The Cowboys are coming off beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16-10, in a game where the defense swallowed up opposing quarterback Josh Freeman. The former Kansas State star went just 10-of-28 passing for 110 yards while throwing both a touchdown and an interception.
Both teams come into Week 4 tied for divisional leads and looking to make a statement to the rest of the NFC. With that in mind, here is a full preview of Monday night's primetime contest.
Where: Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, TX
When: Monday, Oct. 1 at 8:30 p.m. ET
Live Streaming: ESPN3
Betting Line: Cowboys (-3.5), according to Bovada.
Over/Under: 41.5, according to Bovada.
What's at Stake?
Despite a myriad of concerns for both sides, the Cowboys and Bears both come into Sunday's contest with a 2-1 record and tied atop their respective divisions.
And considering the top-to-bottom strength of the NFC's North and East divisions, a win for both sides simply serves to hold off the oncoming teams for another week.
In the long-term, this contest could be the difference between a first-round bye for one team or playing in the Wild Card Round for another. Both the Bears and Cowboys look to have voracious defenses that can stop any top-tier squad and have the talent worthy of a Super Bowl contender offensively.
Whichever squad actually gets in the end zone Monday night will likely come out on top and vault into the Super Bowl favorite conversation in the NFC.
RB Matt Forte, Ankle, Doubtful
TE Evan Rodriguez, Knee, Left Game in Week 3
DL Jay Ratliff, Ankle, Questionable
DB Barry Church, Achilles, Out
DB Gerald Sensabaugh, Calf, Questionable
DB Matt Johnson, Hamstring, Missed Week 3
DL Kenyon Coleman, Knee, Missed Week 3
LB Alex Albright, Neck, Missed Week 3
Fantasy Player to Watch: WR Dez Bryant
Coming into the season, it seemed that prognosticators across the nation picked 2012 as the season Bryant would finally break out into a superstar. He would replace Miles Austin as the team's No. 1 target and become the fantasy stud that so many had anointed him as out of college.
Well, if Bryant is going to break out this season, it better start soon. Thus far, the third-year wideout has just 13 catches for 164 yards—both of which put him behind Austin and Kevin Ogletree on the Cowboys' stat sheet.
What's most disconcerting for Bryant's fantasy value is Tony Romo's insistence on spreading the ball around the field. While Bryant ranks third among Dallas pass-catchers with 20 targets, he is just two behind Austin for the team lead.
Unfortunately, don't look for the Cowboys quarterback to stop divvying passes up equally. For Bryant, that means he'll have to start getting into the end zone more often (or at all) to produce at his draft level.
What They're Saying
When the Bears opened their 2012 slate, most expected that their biggest problem would come defensively, where the team had seemingly continued to age without attempting to improve.
By now, we know that the Chicago defense is among the league's most ferocious units, having given up just 50 points on the season, a number that places the Bears fifth in the league.
Key to the team's improvement? Youthful talent. Picking up on that trend, the Chicago Sun-Times' Mark Potash singled out some guys that have stood out thus far.
Cornerback Tim Jennings — benched in Week 16 last year and challenged by Smith to become a playmaker — has been a revelation with four interceptions and several other big plays. Against the Rams, he deflected a fourth-and-one pass to stop one drive and deflected another that safety Major Wright intercepted and returned 45 yards for a touchdown.
Second-year defensive tackle Stephen Paea was inactive at this time as a rookie last season. He just played the best game of his career Sunday, with a sack and consistent pressure.
On the other side of the field, Dallas' defense is no slouch, either. After a dominating performance against Tampa Bay last week, owner Jerry Jones said that the defense "bailed us out" while effusively praising his breakout unit.
Via ESPN Dallas' Calvin Watkins:
They just bailed us out, just one of the best days. It's a shame (Tampa Bay scored on) that last drive, but that's to their credit. They were still competing. Our defense was just outstanding all day and arguably won the game for us.
Bears Key Player: QB Jay Cutler
While the Bears' porous offensive line is certainly a root cause for concern, Cutler's inaccuracies are atop the reasons why the team's offense has struggled through three games.
Completing just 52.7 percent of his passes, Cutler has thrown for just 642 yards and three touchdowns while accounting for six interceptions, which are tied for an NFL-high.
The Chicago signal-caller will add to that total if he's not careful against a vastly improved Cowboys secondary. The team brought in Brandon Carr and traded up to draft Morris Claiborne in the offseason, and it has paid infinite dividends so far.
Through three weeks, Dallas has given up a league-leading 250 yards per game. Spearheading that brilliance has been the secondary, which is giving up just 137 yards per game (second-best in the NFL) through the air just a year after ranking 23rd in the same category.
Considering Matt Forte will sit out again on Monday, a top-notch performance will be needed from Cutler for the Bears to come out on top.
Cowboys Key Player: RB DeMarco Murray
After a scintillating opening-week performance against the rival New York Giants, the Cowboys' second-year back has struggled each of the past two weeks.
Stonewalled by poor offensive line play, Murray gained just 84 yards on 30 carries (2.7 yards per carry) and seemed to lack any significant burst.
With the Dallas passing attack struggling mightily this season, it's necessary that the team gets something going on the ground. If not, the Bears will be able to key on Romo and move the safeties back into deep help coverage.
That means Murray's play will likely dictate the final score of this game. Another breakout performance could spell a Cowboys blowout win. However, more struggles could lead to a loss and more troubles going forward offensively.
Until the Bears prove they can move the ball effectively without Forte and the offensive line shows massive improvements, it's impossible to pick them over a top-tier team.
As it stands, they are simply an above-average squad that beats bad teams and cannot get over the hump against the upper crust.
Expect a relatively close game, but one that ultimately ends with the Cowboys on top.
Score Prediction: Cowboys 24, Bears 17
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