Overview: You never really know what to expect in season openers. These teams were playoff teams last year, albeit Chicago with a mediocre 8-8 mark. Chicago Bears head coach Matt Nagy's job depends on how his team performs this season.
Both teams feature new quarterbacks in this game. The Rams gave up a fortune in talent and draft choices to get former Lion's signal-caller Matt Stafford. No one doubts Stafford's arm talent, but he's never won anything worth mentioning in his NFL career. Was that because stuck in Detroit, the Siberia of the NFL? Or is he not a winner? We may find out in 2021.
The Bears, meanwhile, turn to NFL journeyman Andy Dalton. Dalton is "just a guy, let us be straight" He won't kill you with rookie mistakes, but he won't carry a team on his back either. He's keeping the seat warm for Bear's first-round pick Justin Fields, from Ohio State University. We may or may not see Fields take some snaps in this game, But Nagy insists that Dalton is his starter. The Rams have reportedly been preparing for both players in their defensive scheming for this game.
Rams Defense vs. Bears Offense: One thing many folks will be watching for in this game is a potential marquee matchup between Rams corner Jalen Ramsey and Bears' wideout Allen Robinson, who is easily Chicago's biggest offensive threat. Ramsey regularly battled DK Metcalf, DeAndre Hopkins, Davante Adams, and Terry McLaurin last season. While he may not have been perfect in those matchups, he won more often than he lost. Robinson is an excellent receiver, but Ramsey puts the "shut down" in the 'shut down corner." We like his chances of at least containing Robinson.
The other big matchup, of course, features Rams All-World defensive lineman Aaron Donald against Bears interior lineman Cody Whitehair and James Daniels. The Bears O-line widely regarded as the team's weakest link on offense. They will likely do what everybody does, go all out to contain Donald. Whether they are successful will have a lot to do with the outcome of this game.
The Rams got some good news on the injury front that defensive lineman A'Shawn Robinson will likely play. Robinson, a mountain of a man, will be partially counted on to replace the departed Micheal Brockers in the Rams defensive front. He's reportedly shed a few pounds to improve his pass-rush skills.
This game will also be a reunion, as Rams linebacker Leonard Floyd faces his old team. Floyd considered a bust when he left Chicago, a former first-round pick from Georgia who underachieved in his stint with the Bears. But he revived his career last year with the Rams, notching 10.5 sacks in route to a fat new contract in the offseason. We would think he might have a little extra motivation to play well in this game.
The Bears rushing attack runs through David Montgomery, a well-above-average NFL back with some game-breaking potential. The Rams linebackers, especially the inside backers, have to do their job on Sunday night. If there is a weakness in this defense, they may be it.
The Rams defense is lead by defensive coordinator Raheem Morris, Morris is a former head coach who is very well thought of around the league, but he has big shoes to fill in replacing Brandon Staley. The latter coached the league's top-rated defense in L.A. last season. The Rams likewise will have to replace Safety John Johnson, a long-time stalwart in the secondary who played at a Pro-Bowl level. It won't be easy, but the Rams still have many talents on defense.
Rams Offense vs. Bears Defense: Even though Nagy brought a reputation as an offensive genius to the Bears when he came to Chicago from Kansas City a few years back, this team's strength has been chiefly on this side of the ball. With a front seven that includes Khalil Mack, Akiem Hicks, Roquan Smith, and Bilal Nichols, these guys can wreck a game plan..and an offense.
We are a little concerned about the Rams going with Brian Allen at the center. He wasn't terrific in 2019 when he last started. Hopefully, he's stepped up his game since then. Bears tackle Akiem Hicks may be looking forward to seeing Allen across the line. Let's hope Hicks is in for a disappointing night. The ears' defensive tackle battle is battling a knee injury, and they may try to compensate by having Hicks try to take advantage of Allen in this game.
Khalil Mack is another game-wrecker, especially as a pass-rusher. He might not entirely be Aaron Donald, but he's not far behind A.D., and that is saying something. Rams offensive tackle Rob Havenstein needs to hold his own against Mack at least. The Rams think they can take advantage of a questionable Bears secondary, but if Matthew Stafford is flat on his back all night, that won't happen. The Rams held Mack to a sack and a forced fumble last year in a Los Angeles win. Those may not be superior numbers from Ram's point of view, but Mack can do much more damage if Havenstein doesn't bring his A-game.
The Bear's secondary is the relative weak link here. One reason the Rams added Stafford and DeSean Jackson and rookie Tutu Atwell, the speedster from Louisville, was to try to open up a deep passing game that was lackluster last season. Expect them to take their shots down the field. Of course, veterans Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp are already excellent receivers, so if the Rams can keep Stafford upright, they could score some points.
The Rams got a tough break when they lost running back Cam Akers in the preseason. Darrel Henderson and Sony Michel expected to carry the bulk of the load. Bears linebacker Roquon Smith is a significant force in stopping the run and covering receivers out of the backfield. Smith vs. Henderson/Michel is another crucial matchup.
It's hard to say precisely how the new pieces on this Rams offense will come together in week 1, and the Bears have some serious defensive talent. We're going to check the box for Los Angeles, but this should be an exciting matchup. If the Bears can pressure Stafford and contain the running game, they absolutely can win this game.
Edge: Rams (not by much)
Special Teams: The honest answer in week one of 2021 is who knows? The Rams seemed to find their groove last season in the kicking game when they signed Matt Gay, and punter Johnny Hekker returns despite being out-performed in the preseason by Cory Bojorquez, subsequently traded to the Green Bay Packers. But Hekker is still an excellent punter, and as a former high-school quarterback, he adds the dimension of a fake punt to the arsenal for the Rams.
Los Angeles just wasn't excellent in kickoff and punt coverage or return game last season. They brought in 33-year veteran Joe DeCamillis to run the special teams this year. Let's hope he can step up the play from last season when special team's units were a problem after mostly being a team strength in previous years.
The Bear's special teams aren't necessarily a team strength either. They have a history of missing big kicks in crucial games, going back to a missed field goal that cost them a playoff game against the Eagles a few years ago. Cairo Santos is the current placekicker and considered solid, if not extraordinary. Pat O'Donnell handles the punting choirs, and the Rams will see a familiar face returning punts in former Ram Nsimba Webster. The Bears are missing Tarik Cohen on the return game, who is injured. Cohen is an excellent player, so his loss hurts.
There are too many variables here to pick a clear favorite until we see some regular-season action from both squads, so we'll rate this as a toss-up for now.
Coaching: Matt Nagy had a reputation as an offensive genius when he was the Chiefs, offensive coordinator. We haven't seen that in Chicago. Then again, going from Patrick Mahomes to (former Bears quarterback), Mitch Trubisky might have something to do with that.
Sean McVay's reputation as an offensive genius likewise may have taken something of a hit last season when the Rams offense was not very good. Will the change at quarterback and the influx of speed at wide-receiver change things? We don't know. But we think the Rams have the overall advantage here.
Final Prediction: The Rams are considered a Super Bowl contender, while the Bears generally are not. But this is not an easy matchup by any means. The Bears upset Los Angeles's last Super Bowl team in 2018, and they are capable of doing so again, especially if they can generate some takeaways on defense. Season openers are always a little dicey. You don't know.
But we'll take the Rams
Rams 27, Bears 20