When I learned I was getting the Bleacher Nation Bears job (rolls off the tongue), I told a few of my friends, one of whom is a Dallas fan. He’s a self-loathing Cowboys fan with a healthy sense of perspective, and as you can see in the picture, he wasn’t exactly thrilled with the state of the team. However, they’re actually 2-0 since our conversation, sitting at 7-5 overall and just a half-game back of Philadelphia for the NFC East lead. They finish the season by hosting the Eagles, who they’ve already defeated once; that means that as long as they’re within one game going into Week 17, a win would get them into the postseason. They’re a dangerous but flawed team, and in many ways they resemble the Bears. So here’s what I’ll be looking for as they play tonight:
Take the Over
- Most lines I’ve seen have the over/under for this one at 48, and I would lean heavily toward the over. It might be brutally cold for the kickoff, with the current forecast projecting 19° with a windchill in the low single-digits. But precipitation shouldn’t be a factor, and the wind doesn’t look like it will be anything out of the ordinary for a Soldier Field game. That means neither offense should be affected that much, which is bad news for both defenses. Chicago and Dallas are 28th and 32nd, respectively, in yards allowed per game; in terms of points allowed, Dallas is 22nd while the Bears are 28th. When you combine those stats with their collective offensive firepower, it might be quite the shootout. (My having said all of this is the surest sign that the game will finish 9-7.)
Putting the Team on Their (Running) Back
- Bears fans are very familiar with Matt Forte and all that he does for the offense; I’d argue he’s been one of the league’s more underrated players for a few seasons now. The Cowboys have their own underrated running back in DeMarco Murray, who has battled injury issues for most of his young career. He missed two games earlier this season, but he’s been very good both on the ground (three touchdowns on Thanksgiving) and as a receiving threat out of the backfield (he caught 5 passes for 39 yards in that same game.) Murray is a dynamic running threat, and the Bears have spent their season making less-talented running backs look like Hall of Famers, so DeMarco has to be eyeing a big night. Matt Forte looks to be in line for a solid evening as well; the Bears woes against the run have been well-documented (here and elsewhere) but the Cowboys are 26th in rushing yards allowed per-game. Considering the colder temperatures, potential for wind, and the respective defenses, I think it looks likely that both men go for over 100 yards rushing, with healthy receiving yardage on top of that. (Fantasy owners rejoice. Full disclosure: I own both Murray and Forte, but not coincidentally I’m on a playoff bye this week.)
Value the Ball
- It’s not exactly an original football thought, but winning the turnover battle is always a key to victory, (Johnathan Wood of Water Cooler Sports analyzed the correlation this summer, with fascinating results) and I think that is even truer in this matchup. Neither defense has proven able to get conventional stops, which means that each possession will be crucial, as empty possessions by the offense become harder to make up. Making some plays on defense (or at least capitalizing on any Dallas mistakes) could allow the Bears offense to get one or two extra possessions. If that happens, I’d give the Bears a very good chance at winning. But the Bears offense cannot turn the ball over and expect their ravaged defense to save them; they’re simply too banged up to rely on, especially against a very talented offensive opponent. I think whoever receives those extra chances on offense is going to be in a very good position to win the game.
Those are my thoughts, feel free to share your own. I’ll be back with a Bears game thread post before kickoff (which is at 8:30 on ESPN, in case you didn’t know.)