Teams headed in opposite directions meet on the lakefront at Soldier Field on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers (1-5) tangle with the Chicago Bears (5-1). The Panthers are a week removed from having their general manager fired, while the Bears are sitting atop the standings of the NFC North by a game and half entering play on Sunday.
Contract extension talks have been rumored around Bears coach Lovie Smith, while Panthers coach Ron Rivera has been rumored to be on the hot seat.
If upper management changes have not been distraction enough, the Panthers also are dealing with a quarterback who may have supplanted Bears quarterback Jay Cutler as the King of Sulky on the sidelines and in post game press conferences.
Call it a sophomore slump or maybe Cam Newton set the bar too high in his rookie season, but the once toast of the NFL has struggled this season -- although his numbers are not too far off from last season’s record breaking pace. Newton’s numbers are actually a bit better than his counterpart on Sunday, sans one glaring difference -- the win column.
Without further ado here are my three bold predictions for this game.
Bears RB Matt Forte has breakout game.
Through five games the Bears new $32 million man has surpassed the 100-yard barrier on the ground just once this season. Look for that number to change on Sunday.
Last season Forte carved up the Panthers defense for 205 yards on the ground. Throw in the fact Cutler is still nursing sore ribs from Monday nights win over the Lions; the Bears should dial up the run more frequently on Sunday.
The Panthers enter the game allowing just over 120 yards per game on the ground this season. The Bears are averaging 131.5 on the ground.
Forte enters the game with 366 yards on the ground on 80 attempts.
The offensive line of the Bears has continued to improve over the week which only helps Forte and the Bears rushing attack.
Prediction: Forte 19 carries 157 2 TDs.
Newton gets back on track.
This may be the very definition of a bold prediction given the level of play the Bears defense have been playing this season and the way Newton has struggled of late. But then again if there is one guarantee this NFL season it is there is no such thing as a sure thing.
Newton found success last season against the Bears in just his fourth career NFL game. He scorched the Bears defense in the tune of 347 yards in a 34-29 Bears win. He also scored a pair of rushing touchdowns to help stay within striking distance of the Bears.
The game still sticks out in the mind of Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.
“He had a pretty good day against us last year,” Urlacher said earlier this week. “We are going to go off the game film from that game and not pay much attention to what they (Carolina) have done thus far this season.”
The Bears defense leads the league in takeaways (21) and scoring (13.0 PPG), but are middle of the road against the pass. The Bears rank 16th in passing yards allowed (228) while allowing a league low of 71 ypg on the ground.
Newton has also been scrutinized over the last week for his “taking suggestions” comment in a post game press conference last week. With the Bears stiff rushing defense, look for Newton and the Panthers to try and exploit holes in the Bears cover-2 defense and Steve Smith (28 rec, 471 yds) to have a big game.
Prediction: Newton 23-25 307 yards 1 TD, 11 Rush 72 yards.
Rivera coaches his last game in Carolina.
With the Panthers GM being fired after last weeks loss, next in line is Rivera. A former member of the ‘85 Super Bowl team of the Bears and also a defensive coordinator for the Bears, Rivera’s days are numbered. The Panthers are just 7-15 since Rivera took over the reins last season.
If the Panthers do not show some sign of life soon Rivera will be next to be shown the door. That could be a tall task to order against a defense he knows all too well. Rivera was the defensive coordinator for the Super Bowl team of the Bears in 2006, which featured mainstays, Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman.
The Bears have done a nice job of taking care of business against teams of lesser talent to date this season, so look for more of the same on the Lakefront on Sunday.
At 1-6 it could be time for the Panthers to look elsewhere.
Game Prediction: Bears 27, Carolina 10.
TRAVIS DAVID is a contributor for FOOTBALL NATION and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @Tdavid_21.