The marquee game on the NFL’s Week 10 schedule pits the AFC’s best team, the Houston Texans, against the NFC’s second-best, the Chicago Bears. Just a few seasons ago, this would’ve been a pure offense-vs.-defense contest, but Brandon Marshall’s arrival in Chicago and Wade Phillips’ success in Houston have made both teams a lot more balanced than they used to be.
With that in mind, here are three key factors that will determine whether the Bears or Texans earn their eighth win of the year on Sunday night:
1. Can Chicago control the Houston pass rush?
The two worst games of the Bears’ season—the loss to Green Bay and the one-point squeaker over the Panthers—have been defined by the dominance of the opposing pass rush. In those two games alone, Jay Cutler was sacked 13 times, and he’s likely in for another long night against the Texans.
Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has remade the Houston defense into an attacking unit that’s tied with Chicago’s at 25 sacks (third in the NFL this season). J.J. Watt and his mates have to be chomping at the bit to get their shot at the porous Bears offensive line, and unless that line pulls off a miraculous improvement it’s about to get shredded again.
2. Is Arian Foster ready for the Bears’ defense?
Even after a couple of subpar weeks, the Bears still have the sixth-best run defense in the NFL. Facing that unit on its home field will be challenge enough for AFC rushing leader Arian Foster, but there’s a special concern that comes with running against the Bears.
No defense in the NFL is better at stripping the ball than Chicago, and Foster (who doesn’t go down easily) will open himself up to plenty of those attempts on Sunday. He’s managed not to fumble in 192 carries this season, but getting through Week 10 with that statistic intact will be a whole new level of accomplishment.
3. Will Matt Schaub be able to take care of the football?
The Bears’ defense has been scoring nearly as many points as their offense in recent weeks, but they can’t convert turnovers into touchdowns if they can’t get turnovers. The key player in the Texans’ attempts to prevent that will be quarterback Matt Schaub.
Schaub has held onto the ball well this season, throwing only four interceptions and fumbling just once. On the other hand, he (like the Bears) has faced a soft schedule, and Chicago’s defense only needs one or two mistakes to put the Texans in a very deep hole.
Prediction: Houston 17, Chicago 10
Even the Texans’ loaded offense won’t be able to keep Chicago’s defense from scoring—or at least setting the Bear offense up for easy points—at least once. That said, the Texans’ defense will do far more damage to Jay Cutler and company, and without any viable offense of their own, the Bears won’t be able to outscore high-flying Houston.