What to Look For…

Sunday’s match-up between the New England Patriots and the Chicago Bears is looking to be 2010’s version of the Blizzard Bowl.  Forecasts are calling for snow to fall throughout the game with the possibility of five inches accumulating.  Aside from the snow, winds gusts are expected to reach between 30 and 55 mph.  Dealing with conditions like these should almost eliminate any impact from the deep passing game, which is Mike Martz’s specialty.  I expect both teams to line up with big formations (two tightends) and run the ball relentlessly.  The team with the most toughness and fewest amount of mistakes will have a huge advantage in this one.  Here’s what to look for in Sunday’s game at Soldier Field…

-With the weather conditions the way that they are for Sunday, the run game becomes the key offensive weapon for both teams.  The Patriots offensive line will be up against one of the better front seven’s in the entire NFL.  The Bears own the second best run defense in the entire NFL, allowing just under 85 yards per game on the ground.  On Sunday, running the ball will be even tougher because the Bears will be well aware that passing will be nearly impossible, allowing them to read run first, as well as bring more players up in the box.  The three middle linemen (Mankins, Koppen, and Connolly) for the Pats will be crucial pieces for the Pats’ success today.  What to look for: How the Patriots lineman fair against one of the better defensive lines in the league, particularly in the run game.

-Similarly to the challenges that face the Patriots offense in regards to the weather, the defense will be forced to play stout run defense in this game.  This past week, rookie inside linebacker and the team’s fourth leading tackler Brandon Spikes was suspended four games for violating the league’s PED policy.  Spikes was a staple in the Patriots base defense, which is their primary run defense package.  Gary Guyton and Dane Fletcher need to step up big on Sunday because the vast majority of offensive plays for the Bears will go through Matt Forte.  What to look for: How the loss of Brandon Spikes affects the Patriots run defense.

-The Bears are one of the best teams in the NFL in terms of forcing fumbles.  In fact, they are second in the NFL, having forced 28 fumbles on the season.  With the weather conditions as they are, the ball will be slick and the cold weather will certainly not make it any easier to hold onto the pigskin.  Neither BenJarvus Green-Ellis nor Danny Woodhead has fumbled on the season, but Sunday’s game will certainly test their ability to hold onto the football.  What to look for: The combined impact of the weather and the Bears’ defenders on the Patriots ability to hold onto the football.

-Even with the limited impact that the passing game will have in Sunday’s game, both Brady and Cutler will have to make a play eventually.  Tom Brady throws one of the best balls in the entire NFL, so the wind may affect his passes somewhat, but they should be able to cut through the gusts pretty well.  Jay Cutler is notorious for his arm strength, but doesn’t throw the tightest spiral and is obviously prone to mistakes.  If I had to put my money on one quarterback to make a game changing mistake, I would be all in on Cutler.  What to look for: The impact that Jay Cutler’s innate ability to turn the ball over will have on the outcome of the game

**I’ve adjusted my prediction for the weather conditions…

-THIS WEEK’S PREDICTION – Patriots 14 – Bears 7

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