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The Falcons Playoff Hopes Rest on Beating a Red Hot Bears Defense in the Windy City

It is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Coming off an amazing Christmas weekend filled with food, football, and family, now going into another weekend filled with holiday football, family, and amazing food. What makes football even better, at least on the NFL side, is that there are still a lot of teams with a mathematical chance of making the playoffs, and a matchup featuring two teams in the playoff hunt is the Atlanta Falcons vs. the Chicago Bears. Both teams are still alive, due to their rushing attacks and defenses, but the question will be, who can play old-school football the best?

Colt Game Recap

I wasn't able to get a recap of the win last week, so I figured I'd throw a quick one in here, Atlanta had their most dominant win of the season against a Colts team that was surging. The offense had its best performance of the year, Kyle Pitts was involved and scored, Bijan Robinson was embarrassing defenders, and Tyler Allgeier also ran for a touchdown. Taylor Heinicke also looked good, his biggest stat of the day was the zero turnovers, but my biggest takeaway was he was throwing the ball for short-yardage and letting his playmakers make plays in space.

The defense was also spectacular, Jessie Bates recorded his sixth interception of the year, which provides more to his case of being an All-Pro and a possible DPOY of the year case. The pass rush made a huge statement, sacking Garnder Minshew a grand total of six times. In all, the defense only allowed 262 total yards to the Colts compared to Atlanta's 406 total yards and allowed just 10 points, a dominant performance.

(Have to Give Koo Some Love)

Chicago Bears Scout

Moving to the Falcons opponent this week, Da Bears. The Bears are coming into this game still in the playoff hunt as the 12th seed in the NFC. Now, it's probably a long shot for Chicago as they can only get in by wild card since the Lions clinched the NFC North last week. But, we've seen it before, anything can happen. The Bears come in with the 21st offense in points and 20th in yards, but it's the second-ranked rushing attack (in yards) that has kept the Bears' offense afloat. Chicago averages 142.1 yards per game on the ground. Justin Fields has been at the helm at the Bears offense for the last five weeks after missing weeks 7-10 with an injury. In his last five games, Fields has thrown for 945 yards, four touchdowns, and three interceptions, with a 60% completion percentage. Fields has also run for a pair of touchdowns but has lost 2-of-5 fumbles. With Field's future being murky in Chicago, due to the Bears projected to have the number one overall pick (thanks, Carolina), it will be interesting to see what kind of Fields Atlanta will face. The one that threw for four touchdowns in back-to-back weeks, or the one that turnovers the ball.

Now on to the Bear's defense, something Chicago has usually been known for. Chicago currently ranks 21st in points against and 12th in yards. What's going to be challenging for the Falcons is that the Bears have the best run defense in the league, they give up an average of 80.7 rushing yards a game. However, some good news is the Bears pass defense is ranked 25th in yards, and the Bears have given up 28 touchdown passes, which is third most in the league. But the Bears have the second-most interceptions in the league at 18. I think we see a similar approach that Atlanta had against Tampa Bay a few weeks ago, moving the ball through the air. There are a lot of playmakers on this Bear's defense that can get to the quarterback, Montez Sweat and Justin Jones are at the top in sacks on the team, along with, T.J Edwards who leads the team in tackles. Tremaine Edmunds has also been very good for the Bears, with 98 total tackles and four interceptions, including a pick-six, all as a linebacker. I'd like to see Bijan involved in the passing game, as the Bears gave up 67 receiving yards and a touchdown to Arizona's James Conner last week.

Game Info

Date: December 31st, 2023

Start Time: 1pmET/11amPT

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Stadium: Solider Field

TV Info: CBS

Uniform Info:

Key Players- Offense

Drake London- Falcons WR

As I stated above, I think we'll see a lot of passing from Atlanta due to the Bears' run defense. We saw something similar back in week 14 in the loss against the Bucs where they passed the ball 40 times against a strong run defense the Bucs have. So, with the run game possibly being hindered, why not let your top receiver see a heavy dose of targets? London is now 58 yards away from topping his rookie receiving yard total. However, London has only seen seven targets in the last two weeks, but the last time he saw double-digit targets was against the Bucs, where he put up 172 yards on 10 catches.

D.J. Moore- Bears WR

While I think the Bears will look to run the ball against Atlanta's 15th-ranked rush defense, also the fact the Bears are generally a running team. Their passing game runs through a guy with a history vs. the Falcons, D.J. Moore. Moore spent his first five seasons with the Panthers before getting traded to the Bears. In 10 games against Atlanta, Moore has posted 718 yards and three touchdowns. Currently, Moore has 1,141 yards (11th in the NFL), 83 receptions, and seven touchdowns. Terrell vs. Moore will be a fun matchup on Sunday.

Key Players- Defense

Zach Harrison- Falcons DE

Here is a name you may not have heard much about until the last couple of weeks, but Zach Harrison has three sacks in two weeks, and two of those sacks came last week against the Colts. Harrison was the Falcons' third-round pick in the 2023 NFL draft out of Ohio St. The defensive rookie currently sits behind Calais Campbell on the depth chart, but has seen an increase of work throughout the season. Let's see if the rookie can keep his sack streak alive against the Bears. Harrison is also a part of a D-line that has seen some massive improvements from a season ago.

Jaylon Johnson- Bears CB

If the Falcons decide to air it out on Sunday, they'll have to get through the Bear's best defensive back Jaylon Johnson. Johnson has had a career year so far, Johsnon has four interceptions (one pick-six) and 10 PBUs. Johnson is also only allowing 8.7 yards per completion, only allowing a 54.4% completion percentage, and has only allowed two touchdowns in coverage, all career-bests.

Betting Odds

Points Spread: ATL +3 (-120) | CHI -3 (-102)

Moneyline: ATL (+132) |CHI (-156)

Over/Under: O 37.5 (-115) | U 37.5 (-105)

Lines via FanDuel as of Friday, December 29th

So, the Bears are a three-point favorite for Sunday, and I think that's justified. Yes, Atlanta is coming off their best game, including Arthur Smith coming off his best-called game. The offense sits at 24th in points and 16th in yards, Atlanta scored a season-high 29 against the Colts last week. Atlanta's rushing attack is eight in yards, but the Bears' run defense is no joke, and we've seen how Atlanta did against the Bucs' run defense, not too good. Taylor Heinicke will have to be efficient in this game, feed the ball to the playmakers, and let them work in space for the offense to be successful. Again, I'd like to see the RBs featured in the passing game after what James Conner did to them last week. Bijan had 50 receiving yards on seven catches last week. Maybe we'll see Bijan have a career day in the receiving category.

So, I also think this will be a low-scoring affair between the two defenses. Atlanta's defense is currently sixth in points and ninth in yards. What could hurt the Falcons is the ground game the Bears have. The Dirty Birds will have to contain Fields in the pocket and stop Khalil Herbert and D'onta

A foreman from any big runs. But again, I don't think the offense will be able to hold their end of the bargain. I see a similar score to the Falcons win over the Jets, but the Bears will eventually run away with this one. Sorry Falcons fans, this might be the final blow to Falcons playoff hopes.

Prediction: CHI-17, ATL-13

(TDT's Jack Gaffney with my tweet of the week)

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