The Bears have a shot at the playoffs, but they’re one of the biggest NFC wildcard underdogs since Paul “Wrecking” Crewe led the inmates against Brian Knauer and his prison guards. Whether they win or lose is unimportant. Chicago is playing its first statement game in the Matt Eberflus era, and a win over Cleveland this afternoon could make the 5-8 Bears legitimate playoff contenders.
Who’d have thunk it? I suppose that makes Luke Getsy coach Nate Scarborough. Sorry to piss on your cornflakes.
The Bears are playing competitive football thanks to a tenacious defense that has learned to sack the quarterback and stack takeaways. The metamorphosis started when Ryan Poles acquired Montez Sweat from the Commanders. Jaquan Brisker has become the tackle machine the Monsters of the Midway have missed since Brian Urlacher retired. Jaylon Johnson is playing like a man who wants an eight-figure contract. Tremaine Edmunds, T.J. Edwards, and Jack Sanborn are Chicago’s best linebackers since Urlacher, Lance Briggs, and Hunter Hillenmeyer shut opposing offenses down.
What a throw from Justin Fields. pic.twitter.com/oz3SvQwzyk
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) December 10, 2023
The Bears also have an aerial game because Getsy finally figured out what constitutes the modern-day version of the forward pass. Cole Kmet and D.J. Moore have combined for 137 receptions for 1,619 yards and 12 scores. They’ve helped speed up the development of the beleaguered Justin Fields. QB1 has passed for 3,004 yards with 25 touchdowns and 11 INTs in his last 17 games. That’s good for a 92.3 passer rating. Fields has also rushed for 1,237 yards on 171 yards with eight scores in those tilts. He has visibly grown in his pocket presence. Further, Fields’ rushing ability now compliments his passing skills instead of dominating them.
Chicago enters Cleveland one game behind the Packers and a buck-and-a-half behind the Vikings, who lost to the Bengals in overtime on Saturday. Hold the phone — that moved Chicago’s playoff chances from five to seven percent.
The Bears are underdogs, but the Browns are missing Deshaun Watson, they’re starting 38-year-old Joe Flacco, and have too many other injuries to list in this section. This is a winnable game, and if Chicago starts strong, Eberflus may get his third straight victory, each against a team with a winning record. The good news for Cleveland is that stud DE Myles Garrett enters the game with no injury designation.
The Browns are a very soft three-point favorite this afternoon, and the Bears are -130 on the moneyline (bet $100 straight up to win $130). The over/under is 38.5 which seems accurate considering both teams are led by defense.
The game will be played in Cleveland where heavy rain and gale conditions are expected. A sloppy field will hurt both offenses and special teams but favor two of the league’s best defenses. Expect a low-scoring game with a lot of turnovers. Do we call it “Bear Weather” if the game is being played on the road?
- The Bears and their opponents have combined to score more than 37.5 points in 10 of 13 games this season.
- The average over/under for Chicago’s outings this season is 43.5, five more points than this game’s predicted point total.
- The Bears are 6-6-1 against the spread this season.
- This season, the Bears have been the underdog 11 times and won four, or 36.4%, of those games.
- Chicago has a record of 3-6, a 33.3% win rate when it is set as an underdog of +125 or more by sportsbooks this season.
- Cleveland’s contests this year have an average total of 38.6, just about equal to this game’s over/under.
- The Browns have gone 8-5-0 against the spread this season.
- The Browns have gone 5-1 as moneyline favorites (winning 83.3% of those games).
- Cleveland has played three times as a moneyline favorite with odds of -150 or shorter and earned a victory in each game.
- The Browns’ minus-0.11 expected points added (EPA) allowed per play ranks first this season and third since 2014.
Why the Bears Will Win
End zone angle of Justin Fields' escape on third down against the Lions pic.twitter.com/LykGXlMTl5
— Kevin Fishbain (@kfishbain) December 12, 2023
Believe it or not, the Bears are now controlling both lines of scrimmage. They’re second in the league in defensive rushing and fourth when carrying the ball on offense. That said, the Browns have a dominating defense, one that is almost historical in context despite a high number of key injuries.
But…and it’s a big but, Cleveland is a Cover 1-heavy defense, running it 44% of the time, second most in the NFL. And while Fields ranks 21st in Total QBR overall, he ranks third in QBR against Cover 1, often taking advantage of it to scramble. If Cleveland sticks with a heavy dosage of Cover 1, it could lead to a big day on the ground for Fields.
Given everything above, Fields is the kind of two-way QB who can take advantage of Cleveland this weekend. Cleveland’s linebackers have struggled badly lately. That should open up running lanes for Fields, Khalil Herbert, and D’Onta Foreman. It also means that Kmet and Darnell Mooney could have big games if Getsy uses Moore as a decoy.
The game will be decided by the strengths of Cleveland’s stop unit. While they lead the league in defensive EPA and success rate, much of that has to do with early-season dominance. They’ve been less impressive over the last several weeks, surrendering at least 29 points in four of their last five games.
The Bears have covered in four of their last five games built on their defensive improvement. They’ve also covered in each of their last four as underdogs. Chicago is ninth in scoring defense, tied for second in takeaways, and fifth in yards per game allowed since acquiring Sweat. They have held the last four opposing QBs to just 191 passing yards per game, accumulating nine interceptions in that time, and sacked Jared Goff four times while limiting Detroit to 13 first downs and 13 points.
Why the Browns Will Win
For the Browns to win vs the bears Myles has to have another day against Justin Fields
— Mac🦬 (@tha_buffalo) December 17, 2023
Garrett is the X-factor, and though he was listed as questionable all week, he participated in Cleveland’s last two practices. The last time the All-Pro defensive end faced Fields in the regular season he registered 4.5 sacks. It was Fields’ first career start, head coach Matt Nagy had no gameplan for the rookie, and the Browns beat the Bears 26-6.
Garrett says Fields has “evolved” since then.
Cleveland signed Flacco several weeks ago and in two games as a starter, he’s outperformed expectations. In Sunday’s victory over the Jaguars, the aging veteran completed 26 of 45 passes for 311 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. Tight end David Njoku caught six passes for 91 yards last week. He has now surpassed 50 yards receiving in six of his last eight games. Amari Cooper is Flacco’s top target, and Johnson will have his hands full. Cleveland will have a long day if poor field conditions force the team to stick to running the rock.
Expect a tight game. The Browns have outscored their opponents by 17 points (1.3 per game), but they’re 20th in opponent points per game (20.2). Their aggressiveness on defense will hurt them if Fields gets outside the pocket, but nobody is better than Garret at containing quarterbacks. As I said, Garrett is the X-factor, and he’ll line up against the inconsistent Braxton Jones. Opponents have sacked Fields 32 times in nine games. Jones needs to be elite this afternoon to stop Garrett.
- The Bears are the NFL’s second-best team against the run but are ranked No. 23 in pass defense.
- Chicago is 11-for 21 on 4th downs (53.8%). That’s huge if you consider today’s expected field conditions.
- Weather will be a big factor and favor the team better at running the ball, stopping the run, and creating turnovers. That bodes well for the Bears.
- The Browns have lost 10 fumbles and their quarterbacks have thrown 15 INTs. Cleveland enters the game with a minus-7 turnover ratio.
- Cleveland has allowed 272 points this season (20.9 PPG) but they’ve allowed 92 in their last three games (30.7).
- Flacco completed 26 of 45 passes for 311 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception last week, but he won’t have that kind of success this afternoon.
Did You Know?
The Browns have won 10 of 17 games against the Bears but haven’t won three in a row since beating Chicago 42-0 in 1960. The teams are 5-5 in their last 10 meetings. The Bears unbelievably beat the Browns 27-21 in overtime in 2001. James Allen scored on a 34-yard pass from Shane Matthews with no time on the clock to tie the game, and then Mike Brown clinched the win with a 16-yard interception return four minutes into overtime. It was Brown’s second consecutive overtime game-winning pick-six. That was never done before and hasn’t been done since.
Game Day Quote
“I think anytime you speak of having an impactful defense, it starts with taking the football away. Each game, we talk about winning the takeaway margin and that equates to a big part of winning. If we continue to do that – not just the linebackers – continuously as a defense, the sky is the limit of really how good we can be.” – Edmunds
- Bears: Yannick Ngakoue is out (ankle) and was placed on IR this week, so he’s done for the season. LB Noah Sewell (knee) and WR Equanimeous St. Brown (pectoral) are out. Brisker (groin) and Moore (ankle) are questionable but Moore is expected to play. Brisker should play but his availability will be determined before kickoff.
- Browns: Cleveland’s injury report is massive and the following players are out: Watson (shoulder); DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (pectoral); S Grant Delpit (groin); DT Maurice Hurst Jr. (pectoral); OT Dawand Jones (knee); OT Jedrick Wills Jr. (knee); WR Michael Woods II (Achilles); S Rodney McLeod (bicep); G Drew Forbes (back); DT Siaki Ika (foot); RB Nick Chubb (knee); OT Jack Conklin (knee); WR Jakeem Grant Sr. (knee); LB Jacob Phillips (pectoral); and G Dawson Deaton (knee). S Juan Thornhill (calf), C Ethan Pocic (stinger), RB Kareem Hunt (groin), DT Jordan Elliott (concussion), CB Denzel Ward (shoulder), and RB Jerome Ford (wrist) are all questionable.
Players of the Game
The Bears will win if Fields has a big game and the defense stops Flacco and Cooper. Give the win to Cleveland if Garrett goes off. Tyrique Stevenson and Kyler Gordon have improved each week. Keep an eye on both. Expect Edmunds and Sanborn to have huge games. Cairo Santos is Chicago’s X-Factor this afternoon.
Our own Sean Holland analyzed today’s game and predicts a 16-13 win by Cleveland. I said if Garrett plays the Bears will fall short and see their playoff chances virtually disintegrate. Still, Chicago has a lot to build on heading into 2024. Give the Browns a 17-16 win in on a last-minute field goal in a very sloppy game.