The Atlanta Falcons and Chicago Bears both have serious playoff aspirations after putting together good seasons in 2010, and both return the core of those winning teams. For all the criticism he received, Jay Cutler cut down his interception numbers last year, while Matt Ryan established himself as one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the NFL.
Both teams will rely on strong running games this year, though their are question marks surrounding Chicago's. There's no doubt that Matt Forte is a fantastic running back, but he's not happy with his current contract, much like linebacker Lance Briggs. Both will play on Sunday despite their issues with the team.
Atlanta traded up in the NFL Draft to pick Julio Jones, adding him to an already potent passing attack. His presence should keep teams from focusing solely on shutting down Roddy White, who has established himself as an elite wide receiver in recent years.
Both teams had defenses that were fantastic in terms of points allowed, but only average in terms of yards allowed last season. Their offenses and special teams function as great defenses by putting opponents in to bad starting positions, and that average starting position battle could be key on Sunday.
These teams are fairly similar, but ultimately, the difference could be that Ryan is considerably less error-prone than Cutler. It may sound like a cliche at this point, but before his pick-six to Tramon Williams in the playoffs last season, Ryan simply didn't make any crippling mistakes. It's more like that his one bad game and not three seasons of solid play was the aberration.
Game Date/Time: Sunday, September 11, 1:00 P.M. ET
Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Bears: FOX WFLD
Falcons: FOX WAGA
TV Distribution Map: The506.com
Bears: WBBM 780 AM
Falcons: WSTR 94.1 FM