This visit from the New England Patriots is a game that Chicago Bears fans had circled on their calendars before the season even began. With the Bears (3-2) rebuilding, and surprising fans and NFL pundits alike within the first few weeks of the season, many felt that this weekend’s home game against the Patriots (4-2) would be a good measuring stick of how much progress this team has truly made. After the first four games of the season, some were talking about the possibility of the Bears being a playoff team in 2018.
Riding the wave of a strong defense and an offense that was progressing with every snap, the Bears won three of their first four games heading into their bye week two weeks ago. They scored 111 points in those four games and held three of those four opponents under the 20-point threshold. But then came the shocker in Miami last week. The Dolphins outplayed the Bears on both sides of the ball, capitalized on some of the Bears mistakes, took advantage of injuries and defeated the Bears in overtime.
Now the Bears head back to the drawing board with New England making its first trip to Solder Field since 2010. Speaking of the Pats, they won a thrilling shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs at home on Sunday Night Football last week. The 41-year-old Tom Brady outdueled Patrick Mahomes for a 43-40 win and continues to defy age and show the league that he is still the measuring stick for the quarterback position. Now Brady looks to take advantage of a Bears defense that’s wondering what went wrong in Miami.
New England at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 21 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Patriots -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. From Brock Osweiler to Tom Brady
Last week, the Bears had spent the week preparing to face Ryan Tannehill as the opposing quarterback. But in a game-time decision, Tannehill was benched for Brock Osweiler due to injury. The Bears were ready to have a field day against Osweiler, but instead the 6-foot-7 signal caller completed 28-of-44 passes for 380 yards and three touchdowns. He became the first QB to throw for 300 yards against the Bears this year, he wasn’t sacked, he averaged 8.6 yards per completion, he had a clean pocket most of the day, and he finished the game with a passer rating of 94.9 (the second-highest rating against the Bears in 2018).
Now the Bears have to line up against Brady, the ageless wonder who’s been on a hot streak as of late. During the Patriots' current three-game winning streak, Brady has completed 81-of-114 passes (79 percent) for 955 yards and seven touchdowns, and he has been sacked only twice during this stretch. He’s thrown for 340 yards in each of the last two games with a passer rating of over 100 in both. The Pats have scored 35-plus points in all three games. If there’s one stat that can work in the Bears' favor, it’s that Brady has also thrown four interceptions during this streak as well.
2. Concerns about Khalil Mack
The Bears outside linebacker and top pass rusher (five sacks) hasn't really practiced this week. He’s listed as day-to-day with an ankle injury. He sustained the injury early against the Dolphins and played the remainder of the game with his foot heavily taped. The injury definitely rendered him ineffective, as he finished the game with just two tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hurries, and no tackles for a loss. The Bears as a whole didn’t register a single sack against Brock Osweiler and had only four hurries last week. That's a recipe for disaster against the Patriots.
3. The continued improvement of Mitchell Trubisky
Against the Dolphins last week, Trubisky completed over 70 percent of his passes for the second straight week. It’s the third time his percentage has been that high this season, and the fifth time that it’s happened in his career (twice last season). He’s also finished with a passer rating of 120 or better in his last two starts, giving him four such games in his career. The 316 passing yards he had against the Dolphins were the second-highest game total of his career. He has thrown for 300 or more in back-to-back games (a career first), after his first 300-yard passing game came in Week 15 of last season. Trubisky continues to grow as a quarterback before our very eyes, but can he continue that growth against a Patriots defense that has seven sacks and has registered at least one interception in every game this season?
Thirteen of Brock Osweiler’s 28 pass completions against the Bears went beyond 10 yards. This includes the 75-yard touchdown pass to Albert Wilson that tied the game at 28 with three minutes left in regulation. With basically no pass rush from the Bears, Osweiler caught the Bears secondary sleeping on many occasions last week. This is something that Tom Brady does better than just about every other quarterback in the league.
Brady also knows how to neutralize the pass rush with his quick release, ability to read defenses, call audibles at will, slow defenses down with short, precise passes, and hit the deep ball when needed. He’s been damn near unstoppable during the last three games, and that doesn’t bode well for the Bears. With Brady’s hot streak, the recent success of the Patriots defense, and the uncertain status of Khalil Mack, I have a hard time seeing the Bears pulling out a victory this week. But with the Bears being at home and their offense progressing as of late, they should keep this one close.
Prediction: Patriots 28, Bears 23
— Gabe Salgado 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's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.