The Chicago Bears will try to run their winning streak to five straight when they host the struggling Carolina Panthers Sunday at Soldier Field. Some might call it a trap game for the Bears, who opened as 10-point favorites. It isn't.
Yes, other than a blowout loss to the Giants, all of the Panthers' losses have been close (6, 8, 4 and 5 points). Yes, they've played a tougher schedule than the Bears. And yes, quarterback Cam Newton and wide receiver Steve Smith piled up big yards on the Bears last season, and kept the Panthers in the game until late in the fourth quarter.
It matters not. Read on for all the need-to-knows.
When: 1 p.m. EST.
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago.
TV: FOX Sports.
Last meeting: Jay Cutler was sacked nine times and finished with a Rex-like rating of 46.7, but Matt Forte ran for 205 yards and the Bears got two special teams touchdowns (D.J. Moore pick six, Devin Hester punt return) in a 34-29 win. Eventual Rookie of the Year Cam Newton ran for two touchdowns and threw for 374 yards.
- Total offense: Panthers 335.8 (24), Bears 337.8 (23).
- Passing offense: Panthers 221.8 (22), Bears 206.3 (26).
- Rushing offense: Panthers 113.7 (13), Bears 131.5 (9).
- Points per game scored: Panthers 17.7 (28), Bears 27 (8).
- Sacks/QB hits allowed: Panthers 15 (19) / 22 (5), Bears 19 (28) / 36 (26).
- Turnover margin: Panthers -6 (14), Bears +13 (1).
- Points per game allowed: Panthers 24 (20), Bears 13 (1).
- Total defense: Panthers 366.2 (21), Bearss 299.3 (6).
- Rushing defense: Panthers 120.3 (19), Bears 71 (1).
- Passing defense: Panthers 245.8 (19), Bears 228.3 (16).
- Sacks: Panthers 14 (17), Bears 21 (t5).
- Interceptions: Panthers 5 (t20), Bears 14 (1).
- Fumbles forced/recovered: Panthers 5 (t18) / 2 (t25), Bears 10 (t3) / 7 (t2).
Key statistic: Sacks. The Bears will have to pressure, then contain, Newton to create the turnovers they thrive on.
Key matchup: Smith versus cornerback Tim Jennings and the Bears secondary. Smith had 181 yards in last season's meeting, and has a ridiculous 166 ypg career average against the Bears (remember that playoff game back in 2005)? Jennings leads the league in pass defenses (14) and is tied for the lead in interceptions (4), and was the NFC's Defensive Player of the Month for September.
The Panthers (1-5): Here's what the hometown Charlotte Observer has to say about the Panthers, who haven't had a winning season since 2008: "There's a losing culture…wrapped around the Panthers like a shroud." That may be harsh, but it's on target. Despite some talent, the Panthers are a mess on the field, and that just cost their long-time GM his job. Fans were excited when the Panthers closed last season by winning four of six, but they've regressed. Good for 25.4 point a game in 2011, they've scored more than 14 just twice this season, they can't win close games, and their star QB frequently looks confused and frustrated. But wait, it gets worse: In the past two weeks, they've lost three-time Pro Bowl center Ryan Kalil, three-time Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason and starting cornerback Chris Gamble to season-ending injuries.
The Bears (5-1): If I have a concern about this game, it'd be Jay Cutler's ribs, and there's been no news from the Chicago beat reporters to suggest there's a problem. The Panthers have some weapons and a decent offensive line, but the Bears defense should easily dominate this game. A proud bunch, the Bears defense, says Julius Peppers, played its worst game of the season against the Panthers last year and is looking forward to the rematch for some redemption. I'm thinking I wouldn't want to be the guy lined up across from Peppers on Sunday. On the other side of the ball, the Bears offense is still looking for some consistency.
The verdict: Any NFL team is capable of pulling off an upset, but I don't see it happening this weekend against the Bears. Bears win big, 34-10.
YCN featured sports contributor Steve Merritt is - for better or worse - a lifelong Chicago Bulls, Bears and Cubs fan.
Other Chicago Bears commentary by Steve:
Tillman Gets POTG Honors for Da Bears: A Fan's View (October 23)
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