It wasn't long ago that the idea of a Panthers-Bears game being decided by their offenses would have been laughable. However, times change now and both the Carolina and Chicago brain trusts have committed to the offensive side of the ball. The Bears made a big investment in QB Jay Cutler, and thus far he's played quite well for Chicago, though they haven't made the breakthrough in the playoffs they hoped they would. When it's all said and done tomorrow's game will be about whose offense is able to do more damage.
X-Factor: Matt Forte
As we've discussed a lot this week almost the entire Bears offense is moving through Matt Forte so far. Don't believe me? Thus far in 2011 the Bears have totaled 914 yards of offense, between rushing and receiving yards Forte has attributed 406 yards of offense. He has twice as many receptions as the Bears' #2 receiver, and over three times more carries than their second running back. Chicago's offensive line hasn't been able to protect Jay Cutler, so Matt Forte has become his safety valve.
The Panthers have problems with Forte for numerous reasons, in the rushing game he can be a gritty, North-South runner who can burrow under the pile, but it's in the receiving game he becomes far more of a threat. In the open field Forte is very difficult to tackle, and the Panthers are lacking a lot of lateral speed in their linebacker corps after the injury to Thomas Davis.
Chicago rush offense vs. Carolina rush defense
The aforementioned Forte is a threat, but the far bigger concern is Marion Barber who will active for the first time in 2011. Last week we saw what happens when a beleaguered Panthers run defense meets a power runner, and while Barber is no Maurice Jones-Drew he can still be a threat. This is a really hard area to predict only because the offensive line lets down the Bears so much, so far in 2011 they are only averaging 3.2 yards per carry, which is worse than the Panthers have been running the football.
We have a mediocre Bears' running game, and a mediocre Panthers' run defense. When it's all said and done this is an easy call.
Chicago pass offense vs. Carolina Pass defense
It's fun to crack jokes about Jay Cutler, but it has to be realized how good a quarterback he is. While Cutler compared his arm strength to John Elway, in reality he compared himself to the wrong QB; he's Brett Favre all the way. Cutler has the same feast of famine passing game where he has enough confidence to believe he can squeeze the ball into anywhere on the field. There are times he'll make your jaw drop because of a big throw, and games where he'll leave you scratching your head.
To support him the Bears have a decent compliment of receivers in Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Roy Williams- when these players are coupled with the aforementioned Matt Forte we have plenty of weapons for Cutler to throw to. With a decent offensive line I'd easily give the edge to the Bears, but it can't be overlooked how badly they've performed. So far Jay Cutler has been sacked 14 times in three games, and he's seeing a very aggressive pair of defensive ends.
Matt Forte is the key to stopping the Bears offense. There's no doubt Sean McDermott has been devising ways to stop him. This will be an offensive battle, despite both teams having elite defensive stars like Julius Peppers and Charles Johnson. I gave the Panthers the edge in 2/3 areas on their offense, and the Bears 2/3 areas on their offense. When it's all said and done I think Carolina have a better chance to stop the Bears than vice versa.
Final score predicition: Panthers 24 - Bears 20