Mike Mularkey's squad has some intriguing young players in place, but as evidenced by their 1-3 start, league-worst offense and not-much-better defense, the Jags are clearly still a hop, jump, skip and a quarterback away from being relevant.
The Bears, meanwhile, have their own problems at the quarterback position with Jay Cutler, owner of the hottest head in the league, but they've been able to overcome that with a stifling defense. Chicago made Tony Romo look like Tony Danza on Monday night, forcing him into five turnovers en route to its third impressive win of the season.
Let's take a look at everything you need to know about this uneven matchup.
When: Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012 at 4:05 p.m. ET
Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL
Watch: FOX and DIRECTV: 711
Listen: Sirius XM Radio: 136
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Chicago (-6), according to Covers
Bears Injuries (via ESPN)
RB Matt Forte, Ankle, Probable
WR Earl Bennett, Hand, Questionable
Jaguars Injuries (via ESPN)
LB Daryl Smith, Groin, Questionable
WR Laurent Robinson, Concussion, Questionable
DE George Selvie, Knee, Questionable
CB Kevin Rutland, Concussion, Questionable
What's At Stake?
There's no "Sucking for Luck" for this year, but the Jaguars are a strong early contender for the No. 1 pick in the 2013 NFL draft, which means they would get a shot at Matt Barkley, Geno Smith or one of many talented wideouts.
So, there's that.
The Bears, on the other hand, are tied with Minnesota atop the NFC North and just barely ahead of the Green Bay Packers, who handed Chicago its first and only loss, so this is suddenly a very competitive division.
Winning on the road is always tough in the NFL, so the Bears must take advantage of this favorable matchup.
Must starts: Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Chicago Bears defense, Maurice Jones-Drew
Fringe starts: Jay Cutler, Devin Hester, Michael Bush, Jacksonville Jaguars defense
Stay away: Alshon Jeffery, Kellen Davis, Blaine Gabbert, Laurent Robinson, Justin Blackmon, Marcedes "Keys the Ladies" Lewis
Bears Player to Watch: Matt Forte, RB
Everyone knows about this Bears defense, but if Lovie Smith is going to take this team to the next level, the offense will have to find some consistency.
In case you didn't know, Jay Cutler doesn't provide that consistency.
It's incredible how much of a difference Forte makes on this offense when he's healthy. He runs the ball with ferocity, he turns dump-offs—which he receives a lot thanks to Chicago's offensive line—into big gains and he's one of the best blocking running backs in the league.
There's no one more important to this team.
Jaguars Player to Watch: Justin Blackmon, WR
Should I also mention that I like trainwrecks?
The season is early, but Blackmon, the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft, is dangerously close to having the b-word used to describe him. Through four games, he's been targeted a healthy 25 times, but he's only pulled in 10 of those targets for a measly 79 yards, resulting in this (via Pro Football Focus):
QB rating when throwing at Justin Blackmon through 4 weeks? 34.5 - Not exactly what you expect from top pick territory— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) October 2, 2012
If you think most of that is Blaine Gabbert's fault, know that he's completed nine of his 17 targets to Laurent Robinson, 9-of-9 to Marcedes Lewis and 8-of-10 to Greg Jones.
Blackmon is going to have trouble working his way out of his slump against Chicago's talented secondary, but knowing his talent, a breakout has to be coming soon.
What They're Saying
Jay Cutler believes that receivers other than Brandon Marshall are going to be especially important this week (via Fred Mitchell of the Chicago Tribune):
“I think week by week, teams are going to try to take ‘B’ away and make those other guys make plays,” Cutler said Wednesday at Halas Hall. “I think that’s going to be the philosophy behind that.
“They’re going to bet that defensively they can cover those other guys and not let ‘B’ beat them. That’s what we’re seeing a lot of. But we have a lot of belief in our guys -- Kellen (Davis) and Alshon (Jeffery) and (Devin Hester) and Matt Forte ... all those guys we believe can make plays.”
If the Jaguars take away Marshall, that would serve as a huge change-up for this offense. Through four games, Cutler has targeted his old Denver buddy 39 times.
By comparison, Jeffery is the next most-targeted player with 19. Kellen Davis has received 14, Earl Bennett 14 and Matt Forte 12.
Even if the Jags focus on limiting the seven-year pro out of Central Florida, the Bears have proven they are willing to get creative to open up Marshall, lining him up all over the field on the outside. Despite what Cutler says, don't expect that to change much.
Key Matchup: Maurice Jones-Drew vs. Chicago's Front Seven
The numbers don't speak well for Jacksonville. The Jaguars offense ranks dead last in yards per game while its defense is 26th in yards allowed. Chicago, meanwhile, only ranks 26th in moving the ball, ableit a healthy Matt Forte should help that, but ranks fifth in scoring defense.
When it comes down to it, Chicago has the advantage in pretty much every aspect of the game.
Nonetheless, the Jags are always dangerous at home (14 of their 20 wins over the last three years have come at home), and if they slow the ball down, an upset is always possible in a low-scoring game.
Enter Maurice Jones-Drew.
Jacksonville's workhorse hasn't gotten nearly enough touches this season, but during the Jags' only win, he carried the ball 28 times for 177 yards.
Coincidence? I think not.
This one screams low-scoring game, and again, with the Jags at home and Chicago coming off a short week, I think this will be closer than people think.
Still, with such a big difference between the talent level of both teams, I would have to be on bath salts to go against the Bears.
Chicago Bears 24, Jacksonville Jaguars 17
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