Bears, Rams NFL Week 1 keys and predictions

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3 keys for Bears to upset Rams and final score prediction originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

It’s almost here. We are only a couple of days away from the Bears’ season debut, in primetime, against the Los Angeles Rams. For months and months we’ve talked about strengths, weaknesses and what to watch, but before too long we’ll finally see all those storylines play out in a meaningful football game. So without further ado, here are three keys for the Bears to pull off the upset at SoFi Stadium to kickoff the season.

NEUTRALIZE AARON DONALD

This is a tall order, and no matter what they do Donald will make his presence felt at some point (or several points) throughout the game. But what the Bears can’t allow is for Donald to completely dominate the line of scrimmage, ruining the offense’s chances of moving the ball at all. Expect to see double teams and running backs left in the backfield to help in protection.

“He gets schemed by every team every week and he still dominates. When you put on the tape, it doesn’t matter, you can scheme two and three guys, that dude is just unbelievable. He’s really, really special. He breaks double teams. He’s a game-changer. He sacks the football, and he’s like a running back out there, just flying around on the edge. He’s all over the place. He’s everywhere. When you see that, you know you’ve got to have a plan.” - Matt Nagy

CHALLENGE RAMS DEFENSE DOWNFIELD

Last season the Bears were eighth-worst in the NFL with only 42 passing plays that went for 20 yards or more. They were even worse with 40+ yard plays. The team only connected on three of those explosive plays all year, which tied for dead-last in the league along with the Patriots. To help in that regard, Ryan Pace brought in several speedsters who are capable of taking the top off of any defense, including Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Byrd and Breshad Perriman. If the Bears can hit on at least one big play, the threat of speed on the outside should help open up intermediate routes in the middle of the field, and should help the run game too. But the first key of neutralizing Donald plays into this key, too. Dalton will need time for these plays to develop.

“A tight end’s best friend is speed on the outside. I think myself and Cole and Jesse and our group will benefit a lot from that. When you’ve got speed on the outside, then everything underneath really opens up. I had a lot of speed in New Orleans. I had a lot of speed on a lot of teams I’ve been on, and it truly helps you.” - Jimmy Graham

FIND AND ESTABLISH  ALTERNATES FOR INSIDE RUN GAME

As previously mentioned, running anything into the teeth of Aaron Donald is not a great plan for success. But the Bears can’t abandon the run game entirely, or they’ll become one-dimensional and easy for the Rams to stifle. Misdirection, jet sweeps and even screen passes need to be employed early and often to get the team’s momentum moving forward, and to keep the offense out of too many third-and-long situations.

“When you see the players and the pressure that they can create, from all four or five of those guys on that D-line and outside linebackers, they make it hard… but the Rams are a team that you don't want to live in 3rd-and-7+.” - Matt Nagy

Accomplishing all of these goals will give the Bears a chance to pull off the upset in L.A., but accomplishing all of those goals is also no easy feat. That’s why oddsmakers have the Bears losing by more than a touchdown in Week 1. But despite the tough sledding on offense, the defense should come out ready to prove they belong in the “elite” category again, and I believe that will help them keep the game from getting out of hand.

PREDICTION

Rams: 24 - Bears: 17

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