Besides being a potential playoff preview, this game is big for both teams. While the Rams have clinched their division, they have just a one-game cushion over the New Orleans Saints for home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. That is a big deal because the Saints holds the tiebreaker by a win over the Rams. The Saints very well may not lose again, and while the Rams are probably capable of pulling off a road win in New Orleans, that is a challenge they would rather not face. The Chicago Bears, meanwhile, holds a one-and-half game lead over the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC North, and needs a signature win over a real contender to escape the, ''They have not beaten anybody good" label. A victory over the Rams would do that. This game also features a battle between the two top defensive players in the NFL, Los Angeles Rams Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack of the Bears. While they obviously won't face each other head-to-head, bet that the two wants to outplay the other in this game.
Rams Offense vs. Bears Defense
This matchup features two of the marquee units in the NFL right now, and you will not find a better unit battle in this 2018 NFL season. The Bears statistically have the third-rated defense in the NFL (fifth in scoring defense) and features the only player at this point rivaled Aaron Donald for the title of a best defensive player in Khalil Mack. One of the highlights of this game will be Mack versus Rams All-Pro left tackle Andrew Whitworth. Mack is so good that a few years ago, as a member of the Raiders, he was named to the All-Pro team at TWO positions, defensive end, and outside linebacker, in the same season. That has never happened before or since. Not that Mack is a one-person show on this defense, its loaded at all three levels. Fellow Bears Linebacker Roquan Smith was the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, winner of the Butkus Award at the University of Georgia as the best college linebacker in the country. The Bears defense as a unit leads the NFL in takeaways, averaging 2.5 per game. Easily this will be the best defense the Rams will face this season.
The Rams offense, meanwhile, is second in both yardage and points per game and has yet to be completely shut down this season. It all starts with running back Todd Gurley, a legitimate NFL MVP candidate who can beat anyone as both as a runner and a receiver. One of the best ways to shut down the vaunted Bears pass-rush would be with an effective running game, and Gurley is currently the NFL rushing leader. The Rams run much play-action when the ground game is working, and as good as the Bears defense is, they do not want to give Jared Goff and the Rams receivers time to connect on big plays in the passing game. For the first time this season the Rams will be without backup running back Malcolm Brown, who is out for the year with a shoulder injury. While Brown's numbers were not exceptional, he was a tough inside runner who fought for the last yard and always did what needed of him. We think rookie John Kelly out of the University of Tennessee is a more than capable replacement for Brown, but seeing the first regular-season action against the Chicago Bears defense is not exactly a case of easing into the league. Former USC star Justin Davis may also see some snaps. While he is a dynamic runner, he also tends to be a little fumble-prone, a weakness that doesn't bode well for a matchup against a defense that excels at taking the ball away. As a Rams fan and having faith in head coach Sean McVay so that we will check this box for the Rams, but really, this is very close.
Edge: Rams (very slightly)
Rams Defense vs. Bears Offense
The Rams defense has been a question mark all season, and they need to step up in this game. For all of the talk about the Bears defense, the offense is fifth in the NFL, and it looks like starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky will play after missing the last couple of games with an injury. While Trubisky may not be grabbing the headlines that some the other NFL ''young gun" quarterbacks are, he is a terrific player. He boasts a quarterback rating of 97.7, with 20 touchdowns and nine interceptions, and he is something of a ''dual threat" as well, with 363 yards rushing. One of his main weapons is Tarik Cohen, a speedster who lines up both as a running back and a wide receiver. While the Bears offense tends to be more of an old school "grinder" unit as a whole, Cohen is the primary playmaker. Bears head coach Matt Nagy was the Chiefs Offensive Coordinator before becoming the Bears head coach this season. Nagy is a bit of a Sean McVay clone, a young whiz-kid offensive mind who thinks outside of the box. While he does not have the weapons to work with that McVay does, he also faces a defense that many people think has badly under-achieved this season.
However, one player who has undoubtedly NOT underachieved is defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has been on an absolute tear. Offenses have tried double-teaming him about 73 percent of the time, the highest rate of any NFL defender. They have tried holding him, virtually treating him as a tackling dummy on occasion. None of that has worked. Donald comes into this game leading the league in sacks with 16.5 and with a real chance at the season sack record and maybe even the MVP Award. He also generates an inside pass rush, which is a problem for opposing quarterbacks, because unlike an edge rusher, they cannot avoid Donald by just stepping up into the pocket. The Bears probably need to contain Donald to win this game, and that is something no one else with the arguable exception of New Orleans has been able to do since early in the season.
Rams cornerback Aqib Talib is said to have fully recovered from an ankle injury which kept him out for most of the season, which is good news for the Rams defense. Fellow corner Marcus Peters, who was getting beaten with disturbing regularity earlier this year has been somewhat better lately as well, but there is still room for improvement. They are rated 18th in the league overall, and while that means they are not as bad as some of the critics would lead us to believe, it is not great either. Outside linebacker Dante Fowler, acquired in a trade with Jacksonville, has been playing well the last couple of games, and fellow outside linebacker Samson Ekubam had a monster game against Kansas City a couple of weeks ago. Having said all of that, this unit as a whole still needs to play better, starting on Sunday night.
One area where we feel one team has a sizable advantage in this game. Every week I rave about the Rams special teams, and almost every week they make us look like we know what we are explaining. Johnny Hekker is ''just a punter," but he may do more for the Rams defense than anyone not named Aaron Donald. He is an expert at coffin-corner kicks that leave opposing offenses starting inside their ten-yard line. Placekicker Greg Zuerlein is, in our opinion, the best placekicker in the NFL, a weapon on field goals in the 60-plus range. Punt returner JoJo Natson was brought in when return man Pharoh Cooper went down, and he has been so good that he has kept his job even with Cooper back and healthy. Cooper, meanwhile is returning kickoffs and doing it very well. Throw in special teams performers like Cory Littleton and Ramik Wilson, and we have the best special teams in the NFL
A possible x-factor in this game is the weather. Chicago at night in December is a long way from the sunny climate of southern California. Still, with temperatures expected in the 20s, we are not talking about the ''ice bowl" here either. We think the Rams are a little bit better than the Bears.