the Bears are 3-3. In this case, the records don't lie. Chicago is capable of knocking off the Bucs at home (see last year), but Brady hasn't forgotten about the last time these teams played each other, and this time he's at home. You know he won't forget what down it is on Sunday, but it also won't matter.
Prediction: Buccaneers 31, 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.