It’s pretty amazing that this could be considered a letdown game for the Patriots (10-2), who are coming off a shellacking of their rival Jets.
But the NFC North-leading Bears (9-3) have established themselves as one of the best teams in their conference, and this should be an old-fashioned physical slugfest in the Windy City.
And that’s not even mentioning the weather forecast.
WHEN AND WHERE
Sunday, Dec. 12, 2010, 4:15 p.m. Soldier Field, Chicago
HEAD TO HEAD
The Patriots have a 7-4 all-time record against the Bears, including the loss in Super Bowl XX. The Patriots are 4-3 in road games in the series, and they’re 3-3 at Soldier Field. The Patriots have won five of the last six meetings with the Bears, including two in a row.
It’s very possible that the team that best handles the cold weather will come out on top. With the wind chill, it’s expected to feel like it’s minus 40 in Chicago on Sunday, and with the late-afternoon start, it’s going to get colder and colder as the game progresses.
Because mental toughness comes into play, the Patriots could very well have a big edge, mostly due to the teams’ quarterbacks. That might be Tom Brady‘s best asset, and there are doubts over the sturdiness of Jay Cutler‘s mental wherewithal. If the Patriots can rattle Cutler, he could unravel quickly, but if Cutler plays well — as he has for much of his last five games — the Bears will have a great chance.
Quarterback Tom Brady is 2-0 in his career against the Bears, and he has completed 58 of 88 passes (65.9 percent) for 595 yards, four touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Patriots are 36-6 against the NFC since 2001, including four Super Bowls. And since the NFL’s conference realignment in 2002, the Patriots are 9-1 against the NFC North. Their only loss against that division came against the Packers in 2002.
Running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 11 rushing touchdowns this season. Curtis Martin has the single-season franchise record with 14 rushing touchdowns in 1995 and 1996.
Cornerback Devin McCourty has six interceptions this season. Ron Hall has the single-season franchise record with 11 in 1964, and Mike Haynes has the single-season rookie record with eight in 1976.
Linebacker Jerod Mayo has 157 total tackles, based on coaches’ film review. That’s 17 more than New England’s next two leading tacklers — linebacker Brandon Spikes (71) and safety Patrick Chung (69) — who have 140.
The Bears’ defense is ranked third in the NFL, and they’ve allowed 1,087 fewer yards than the Patriots this season.
Quarterback Jay Cutler is an interception machine, and no matter how you sort the stats, Cutler has the most interceptions in the NFL since 2007 (68), 2008 (54) and 2009 (36).
Cutler has faced the Patriots once in his career, and his Broncos lost, 41-7, at Gillette in 2008. Cutler completed 17 of 26 passes for 168 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Defensive end Julius Peppers has recorded four tackles and one fumble recovery in two career games against the Patriots.
Linebacker Brian Urlacher has recorded 36 tackles and one interception in three career games against the Patriots.
No one on the Bears’ roster has ever recorded a sack against the Patriots.
From Thursday’s practice report
Quarterback Tom Brady (right foot, right shoulder) was limited but will play.
Defensive lineman Myron Pryor (back) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Cornerback Jonathan Wilhite (hip) did not participate, and it seems unlikely he’ll play.
Defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) did not participate, and he won’t play until he is cleared.
Safety Patrick Chung (not injury related) did not participate, and his status is uncertain.
Linebacker Brandon Spikes (not injury related) did not participate, and his status is uncertain.
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) did not participate, and his status is uncertain.
Defensive tackle Marcus Harrison (illness) did not participate, and his status is uncertain.
Linebacker Nick Roach (back) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
Running back Chester Taylor (knee) was limited, and his status is uncertain.
This is going to be a tough game for the Patriots against a tough, disciplined Bears defense in the midst of unhealthy cold temperatures. Points could be at a premium, and efficiency will be important for each offense.
At the end of the day, though, it’s just hard to see Jay Cutler outplaying Tom Brady, and the Patriots can add another tough win to their 2010 resume.