The Chicago Bears, to the surprise of many, have looked like one of the best teams in football in 2012. But will it last?
The Bears certainly haven't faced the toughest of opponents in the first half of the season, and the one time they did face a good team—in Week 2 against Green Bay—they suffered a 23-10 defeat. Since then, things have been easy—for the most part. Last week's slim 23-22 win over the Carolina Panthers required a 41-yard field goal in the final seconds, but a win is a win, and the Bears now have six of them.
The Tennessee Titans, on the other hand, are another story. They may have five losses, but they've faced some of the better teams in the league in New England, San Diego, Houston, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
After reeling off two straight wins in Weeks 6 and 7, the momentum came to a screeching stop last week against Indianapolis, when they dropped a 19-13 overtime contest. Perhaps they can make up for it with an upset this week.
Where: LP Field, Nashville, Tenn.
When: Sunday, Nov. 4 at 1 p.m. ET
Listen: WBBM 780 and 105.9 FM in Chicago, 104.5 The Zone in Nashville
Live Stream: NFL GamePass
Betting Line (via OddsShark): Chicago -3 1/2
What's at Stake?
This isn't really a test for the Bears. The Titans are 3-5; this is a definitive should-win for Chicago, even on the road. Not only should the Bears win because their record, at least, indicates that they are a better team, they have to win because the schedule gets a whole lot harder from here on out.
Most of the second half is going to be a test for the Bears. After Week 9, they face Houston, San Francisco, Minnesota, Seattle, Minnesota again and Green Bay, all in succession. There isn't an easy game among all of those. Count this as the Bears' last gimme before they really start getting tested.
The Titans' season isn't a wash quite yet, but they're running out of time to gain some ground in the AFC South. And with tough games against the Texans, Colts and Packers looming on the schedule, they need a win anywhere and everywhere they can get one, or else pretty soon their sole focus is going to be the 2013 draft.
Chicago Bears Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
- WR Alshon Jeffery (hand) is out for Week 9 vs. Tennessee
- TE Brody Eldridge (illness) missed last week's game
Tennessee Titans Injury Report (via CBSSports.com)
- WR Kenny Britt (knee) is probable for Week 9 vs. Chicago
- LB Patrick Bailey (hand, ribs) missed last week's game
- DB Tommie Campbell (ankle) missed last week's game
- QB Jake Locker (left shoulder) missed last week's game
- LB Will Witherspoon (hamstring) missed last week's game
Fantasy Prospect to Watch: Bears WR Brandon Marshall
Aside from one bad week against the Packers, Brandon Marshall is en route to an excellent season—and he's quickly becoming Jay Cutler's most trusted target. The quarterback went to Marshall many a time in Sunday's game-winning drive over the Panthers, and overall, Marshall caught nine passes for 98 yards in the win.
Sunday's game marked the first time since Sept. 23 that Marshall didn't catch a touchdown, but it's not hard to believe he'll make up for it against the Titans in Week 9. Tennessee's pass defense ranks 29th in the league, allowing 282.0 yards per game, and it has allowed seven touchdowns to wide receivers in eight games.
Cutler and Marshall clearly have established a good rapport, and it should only improve against a team that is notoriously weak against the pass.
What They're Saying
The Bears are rolling this season, but Jay Cutler hasn't had an easy go of it. He's constantly been dogged and scrutinized by the media for every word, every eye roll, every hand gesture.
Pundits have paid even closer attention to him since that Week 2 loss to the Packers, when cameras caught him berating J'Marcus Webb on the sideline. Sure, Cutler got sacked a lot in that game, but was he being a good teammate? Maybe not.
Now, he's paying the price. According to the Chicago Tribune's Mike Mulligan, the pressure on him to perform and to gel with his teammates is only going to amplify from here on out, especially if the Bears start struggling:
Defense has carried the day thus far, but for the Bears to win a Super Bowl, the offense will have to improve and Cutler, in particular, offers hope they can. He could make the journey easier on himself if he wanted to, but as long as he ends up a winner no one will care. If not, every moment to this point will be scrutinized as the reason why.
Meanwhile, for the Titans, the mistakes haven't exactly been few and far between in 2012, but against the Colts last week, most of those mistakes came down to the defense.
For a while, the defense looked good—great, even. It limited Indianapolis to just six points all the way until the end of the fourth quarter before unraveling and allowing 14 points in the final four minutes of the game and in overtime.
It was, to say the least, a missed opportunity for the Titans, according to the Associated Press. And that wasn't lost on head coach Mike Munchak: "We didn’t make enough plays to win the game. You have to score more than 13 points to win. We had plenty of opportunities to do that."
The Titans are running out of time to make up for those missed opportunities, and they have no choice but to start this week against Chicago.
Chicago Key Player
We know that Cutler is gelling with his receivers, particularly Marshall. And though the Titans are extremely weak against the pass, they're 28th in the league against the run, too. Putting Tennessee in an early hole and keeping the ball moving will all but assure the Bears of a victory, and it's going to take more than Cutler-to-Marshall to get the job done.
That's why Matt Forte needs to keep stepping up, too. He was excellent last week against the Panthers, rushing for 70 yards and a touchdown and making five receptions for 24 yards. He's going to be a key component of the complete offensive attack that the Bears will bring to the table on Sunday.
Tennessee Key Player
It was a rough start to the season for Chris Johnson, but for the better part of the last five weeks—save for one bad game against Minnesota—he's starting to step it up. Finally. And if the Titans have any hope of keeping up with the Bears on Sunday, Johnson will need to bring it.
Against Pittsburgh, Johnson rushed for 91 yards. Against the Bills, he rushed for 195 and a touchdown—but that's the Bills, so take it for what it's worth. Last week, he rushed for 99 yards. He's capable of putting up the numbers, which is something fans seriously questioned a month ago. Now, he just needs to keep doing it with consistency.
Johnson is the biggest weapon this middling Tennessee team has, and he could be their only hope this weekend.
Prediction: Bears Win
The Bears may be a bit untested in 2012, and they may rely far too much on their defense, but that won't matter this week. The Titans only scored 13 points last week and their defense—which collapsed at the end of what should have been a victory—is one of the worst in the NFL.
Chicago's offense hasn't been the most consistent in the league, but it's capable of doing damage against an awful D.