NFL teams with different postseason outlooks but an unmistakable bond when it comes to coaching will be in the "Sunday Night Football" spotlight as the Kansas City Chiefs take on the Chicago Bears. The Chiefs (10-4) have already clinched the AFC West but still have a shot at a first-round bye. The Bears (7-7) were eliminated from playoff contention last week but can still finish with a winning record if they beat Kansas City on Sunday night and pick up a road win against Minnesota in Week 17.
There will be plenty of star power on the field as the Chiefs and Bears are set to be well represented in the upcoming Pro Bowl. Chicago has linebacker Khalil Mack, safety Eddie Jackson, and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. Kansas City has twice as many Pro Bowl reps in quarterback Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, defensive end Frank Clark, defensive tackle Chris Jones, and kick returner Mecole Hardman.
After the Bears lost to Green Bay last week there were reports that the NFL was considering "flexing" this game out of its prime-time slot. But that is not the case as the league believes that this matchup could still be worth watching. Perhaps it has something to do with the teams' coaching connection?
Kansas City at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 22nd at 8:20 p.m. ET
Spread: Chiefs -6
Three Things to Watch
1. Teacher vs. student
With the Bears no longer in the playoff hunt, this is one of the most compelling storylines of this game, hence one of the reasons why it's probably still in this week's Sunday night slot. Chiefs head coach Andy Reid gave Bears head coach Matt Nagy his entry into the NFL after his career in the Arena Football League came to an end in 2008. In fact, before taking over the Bears job, Nagy had spent his entire coaching career working for Reid. Nagy began his coaching career as an intern and worked his way up to quality control coach when Reid was running the Philadelphia Eagles (2008-12). When Reid moved on to Kansas City, he took Nagy with him and promoted him to offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2013-17).
This will be the first time in the regular season that they've faced off against one another (met in the preseason prior to the 2018 campaign). Will the student become the teacher? Or is Reid going to show Nagy he still has plenty to learn?
2. Signal-caller showdown
Lost in Lamar Jackson's record-setting season is the fact that Patrick Mahomes continues to show why he's become one of the NFL's top quarterbacks in a relatively short amount of time. Even though he missed two games and part of another due to a dislocated kneecap, Mahomes still ranks in the top 10 in passing yards (3,606), completion percentage (65.7), passer rating (106.2), and yards per pass attempt (8.5). He trails only Jackson in QBR and he's one of only four to average more than 300 passing yards per game this season. (Dak Prescott, Matthew Stafford, and Jameis Winston are the others.) He's not going to repeat as MVP but he continues to give opposing defenses headaches because of his combination of accuracy, efficiency, football IQ, and athleticism.
It's been an up and down season for the Bears' Mitchell Trubisky, and he's taken some of the blame for the team's issues. But over these last few weeks he's shown better consistency and some improvement. In Trubisky's last six games, he's completed 146 of his 229 pass attempts (63 percent) for 1,557 yards and 12 touchdowns. He's also added 126 rushing yards with another two scores for good measure. Chicago is just 3-3 during this stretch as turnovers remain somewhat of an issue and the offense just hasn't been consistent enough.
There's plenty of pressure on Trubisky considering he went No. 2 overall in the same draft that Mahomes and Deshaun Watson were taken eight and 10 picks later, respectively. But if Trubisky can continue to show strides on the field and be a part of a Bears victory over Mahomes' team on Sunday night, it will only help how fans view him and his outlook for the future.
3. Mack vs. Suggs
Kahlil Mack and Terrell Suggs are arguably two of the top pass rushers over the past several seasons. So it's only fitting that one of these defensive playmakers could potentially decide the outcome of Sunday's game. After the longtime Baltimore Raven was let go by the rebuilding Arizona Cardinals almost two weeks ago, the Chiefs wasted no time in claiming the seven-time Pro Bowler on waivers. He instantly upgrades their defense as Kansas City prepares to make another deep postseason run.
Mack, like Trubisky, has also felt the wrath of Bears fans during this trying season. And while his production has gone down in 2019, he's still a formidable threat to opposing offensive lines. If Mack can bring the pressure on Mahomes consistently that will only make the rest of the defense's job easier. Mack's playmaking ability is really needed right now with fellow linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan both on injured reserve and Pro Bowl defensive end Akiem Hicks still feeling the effects of a dislocated elbow that sidelined him for several games.
While neither Mack nor Suggs has put up big numbers individually this season, they have still combined for 79 tackles, 22 tackles for a loss, 13 sacks, 24 quarterback hits, and nine forced fumbles. It only takes one game for their presence to really be felt so you better believe they will have the offensive line's and supporting blockers' full attention whenever they are on the field.
The teacher vs. student storyline makes for good TV, but the reality is Andy Reid's team has been considerably better than Matt Nagy's this season. Chicago is capable of beating any team on any given week but the Bears have struggled to get everyone clicking at the same time for the same game. Kansas City simply has too much firepower as Patrick Mahomes will make enough highlight-reel plays to make Chicago fans wonder "what if," as Mitchell Trubisky has a decent game but just can't match his counterpart in the big-play department. The Chiefs continue their march to the postseason while the Bears are resigned to the possibility of finishing with a losing record.
Prediction: Chiefs 28, Bears 21
— 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.