The Chicago Bears and the Cincinnati Bengals look like mirror images in a lot of ways:Both teams are spearheaded by dominant defenses and both teams feature offenses led by quarterbacks (Andy Dalton and Jay Cutler) who are clawing to be considered in the top tier of NFL passers. They also feature a pair of the best wide receivers in the game in A.J. Green and Brandon Marshall.
It's no surprise that the line is just three points in favor of the Bears as of Friday. The margin is considered to be the automatic benefit given to home teams by oddsmakers, meaning that the game would likely be a pick 'em if played on a neutral field and so this game is going to be fun.
Meet the Bears
Marc Trestman will be making his head coaching debut Sunday. He brings a brand of the west coast offense that brought him tremendous success with the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL. There is a lot of talent on offense at the skill positions, but a rejiggered offense line that will be starting two rookies needs to improve if the Bears are going to have success this season, much less slow down the Bengals' vicious pass rush.
On defense, the Bears appear to be as stout as ever. It remains to be seen how well D.J. Williams can replace Brian Urlacher, but Julius Peppers and Henry Melton give the Bears a strong defensive line and Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings are arguably the best pair of starting cornerbacks in the NFL.
Meet the Bengals
The Bengals are a darkhorse Super Bowl contender this year according to some (okay, us), and the reason is defense. The Bengals had 51 sacks last year, and they'll be vying for more this year with the addition of James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict entering his second season. Cincinnati's front seven is one of the best in the league, and the hope is that the unit can make up for some shortcomings on offense.
Dalton has put up respectable numbers in two seasons as a starter, but his inconsistency is beginning to wear thin with fans. Given the talent at receiver and running back, the latter thanks to the addition of Giovani Bernard, the success of the Bengals in 2013 could be pinned (rightly or wrongly) on Dalton this season. He would acquit himself well with a big performance against the Bears.
Local Takes: Bears
You might not see a lot of the nickel and dime drives the WCO is famous for with all these expert pass-rushers on the field. I predict that this game will hinge on two key factors: which team can knock off more 15+ yard plays despite the question marks on the line, and which team can convert more red zone possessions into touchdowns. That was the story for the Bengals' loss last year to the Denver Broncos: Peyton Manning was able to drive the ball down the field in large enough chunks that his offense was able to neutralize the advantage the Bengals have in their front seven, and both teams were able to strike paydirt using their elite WRs.
Local Takes: Bengals
Besides the regular season kicking off, I want to see how the weapons on this offense interacts. And I'm not just talking about rookies Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are a year older and figure to be significant contributors.
The entire starting offensive line is returning -- even with Collins expected to start, he's been with the team since 2008.
Ultimately the sum of those pieces will create the whole picture. And thus begins the quest to get everyone off of Andy Dalton's back... or add more people depending on how the season goes.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Wonder how long people will continue to reference his hair when describing Andy Dalton. Hasn't that reached levels of lame yet?— Josh Kirkendall (@CincyJungle) September 6, 2013
@BradBiggs -- Bears beat writer
@mikebearup17 Peppers' restructure was simply to provide operating room for this season, injuries etc, not start signing guys.— Brad Biggs (@BradBiggs) September 5, 2013
@joereedy -- Bengals beat writer
Gresham on extension thoughts after seeing Dunlap & Atkins get theirs: "I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t deserve it. Not right now."— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) September 5, 2013
Ryan Van Bibber likes the Bengals to cover, and perhaps win, on the road against the Bears.
A three-point edge for the home team is essentially an even line. So does that mean the Bears and the Bengals are on equal footing? Uh, no. We spent the better part of August making the Bengals a darling pick for the postseason. They have a tough defense and an offense loaded with weapons. But the Bears and the Bengals have something in common: unlovable quarterbacks.
The Bears are favored by just one field goal across all sports books, according to Oddsshark.