The Denver Broncos head on the road to America's Windy City to face off against the Chicago Bears this weekend. The last time these two franchises played each other a Jay Cutler was absent from the Bears' offense due to injury. In his stead, Caleb Hanie took the reigns in Chicago and the Broncos were led by none other than Tim Tebow.
I was at that game in Denver on December 11, 2011. It was a beautiful, sunny day in Denver and you couldn't have asked for weather or game atmosphere. The stadium was packed with fans who were more than happy to cheer on their Broncos, who were battling their way through the second half of the season in hopes to win the division and secure a playoff spot.
Three friends joined me on that memorable day. Two of them were from Chicago, decked out in all Bears gear and ready to have their first game day experience at Mile High. The other, a Jets fan from Virginia, who ended up playing the role of a rival fan just to get on my nerves that day. Ultimately, it was me and the rest of the hometown crowd that got the last laugh.
The game was symbolic of the Broncos 2011 season and in a way, quite magical. Tebow helped rally the Broncos late in the fourth quarter and Matt Prater boomed a 59 yard field goal through the uprights to send the game into overtime. About halfway through overtime, Prater connected with a 51 yard attempt that would have been good from 60+ and the Broncos ended up beating the Bears 13-10.
The upcoming game on Sunday will be a much different set of circumstances, but will have the aura of familiar faces. Denver won't have the advantage of playing at home and Cutler will be starting for the Chicago this weekend in his first game against his former squad. John Fox, who was coach of the Broncos during the 2011 campaign in his first year with the squad will now be commanding the opposite sideline.
Peyton Manning is out and Brock Osweiler is in, who will make his first NFL start and hopes to help break the teams' two game losing skid with a week this weekend. How will it all play out? You will have to tune in on Sunday to see, but for now, here is my analysis on what to look for in the upcoming game.
Who's Hot for Chicago
Running Back Jeremy Langford: To fill the void of an injured Matt Forte, the Bears have relied on fourth round rookie running back Jeremy Langford over the last three games. As a starter, Langford has carried the ball 40 times for almost 200 yards and hauled in 10 receptions for 189 yards and combined for three scores. He has proven to be a capable running back to replace the productive of Forte, who is questionable for Sunday's game.
The Broncos rushing defense has showed some signs of vulnerability over the past few weeks, so look for the Bears to give Langford plenty of work this weekend. Denver will need to devise a game plan to stop Chicago's rushing attack and keep the time of possession battle in their favor iif they want to have a shot at winning on the road.
The Bears Defense: After starting the season off poorly allowing nine touchdowns in the first two games, Chicago's defense has began to take shape over the last half of the season. They have only surrendered one touchdown each game in five out of the past seven contests. Additionally, they boast the league's ninth best rush defense and have only given up three touchdowns on the ground this weekend.
With Osweiler starting at quarterback for Denver, it will be imperative for the Broncos to get the running game going this weekend. A sound running game will benefit Osweiler and help generate opportunities in the passing game. The ultimate bane to aspirations of victory for Denver would be the Bears defense stopping the Broncos rushing attack dead in its tracks, which would place the weight of victory on the arm of Osweiler.
If Denver wants to win in Chicago, they will have to run the ball effectively. Period.
Who's Not Hot for Chicago
The Bears Offense: Outside of the Lions and Rams games this season, the Bears offense has failed to live up to expectations of generating a lot of scoring production on offense. They rank 20th in the NFL in total points scored and are middle of the road at 16th in regard to total yardage and have been wildly inconsistent, especially on third downs throughout the course of the season.
Former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is calling the plays for the Bears, so expect him to be creative in his game plan against Denver this weekend. Chicago will have to make some big plays through the air to players such as Martellus Bennett and Alshon Jeffery to obtain a victory, but don't be surprised to see a lot of passes go to their running backs, in particular Langford, to catch the Broncos defense off guard.
The Match Up to Watch
Denver's offensive line versus Chicago's defensive front seven: My biggest match up to watch this weekend is how the Broncos offensive line fairs against Chicago's defense front seven. Denver's play in the offensive trenches has been absolutely despicable the entire season, which is a key reason the teams offense has failed to perform well. Osweiler will need the five men in front of him to give him ample time to make plays in the passing game and the Broncos backfield must have clear holes and running lanes to work with in order for Denver to achieve victory.
The prospect of a Brock Osweiler led offense in Denver is exciting to me, but makes me nervous at the same time. There is no doubting his arm and ability to make throws, but Sunday's affair will mark his first NFL start and I do expect some growing pains. My prediction comes with the belief that the Broncos offensive line will finally put together an efficient game that will allow for a balanced offensive attack. That has to happen or a victory won't be possible.
On the other side of the ball, I expect the defense to play a much more disciplined game and force several turnovers to help swing the tide in Denver's favor. This will be a hard fought battle that goes down to the wire, but in the end, the Broncos "Brock Out" and come away with a win on the road in Chicago.
Denver 20, Chicago 17.