Two of the league's best square off on NBC's "Sunday Night Football" in a highly anticipated contest. This could very well end up being an early Super Bowl preview.
Take a breathe 49er, Packer, Patriot and Bronco fans, it probably won't happen.
The (7-1) Houston Texans travel to the "Windy City" to take on the (7-1) Chicago Bears. The Bears are currently (-1) in Vegas so it is basically a pick em' game. Both teams are a combined 14-0 against everyone not named the Green Bay Packers. The Cheeseheads handed the Bears their lone loss in week two and blew out the Texans in week six.
This game is important for both teams, but definitely more important for the Chicago Bears. The Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts are both getting hot at the right time, but the Packers will give the Bears a run for their money for the NFC North division, while the Colts are still a long shot to pull out the AFC South, even if the Texans lose on Sunday night.
There are three major areas to pay close attention to that will determine the outcome at Soldier Field.
BEARS O-LINE vs. TEXANS PASS RUSH
The Chicago Bears will have their hands full against one of the best defenses in the NFL on Sunday.
The Texans defense starts with their two-year pro: J.J. Watt.
He has been one of the best players in the NFL this season. He leads the league with 10.5 sacks and has 28 tackles for loss in only eight games. He is near impossible to block. He has 21 quarterback hits and has deflected 10 passes this year. No other defensive lineman has more than six. Most NFL experts have Watt as the "NFL Defensive Player of the Year" if the voting ended today, but a couple guys on Chicago will tell you not so fast. (Don't worry we will touch on them later).
It will be crucial for the Bears offensive line to contain Watt as much as possible.
Unfortunately, It has been tough for Chicago keeping Jay Cutler's jersey clean. They have allowed 28 sacks this season, which is third most in the NFL.
The Texans 25 sacks this year are tied for third most.
The most anticipated matchup to watch in the trenches features two former college teammates: JJ Watt and Gabe Carimi.
They use to battle each other day after day at the University of Wisconsin. They were both first round selections in the 2011 NFL Draft. Wisconsin head coach Bret Bielema said they used to go at each other every single play at practice, and you could sense they wanted to better the other guy every single time.
They were the two leaders on both respected lines.
They were both team captains and the vocal leaders.
Now, two years later they get to battle it out as opponents, and the Bears need a HUGE game from their starting right tackle.
Expect the Texans defense to put pressure on Cutler all game long. The offensive line woes will continue against one of the best pass rushing teams in the NFL. J.J. Watt will continue his dominance as the best defensive player in the game.
ANDRE JOHNSON & ARIAN FOSTER vs. BRANDON MARSHALL & MATT FORTE
Whichever pairing has a better total will play dividends in this one.
Andre Johnson and Arian Foster form one of the best 1-2 punches in the league. Foster has been one of the best running backs in the game for the last three years. Since the start of the 2010 season, no one has rushed for more yards than Arian Foster.
This year he has rushed for 770 yards and 10 touchdowns. Foster's 96.3 rushing yards/game are third best in the league and no running back has rushed for as many touchdowns as Foster.
Johnson has finally started to get on track. Over his last three games he has 25 receptions for 279 yards. He has had at least 8+ catches and 75+ yards in all three games. Johnson has only scored two touchdowns this year, but it hasn't been an issue for the Texans. They rank second in the NFL in scoring (29.6 pts./game).
The Chicago Bears passing game has been a one man attack. Brandon Marshall has 59 receptions for 797 yards and seven touchdowns. No other Bear wide receiver or tight end has more than 16 receptions or 200 yards receiving this season.
Marshall ranks in the top-ten in just about every receiving category this season: 59 rec. (4th), 797 yds. (2nd), 7 TD (T-3rd), and 99.6 yds./game (2nd).
Expect the Houston Texans defense to force everyone not named Brandon Marshall to beat them.
This is where Matt Forte becomes the big X-factor on Sunday night. The Bears need a big game from their dual-threat running back. Forte has combined for 718 yards this season and three touchdowns. The Bears have had their problems blocking for Cutler, so it will be crucial for Forte to take some of the pressure off of their offensive line. If the Texans shut down Forte it will be a long night for the Bears.
Foster and Johnson will combine for more yards on Sunday. The Bears passing defense is their biggest weakness on defense. They rank 16th in the NFL in passing defense. They have banked on forcing turnovers this year and they will need to win the turnover battle on Sunday.
The Texans defense has been consistent in shutting down the air attack and the ground game this season. Houston ranks second in rush defense, fourth in pass defense and third in total defense.
This is where the Bears strive. Their defense has been downright nasty in forcing turnovers. They rank first in takeaways, interceptions, forced fumbles and in turnover differential. They have 28 takeaways and when they force a turnover they know how to take it back to the house. Da' Bears have returned seven of their 17 interceptions back for six.
Remember back when I was talking about J.J. Watt being the best defensive player in the league, well Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have a serious beef with that. They have been phenomenal this year.
Tillman leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles and has two interceptions, both taken back to the house for six.
Jennings was a huge offseason pickup and leads the league with six interceptions.
The Bears secondary needs to come up with some big turnovers if they want hand the Texans their second loss of the season.
However, the Bears are going up against the number one team in fewest giveaways. The Texans have committed only six turnovers in eight games. They know how to take care of the rock. Matt Schaub has only thrown four interceptions and Arian Foster has not put the ball on the ground once this season.
The only reason the Bears rank third in the NFL in scoring is due in large part to their success forcing turnovers. It will be hard for Chicago to match Houston on the scoreboard if they can't force more than one turnover.
Don't expect Houston to get careless with the football on Sunday. The Texans are one of the best coached teams in the NFL. Gary Kubiak has done a great job with Houston, and once he brought Wade Phillips in to coach the defense, they have been one of the best teams in the NFL.
There is no way a defensive genius like Phillips will allow one man to beat them. The Bears are 7-0 when Marshall has more than five catches and 0-1 when held under five. Phillips main focus will be shutting down Marshall and if their defense can do that expect the Bears offense to struggle.
J.J. Watt and Arian Foster will be the difference makers on Sunday. Expect Jay Cutler to be on his backside most of the night. Their offensive line has been horrible this year, and that won't change against one of the best pass rushing defenses in the NFL.
PREDICTION: TEXANS 24 BEARS 13