Thursday Night NFL Preview: New Orleans at Chicago
by Matt Severance - 12/10/2008
Thursday night's New Orleans-Chicago game has the look of a do-or-die for both teams, but in reality only the Bears have a realistic chance at the playoffs, and that's a long shot at best.
Chicago is a three-point favorite on Bodog for the game at chilly Solder Field.
The Saints (7-6) are pretty much doomed to miss the postseason even if they win out. That's because their NFC South Division is loaded, and New Orleans has no shot to get in that way. The Saints right now are last among the 11 teams with a winning record in terms of playoff position. Folks, it's just not going to happen this year.
Chicago has the same record as New Orleans but a slightly better chance because it is a game behind NFC North leader Minnesota. The problem for the Bears is that the Vikings hold the tiebreaker over them, so that's really a two-game lead with three to play. Still, by winning out Chicago would have a chance, as Minnesota must face two playoff locks in Arizona and the Giants and one playoff possibility in the Falcons.
As you would expect, it will be cold Thursday in the Windy City, with temps expected in the 20s and a windchill in the low teens. That could bode well against the warm-weather Saints.
"We're in Chicago in December," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "It's always cold here. We realize that. We want everyone else coming in to know that; New Orleans, too. It should be a little bit colder hopefully Thursday night. We play our best football when it's like that."
The over/under at Bodog for the game is 45.
The Saints have not fared well in the winter conditions in Chicago in the past two years. The Bears won last season's regular-season finale, 33-25, and beat the Saints in the 2006-07 NFC Championship Game, 39-14. And it was cold both times. The Saints actually outgained the Bears in those past two trips to Soldier Field, but New Orleans turned over the ball seven times and Saints QBs were sacked six times.
"They came here twice and we beat them, so I'm going to say we're probably going to have the advantage," said Bears cornerback Danieal Manning.
Saints coach Sean Payton says his club isn't focusing on the weather.
"The trick is to deal with the mental part as much as anything," Payton said. "Just something we're going to have to deal with and be able to get through and handle. We've done it in the past and played in cold weather and played good games."
New Orleans is just 1-5 on the road this year, however.
With Reggie Bush back to full strength and Pierre Thomas taking over for Deuce McAllister, New Orleans looked good in beating Atlanta last week (in the 72 degree comfort of a dome). The Saints rushed for 184 yards, their best performance on the ground in nearly two years.
Thomas has come out of nowhere to rush for 311 yards and four touchdowns in his last four games, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. When the Saints run the ball 30 or more times during Payton's tenure, they are 14-0.
Chicago's run defense is a strength, however, and the pass defense has come on of late, holding opponents to 208.0 yards per game. Drew Brees leads the No. 1 passing offense, but his club has lost both games this year when he threw for more than 400 yards, so don't look for Chicago to deviate from its run-stopping emphasis. Brees is coming off his second-lowest output of the season, 230 yards Sunday in the 29-25 victory over Atlanta, but that's a good thing because the Saints were so balanced offensively last week.
As for the Bears, they want to run the ball with Louisiana native Matt Forte, who might be the Rookie of the Year if Matt Ryan wasn't around. Forte ranks second in the NFL this season with 1,476 yards from scrimmage (1,081 rushing and 395 receiving), behind only Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. He is just the seventh NFL rookie to surpass 1,000 rushing yards and 50 receptions. Amazingly, he has fumbled just once this season.
Kyle Orton will be asked to not make mistakes and complete a few third-down passes. Last week in the cold against the Jaguars, he was 20-of-34 with 219 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. The Bears would take those numbers pretty much every time, and it was his best game since suffering a sprained ankle last month. Orton, incidentally, attended Purdue just like his opposing QB mainly because of Brees' advice.
Bet on the Bears-Saints at Bodog.