The game loses a little bit of its luster due to all the players — including Justin Fields and Brian Burns — who are sitting out, but it is a revenge game for D.J. Moore, who was traded from Carolina to Chicago as part of the deal that allowed the Panthers to move up to the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft to select Bryce Young.
This game is ultimately likely to matter more for draft positioning (for Chicago) than the playoff picture, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. Before we break down the matchup, here’s a look at how you can watch the game.
How to watch
When the Panthers have the ball
Somewhat surprisingly, the Bears have one of the NFL’s top run defenses this season. That’s going to shift the pressure onto Bryce Young and Co. to move the ball. And Young simply has not been very good this season: He’s completing 63.9% of his passes at an anemic average of just 5.5 yards per attempt, with a 40.3% success rate, eight touchdowns, and seven interceptions.
The Panthers have totaled more than 188 net passing yards just twice all year: when Andy Dalton started in place of Young back in Week 3, and in a loss to the Lions in Week 5 when Young threw 41 times and was intercepted twice.
Chicago’s opponents have been able to throw the ball pretty well, for the most part, but the Bears did add Montez Sweat to juice their pass rush and slot corner Kyler Gordon has been solid, allowing just 1.01 yards per coverage snap when lined up inside, according to Pro Football Focus. Top Panthers receiver Adam Thielen has done most of (and his best) work this year in the slot, so that’s less than ideal. As we saw against the Colts last week, playing against a tough slot corner (Kenny Moore II) can throw things off for the Panthers.
It’s tough to put all these struggles at Young’s feet, obviously. He’s not exactly been put in position to succeed, what with an offensive line allowing pressure on more than 40% of his dropbacks, a mostly non-existent run game, and a pass-catching corps that could most charitable be described as “not good.” But that doesn’t change the outlook for Thursday evening, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean all that much when projecting Young’s long-term future.
When the Bears have the ball
This is a matchup between two of the least-inspiring units in the NFL.
Chicago’s offense checks in 19th in both yards and points per game, but is a much less respectable 26th in FTN’s DVOA and 22nd in Tru Media’s version of EPA/play. And the Bears will once again be without Justin Fields here. Carolina’s defense, meanwhile, is eighth in yards allowed but 31st in points allowed, 28th in DVOA, and 29th in EPA/play. And the Panthers will be without both Brian Burns and C.J. Henderson, and possibly Xavier Woods, while Jaycee Horn remains on injured reserve.
So, what happens when a stoppable force meets a moveable object? We’re going to find out later this evening.
Even though the Bears have slumped to just 30 combined points in Tyson Bagent’s last two starts after they hung 30 on the Raiders in his debut, there is reason to believe they can find some degree of offensive success here. The Panthers have been run on by basically every opponent this season (28th in rushing yards allowed and 25th in opponent yards per carry, with every opponent until last week topping at least 110 yards), and with D’Onta Foreman and the possibly-returning Khalil Herbert, the Bears can run the ball.
Carolina has been solid defending tight ends in the passing game, which could force Bagent off of his top target Cole Kmet and onto former Panther D.J. Moore, who should have fantastic matchups on the outside in the absence of two of Carolina’s top three corners.
Prediction: Bears 20, Panthers 16
It’s pretty difficult to pick a game between two teams that have looked as bad as these two have throughout this season. Amazing as it is to say, the Bears offense might be slightly more trustworthy than Carolina’s, and that leads us to lean toward Chicago at home.
I’m pretty confident in my pick, but if you want another opinion, Sportsline gambling guru Larry Harstein, who is 18-8 with his last 26 picks involving the Panthers, has locked in another confident against-the-spread pick for Bears vs. Panthers. We can tell you he’s leaning Under the point total, but he knows a crucial X-factor makes one side of the spread a MUST-BACK! You ABSOLUTELY need to see what it is before locking in any picks of your own.