Updated: Oct 13, 2020
Both teams are coming into this game red hot off of huge victories. The Bears just upset Tom Brady's Buccaneers, and the Panthers have won 3 straight against the Chargers, Cardinals, and Falcons. Chicago is going into Carolina at 4-1, looking to become 5-1 for the first time since 2012, where they started 7-1. Carolina's defense, while young, has looked improved under new coach Matt Rhule. Rhule came to Carolina from the University of Baylor with hopes to turn this team around from what it was a year ago. He brought Joe Brady in, one of the two people that created the high flying LSU offense from 2019 to run the offense. Both the Bears and Panthers are sitting second in their divisions with aspirations of leaping to first. Both the Panthers and Bears have been a pleasant surprise this year as most people had the Bears at second third in the division and the Panthers at last. This matchup is significant for both teams, but especially for the young Panthers as Matt Rhule looks to start the year 4-2.
When Chicago is on Offense:
The Bears replaced quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with Nick Foles in Week 3 against the Falcons. Foles has gone 1-1 as the starter and looks to be a decent upgrade over Trubisky. In those two starts, he is averaging 246 passing yards with a 66.7 completion percentage, one touchdown, and one interception. He needs to be on point against the Panthers, who have the 4th best pass defense in the NFL. Rasul Douglas, who is one of the more stingy corners in the league, will be tasked with guarding Chicago's best receiver in Allen Robinson. Robinson comes into this game averaging seven receptions on 11.4 targets, 84.2 yards, and 0.4 touchdowns per game. However, with Nick Foles starting, those numbers jump up to 8.5 receptions on 13 targets, for 95.5 yards and 0.5 touchdowns. Darnell Mooney and Jimmy Graham have been the 2nd and 3rd most heavily targeted receivers on this team with Nick Foles. Mooney, who was a 5th round pick, has turned into the Bears' offensive x-factor this year. If Allen Robinson gets shut down by Rasul Douglas, these two receivers will have big games.
Because the Panthers have one of the best passing defenses in the league, look for the Bears to pound the ball with David Montgomery. The Carolina Panthers have the 25th ranked run defense and are coming off a game where they gave up 121 rushing yards on 14 attempts to Todd Gurley. Chicago needs to get Montgomery going as he is averaging only 12.6 carries, 49.4 yards, and 0.2 touchdowns on the year. He is being used a lot more in the receiving game with Tarik Cohen out for the year as he is averaging seven targets per game without him. Cordarelle Patterson will also be getting some carries after converting from a wide receiver this offseason. For the Bears to win this game, they will need to get the running game going early and often as Montgomery only has 20 carries for 56 yards over the last two weeks. If they can't do that, look for it to be a long day for Bears fans.
When Carolina is on Offense:
Teddy Bridgewater has been solid as the quarterback for the Panthers this year. In five games, he is averaging 229.4 passing yards with a 73 completion percentage, 0.8 touchdowns, and 0.6 interceptions per game. He has also run the ball 12 times for 70 yards and a touchdown. There are three players on this offense that get thrown to, and those 3 are Robby Anderson, D.J. Moore, and whoever is playing running back. I say that because Christian McCaffrey is a long shot to come back this week. While the spotlight has mainly been on Robby Anderson as the Panthers' WR1, he only has two more targets than D.J. Moore. Jaylon Johnson and Kyle Fuller will have their hands full with these two, but they should be up to the task. A mistake the Buccaneers made against the Bears was not doubling Khalil Mack on every play. If you do not throw a double team at Khalil Mack, he will immediately either blow up a run play or hit the quarterback on a pass play. The Panthers allowed two sacks to Ndamukong Suh in Week 2, and I would expect Khalil Mack to have a similar performance.
Whether it's Mike Davis or Christian McCaffrey, we know what the Panthers are going to do with their running backs. Panthers running backs are averaging 6.4 targets per game this year. Joe Brady was an offensive assistant on the Saints when they had Alvin Kamara and was the offensive coordinator at LSU last year, where Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 55 receptions. Mike Davis has been averaging 73 yards on 15 carries per game in McCaffrey's absence and will look to take some pressure off of Teddy Bridgewater. Curtis Samuel has also been a factor in the run game because of his breakaway speed. There are similarities to the offense ran at LSU, but it got tweaked so the system will fit the NFL. For the Panthers to win, they need to come away from possessions with touchdowns instead of field goals as the Bears have the number 1 red zone defense in the NFL with only 37% of their opponents' red zone opportunities going for touchdowns.
The Bears' red-zone defense will make up for early woes on offense and force Carolina to kick field goals. David Montgomery will get the ball a lot more on the ground, while the Panthers struggle to stop him. Carolina will continue their steady passing attack and expect their offense to have a lot of yards, but not a lot of points. Give me the Bears: 27-22