The NFL season is less than three weeks old, but time is already running out for the Chicago Bears. The team has dropped its first two games of 2016, and a loss on “Sunday Night Football” could put an end to any hope the Bears had of competing for a playoff spot.
Of the 128 teams that have started 0-3 in the last 26 years, only three (2.3 percent) have gone on to make the postseason. Playing in one of the NFL’s toughest divisions, Chicago needs a win against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday in order to have a chance of playing meaningful games for the rest of the year.
If the Bears are able to pull off the upset in Dallas, it’ll have to be without a few of their key players. Quarterback Jay Cutler injured his thumb in the team’s loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night, and linebacker Lamarr Houston is done for the year with a torn ACL. Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who was the team’s big free-agent signing this past offseason, is out indefinitely because of thumb surgery.
The injury to Cutler shouldn’t be a surprise since he hasn’t played 16 games in a season since 2009. He’s expected to miss two to three weeks, putting Brian Hoyer under center for Chicago.
The absence of Cutler certainly doesn’t end Chicago’s chances of winning in Dallas. Brian Hoyer is one of the most capable backups in the league, and he led the Houston Texans to the playoffs last year with a respectable 91.4 passer rating. He completed nine of his 12 pass attempts for 78 yards in relief of Cutler in Week 2.
The Cowboys were forced to replace their long-time starting quarterback in the preseason, and they couldn’t have asked for more from their new signal caller. Dak Prescott has surpassed expectations in two games, winning on the road against the Washington Redskins in Week 2 for Dallas’ first victory of the season. He posted a 103.7 passer rating and set a rookie record by starting out the season with 75 pass attempts and no interceptions.
While Prescott has been impressive, much of his success has been in managing the game and limiting mistakes. He still hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass, and it’s not sustainable for him to continue without a turnover for much longer.
Dallas is a seven-point home favorite at Las Vegas and online sportsbooks, via OddsShark, largely because Chicago has looked like one of the NFL’s worst teams. Since leading the Houston Texans 14-10 at halftime of the season opener, the Bears have been outscored 42-14. Now, Chicago is undermanned and heading on the road against a team that’s nearly gotten off to a 2-0 start. Dallas suffered a one-point loss to the New York Giants in Week 1.
The Cowboys have played two close contests, and Week 3 might not be any different. Dallas’ running game hasn’t been overly impressive at just 3.4 yards per carry, and for all their flaws, the Bears have defended the ground game well. Chicago ranks ninth in yards per carry allowed.
Going on the road might actually benefit the Bears, who have lost 11 of their last 12 games at Soldier Field. The Cowboys are 0-1 at home this season, and they’ve lost eight of their last nine games at AT&T Stadium.
Dallas is the better team, but the Bears should be ready to play on Sunday with their season potentially on the line. Prescott might make a few mistakes in his first-ever nationally televised game as an NFL starter, and it could be a low-scoring game, finishing below the over/under of 44.5.
Prediction: Dallas over Chicago, 20-17