Justin Fields is going home today, and hopefully, he’ll be the star attraction that he’s been the last four games. It took a season and a half, but Fields found his confidence starting with the second half of Chicago’s 29-22 loss to the Vikings. The Bears are 1-5 in their last six contests, but Fields has put up some gaudy numbers in those games.
- Passing: 88-of-140 (62.9%), 891 yards, 10 touchdowns, 3 interceptions
- Rushing: 70 carries, 604 yards (8.63 YPC), 4 touchdowns, 0 fumbles
Those are MVP-like numbers, but the Bears are 3-7 and the only hardware Fields will earn this season is Chicago’s Offensive Player of the Year. His rookie card did sell for $90,000, however.
The kid from Kennesaw pic.twitter.com/AhfUH2mTrK
— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) November 20, 2022
Fields grew up in Kennesaw, Georgia, and went to high school approximately 30 miles from Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He was originally a Falcons fan, and his favorite players were Julio Jones and Matt Ryan.
“I actually was (a Falcons fan) growing up,” Fields admitted Wednesday. “My dad had season tickets, so I’d always go to the games with him.”
The 23-year-old could have been a hometown pick when he left Ohio State as a junior in 2021. The Falcons had the No. 4 overall selection but chose tight end Kyle Pitts over Fields. Pitts wasn’t a bad choice. He was named to the Pro Bowl as a rookie after grabbing 68 catches for 1,026 yards and one score. The Bears traded up with the New York Giants to select Fields with the 11th pick.
Fields is a Bears fan now, and he’s leading an uncharacteristically high-powered offense. Chicago leads the NFL in rushing, averaging 201.7 yards per game. Nevertheless, the Falcons are favored by two and a hook. That spread has been dropping all week. Chicago is +150 on the money line, and the over/under for today’s game is 48.5 points. It’s probably a safe bet to take the over. I cannot stress this enough, bet the over. Both teams should be expected to run and score at will Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps Fields had a chance to visit friends and family this weekend.
Mercedes-Benz Stadium is an open-roof dome. The turf will be fast, and the weather will not determine the outcome of this game.
Chicago entered today’s game with a 3-7 record and their second three-game losing streak of the season. In fact, Chicago has just one win separating those two streaks, a 33-14 win over the Patriots in Week 7. The Bears have given up a league-high 33.8 points during their current skid, though they’ve had a chance to win each of those games. The team has struggled to close out winnable games. The Bears are 0-4 when they have an opportunity to win with less than two minutes remaining. A missed extra point by Cairo Santos in last week’s 31-30 loss to the Lions proved costly.
The Bears are 2-3 this season as road ‘dogs and have topped the over in four straight.
Atlanta is 4-6, but because they play in the NFC South, trail the Buccaneers by one game. Last week’s 25-15 loss to the Panthers knocked the Falcons out of a tie for first place. Atlanta is coming off a mini-bye since their last tilt was a Thursday night affair. Their offense is struggling and whispers to replace Marcus Mariota with Desmond Ridder get louder with each loss. A third consecutive loss would be devastating to Atlanta’s playoff chances.
The Falcons are 0-4 this year as home favorites and are 5-5 on point totals this season, though they’ve gone under in two of their last five due to poor offensive production.
Why The Bears Will Win
On the play before Cole Kmet's 50-yard TD, the #Bears lined up in 13 personnel (3 TEs) and gained nine yards.
Next play, Bears come out with the same personnel. Detroit clearly thought it would be another run, on second-and-1, but Luke Getsy calls for the deep shot to Kmet. pic.twitter.com/iDFvTz2taL
— Nicholas Moreano (@NicholasMoreano) November 14, 2022
Fields is the unquestionable leader of Chicago’s offense but he needs help. Khalil Herbert is hurt, which means that David Montgomery will get the bulk of the carries today. Trestan Ebner and Darrynton Evans will serve as backups. The Bears are the first team in the Super Bowl era to surpass 225 rushing yards in five straight games. If they make it a sixth, they should win, with a caveat.
The Bears have to do a better job of controlling the game clock. The only way to stop opposing offenses is to keep Chicago’s defense on the sidelines. Though the Bears are predominantly a running team, they still score at a quick pace. Chicago has averaged just 30:12 time of possession this season. The offensive turnaround coincided with an increase in designed runs. The Bears are also utilizing the shotgun more frequently. Fields has faced more blitzes — a clear effort by opposing defenses to contain and challenge him — but his overall pressure percentage has decreased.
Fields’ off-target pass percentage decreased since the first five weeks, and his touchdown passes have tripled. That’s two more positives. Cole Kmet is a big reason why. The tight end has five touchdowns in his last three games.
The Bears draw an Atlanta defense that ranks 30th according to DVOA, 30th in yards per drive, and 28th in points per drive. Fields alone has put together 300 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns in each of the last two games. The Bears have also averaged 31 points in the last four weeks during Fields’ emergence. Opponents have scored on 48.8% (21-of-43) of their drives against Atlanta over the past four weeks, the highest rate in the league.
The Bears still can’t stop anybody on defense but may catch a break against an Atlanta offense that is trending downward. That said, Atlanta has rushed the ball well this season. They’re fourth in the NFL with 160.4 yards per game. Chicago also has a tendency to make opposing quarterbacks look like league MVPs. The Bears have been destroyed by Jared Goff, Tua Tagovailoa, and Dak Prescott in their last three games.
To make matters worse, Chicago is struggling to generate turnovers. Jack Sanborn had a big interception last week that would have sealed a victory. Unfortunately, it was negated by a Jaylon Johnson penalty. If the Bears can’t stop Atlanta’s offense, they need to win the turnover battle or they’ll lose their fourth straight. Look for the emergence of Chase Claypool this afternoon, and if Velus Jones plays, he’ll have opportunities to run the ball.
Why The Falcons Will Win
The most contested catches among rookies?
— Atlanta Falcons (@AtlantaFalcons) November 18, 2022
This is a must-win game for Atlanta. They need to at least keep pace with the Buccaneers, and a win against a conference opponent helps in any attempt to secure a Wild Card berth. The Falcons need a stop, as they’ve lost three of four games. Their defense gets a big boost with the Herbert injury. Defensive back A.J. Terrell is expected to return today after missing three games with a hamstring injury. Despite Fields’ success, the Bears still have the league’s worst passing attack.
Atlanta is a running team, and 50.6% of their offensive yardage has come via rushing, third in the league. When it comes to passing the ball, the Falcons like to move the chains. Mariota is one of six quarterbacks to have an average depth of target (2.1 yards) beyond the first down marker on all throws this season. The Atlanta signal-caller has averaged 5.6 and 6.2 yards per pass attempt over the past two weeks. He is 31st in EPA per dropback in those weeks while he is dead last in expected completion rate (59.2%) over that span. Mariota gets a break today against a woeful Bears defense. Chicago has allowed 16 touchdowns in its last three games.
That said, Mariota is averaging 5.3 yards per rushing attempt. Atlanta will likely incorporate more designed runs today to open up its offense. Chicago has allowed 8.9 yards per attempt over the last four weeks. If Mariota has a big game running the ball, Atlanta will emerge victorious. Cordarrelle Patterson is another option for the Falcons. He’s earned a first down or touchdown on 30.3% of his carries this season. Wide receiver Drake London will get some touches too, and he’ll be Mariota’s top target in the passing game, It could be a long day for Kyler Gordon, and he’s already dealing with a knee injury, though he should play.
- Bears – DB Dane Cruikshank (hamstring) and WR N’Keal Harry (illness) are out. G Teve Jenkins (hip), DE Al-Quadin Muhammad (knee) and cornerback Kindle Vildor (ankle) are questionable. Kmet (unspecified) could be a scratch, too.
- Falcons – TE Feleipe Franks (calf) is out. Terrell (hamstring) and FS Erik Harris (foot) are questionable. G Colby Gossett is dealing with a personal matter and could be a scratch.
Our own Sean Holland previewed today’s game and gave the Bears a 34-31 win. I’m predicting another huge game for Fields and another shootout for the Bears. Atlanta has the home-field edge and the point spread is not unreasonable. That said, the Falcons are slumping, and Chicago is just fun to watch. I think the opposing attitudes will factor in the final score, but not enough. The Bears will cover, but lose 35-34 in another heartbreaker. Chicago’s propensity to give up touchdowns at an alarming rate is just too difficult to overlook.