Week 7 arrives with the Chicago Bears (2-4) looking to get a win streak going against the NFC South leaders, the Carolina Panthers (4-2). Coming off of an emotional overtime victory at Baltimore in Mitch Trubisky’s first road start, the Bears are trying to win two in a row but it will be tough as Cam Newton and the Panthers have had a solid beginning to 2017.
Carolina is looking more like 2015 than ’16 so far in ’17. You may recall that the Panthers went all the way to the Super Bowl a couple of seasons ago as they led the league with 500 points scored. They finished 15-1 in the regular season, 17-2 overall as they lost to Denver in Super Bowl 50. Last year, the Panthers had that Super Bowl hangover, going just 6-10 after losing superstar CB Josh Norman. Their defensive points allowed went up from 308 to 402 as they found it hard to replace Norman amongst other things. Luke Kuechly missed time with a concussion as well. On offense, Cam and the boys dropped from 500 points to 369. Their power running game from 2015 abandoned them and superstar QB Cam Newton was sacked or hit 99 times (9th most in the league per dropback) even though he rushed only 90 times which was easily his lowest total of carries (previous low 103) in his 6th NFL season. The hits and injuries are starting to pile up for the 28 year old.
So far this year, Cam looks good, not great, despite working his way back from a torn rotator cuff surgery in March. He’s still not throwing everyday in practice which is hurting his rapport with new receivers including RB’s Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel. Newton is throwing for 225 passing yards per game, 9 TD, and 8 INT in 6 games. He’s run the ball 40 times for 161 yards and 3 scores. Starting RB Jonathan Stewart is scuffling with 85 carries for 247 yards (2.9 avg) and 0 TD. McCaffrey has been the bright spot with 38 carries for 104 yards (2.7 avg) but leads the team with 37 catches for 293 yards and 2 TD. Speaking of receivers, Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin has 26 catches for 371 yards and 1 TD but is questionable with a knee injury and it sounds like he’s missing practice on Thursday. Another issue for the Panthers offense is they are missing long-time security blanket TE Greg Olsen. He was injured in Week 2 and isn’t eligible to return until Week 10. Filling in for him is TE Ed Dickson.
On defense, Carolina continues to pressure the QB. They are 2nd in the NFL in sacks with 20. Last year they finished 2nd overall with 47 sacks. This team under HC Ron Rivera and new DC Steve Wilks knows how to get after the quarterback! Led by former Bears DE Julius Peppers with 6.5 sacks, the Panthers will try to pressure rookie QB #10 Mitch Trubisky on Sunday at Soldier.
The Bears return home after Sunday’s big win at Baltimore looking to keep the momentum going by starting a win streak which would be their first since 2015. Chicago’s defense has really shown improvement lately and their 16 sacks isn’t far behind Carolina’s at 7th in the NFL.
Bears offense vs Panthers defense
According to basic NFL stats, the Bears offense is 26th in total offense, 28th in pass offense, 3rd in rush offense, and 28th in points per game. Aikman’s Efficiency Ratings (AER) has the Bears offense at 28th.
The Panthers defense is 4th in total defense, 7th in pass defense, 5th in rush defense, and 9th in scoring defense. AER has the Panthers defense at 22nd best defense which is shocking compared to their 4th total D ranking using the basic NFL yardage stats.
Bottom line, the only thing Chicago’s offense has going for it right now is the running game and the Panthers 5th ranked rushing defense should stymie the Bears offense. EDGE: PANTHERS
Bears defense vs Panthers offense
Bears defense is 6th overall, 8th against the pass, 15th against the run, and 25th in points allowed. AER has Chicago’s D at 14th.
Panthers offense is 19th overall, 17th in passing, 22nd in rushing, and 17th in scoring. AER has the Panthers at 17th in offense.
This matchup is somewhat even but I’ll give a slight EDGE: PANTHERS
Watch Out For……….
CB #23 Kyle Fuller – Fuller played one of his best games in a Bears uniform last week in Baltimore. It was revealed this week that he has been putting in extra time analyzing video. In fact, the Bears management tracks this stuff and he led the Bears in time watching video last week. Interesting……on many levels. Against the Ravens, Fuller totaled 6 tackles and 3 PBU’s. Passes broken up is really the best indicator of a cornerbacks performance and 3 PBU’s is a great stat to show his excellent coverage of the Ravens WR’s. However, this week Fuller has to cover better, taller players in either 6’5″ Kelvin Benjamin, 6’4″ Devin Funchess, 6’1″ Russell Shepard, or even an RB like McCaffrey. Fuller could be anywhere from 1st to 4th on this Bears CB depth chart but it’s trending toward him being at least 2nd behind #20 Prince Amukamara. Has Fuller supplanted #31 Marcus Cooper? If he keeps playing like he did last week, I think so.
As much as I believe in the Bears improvement as of late, I think this will be a difficult game against Bears former DC Ron Rivera’s Carolina Panthers. I believe Carolina is the better team. I think they are getting it back together on both offense and defense. They look closer to 2015’s 15-1 Super Bowl run than to last year’s 6-10 debacle. At 4-2, they’ve had a solid start to ’17. Each and every week, Cam Newton gets more practice reps as his throwing shoulder gets stronger. I foresee great things from Carolina.
Meanwhile, the Bears are improving but with no WR’s (worst unit in the NFL), they need to rely on the running game, special teams, and takeaways. Since Carolina is 5th in the league against the run, I don’t think the Bears will be able to move the ball enough to score significant points. I foresee Peppers, LB Shaq Thompson, LB Thomas Davis, DL Mario Addison, and DL Kawann Short, etc. providing too much pressure on the young Trubisky, forcing him into mistakes.
Don’t get me wrong, this game could be awesome! I love the possible confrontations between Bears pass rushers such as #94 Leonard Floyd getting tangled up with Cam Newton. Funny thing is, Cam probably outweighs Floyd! It might be fascinating.
Nonetheless, as of Thursday morning’s Chicago Tribune, Carolina is favored by 3. I just think Carolina is a better team right now. I’ll take Carolina with the points.
Carolina Panthers 21 Chicago Bears 13