Week 7’s slate of games will conclude with a Monday Night Football matchup between two teams that are looking to move on from slow starts to the season.
On the one hand you have the Chicago Bears, appearing in their second straight prime-time game and looking to rebound from their losing effort on last week’s Thursday Night Football showcase. Chicago’s offense looked lackluster that night in a 12-7 loss to the Washington Commanders. But with a mini-bye week to prepare, will the Bears be able to change gears and find a way to win away from Soldier Field (0-3 on the road this season)?
On the other side of the field is the New England Patriots, who are mired in questions about the quarterback position. The Patriots have won their last two games under backup Bailey Zappe, outscoring opponents 67-15 in the process to bring their record to an even 3-3. Mac Jones could be back from injury Monday night. Can the Patriots continue their hot streak with another big win?
Here are four things to watch for when the Bears visit the Patriots on Monday Night Football.
- Who's QB in NE? We may not know until just before game time whether it’ll be the rookie Zappe or the incumbent starter Jones playing at quarterback, but either way, the position will be a subject of discussion. If Jones, who enters Monday night questionable to play, is able to return from the high ankle sprain he suffered in Week 3, the questions will resume over whether he’s got what it takes to be the franchise QB and lead the Patriots the way they expected when they drafted him last year in the first round. So far this season Jones is 1-2, so getting a solid win against a struggling team could be a good stepping stone in this endeavor. Conversely, if Zappe has to start a third straight game, it could add fuel to the fire on the talk that he should remain the starter even once Jones is healthy. While no hints have been given as to whether this is a possibility, Zappe’s stats have been better than Jones’ in the small sample size, as he holds a better completion percentage, TD-INT ratio and passer rating this season. Based on practice involvement it’s looking more and more likely that Jones could return versus the Bears, but either way all eyes should be on the Patriots QB on Monday.
- Can the Bears score some points? It might be starting to sound repetitive at this point, but it’s still a fact: the Bears can’t score. Quarterback Justin Fields has been unable to get his team going on any sort of consistent basis, leading to Chicago’s status heading into Week 7 as the second-worst team in the league in scoring. It appeared things might be trending upwards with Fields’ relatively strong performance against the Vikings, but that was followed by the offense’s overall dismal showing in last Thursday night’s loss to the Commanders when they scored seven points. Fields was sacked five times and had a 51.9 completion percentage in that game. Those numbers don’t bode well for another prime-time matchup. With the pass game struggling so much, the one bright spot for Chicago so far has been its second-ranked rushing offense, and even that could be limited by the New England defense, which has not allowed a single rushing TD this season. The Bears will likely need to show huge improvements across the board in order to compete this week.
- Will Chicago D hold down the fort? If the Chicago offense continues to struggle as it has thus far, it’ll be up to the Bears’ defense to keep them in the game, which will likely rely heavily on the strength of the pass defense. While Chicago ranks middle-to-low in most defensive categories, its pass defense is ranked third in the NFL. No matter who gets sent out at quarterback, the Bears will have to contain the Patriots offense in order to keep the game close. A promising sign of improvement came in last week’s loss, in which Chicago gave up only 214 total yards of offense and 86 pass yards, by far their best overall performance of the season. Now this could be because it was the Commanders and Carson Wentz was playing with a fractured finger, but nevertheless the defense was able to keep it a low-scoring affair to at least give the offense a chance late in the game. Whether the defense can put on a similar performance this week will be key to pulling off any upset.
- Can Belichick make history? If the Patriots can take the win over the Bears, this will not only give them a winning record for the first time this season, but will also mark a historic achievement for Bill Belichick. With one more win the longtime New England head coach can pass George Halas for the second-most wins (including playoffs) by a head coach in NFL history. Belichick and Halas are currently tied at 324 wins apiece after the Patriots’ win over the Browns last week, and another victory would put him in sole possession of the second-place spot. Belichick has been head coach in New England for 23 years, and led the franchise to its greatest successes. We’ll all be looking to see whether Belichick’s team can deliver him this all-important 325th win.