The Rams have a chance to clinch a playoff bye tonight, while the Bears are closing in on their first postseason berth since 2010. Here are some Morning Musings from Chicago, where the "feels like" temperature is forecasted to be 24 degrees at kickoff.
1) Mitchell Trubisky returns to the lineup after a two-game absence due to a shoulder injury. He's made a leap in year two similar to that of Jared Goff in 2017. What distinguishes Trubisky is his mobility. Only Cam Newton averages more yards rushing on a per-game basis, and the Bears signal caller leads all NFL quarterbacks in yards per rushing attempt. How much will he and the Bears be willing to leverage that threat coming off an injury, in sub-freezing conditions, against the Rams defense?
2) Running back Tarik Cohen is the Bears favorite, and most dynamic, weapon. They lean on him in all their most critical situations: third down, red zone, under duress, in crunch time. The Rams saw a preview of this last week in Detroit with Theo Riddick, a catch-first tailback who was targeted four times, but Cohen takes it to an elite level. He, James White of New England, and Christian McCaffrey of Carolina are the only three backs who lead their team in receiving this season.
3) It will be interesting to see who Aaron Donald chooses to torment this week. At left guard is the Bears second-round draft selection James Daniels, who is performing very well through his first six starts. At right guard, filling in for Kyle Long (on injured reserve with a foot), Bryan Witzmann has allowed two sacks in the last four games.
4) Beware of tight end Trey Burton. One of the authors of "Philly Special" in last year's Super Bowl, he joined Chicago in free agency. Burton's been quiet lately, with just five catches for 37 yards in the last three games. But he torched the Rams in the Coliseum in 2017, and Los Angeles just conceded 90 yards to Detroit tight end Levine Toilolo in Week 13.
5) Turnovers and takeaways are the key to any contest, so we rarely emphasize them in this space. However, Sunday Night Football spotlights the top two teams in the NFL when it comes to turnover margin and points off turnovers. In a game that is expected to come down to the final drive, neither team can afford to give any possessions away.
6) The Bears have the consensus No. 1 defense in the NFL, and this is not meant to undermine their 2018 accomplishments in any way. That said, here's a list of the quarterbacks they've defeated in their eight wins so far this season: Sam Bradford, Nathan Peterman, Sam Darnold, Jameis Winston/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Matt Stafford (twice), Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson. Three of those individuals aren't starting anymore; two aren't in the league. Jared Goff's offense presents the toughest test Chicago has faced, just as the Bears defense will be the most capable the Rams have contended with in 2018.
7) Looking forward to seeing Goff – and his offensive line – respond to the challenge tonight. The Bears have the lowest passer rating allowed of any defense in the NFL. 15 of their players have at least one sack this season. Goff was uncharacteristically erratic in Detroit (going 1-for-12 when under duress), and he was pressured a ton (40% of dropbacks per ESPN research, which was a season high). Plus, there's the cold. After completing just 50% of his throws for 201 yards in Denver, his bad-weather ability is being questioned. In all likelihood, this will be the last time Goff has to contend with sub-freezing temperatures this season. Nonetheless, it would be nice to put those doubts to rest.
8) Can the Bears score with the Rams? They are 8-0 when holding opponents to 22 points or fewer; 0-4 when opponents score 23 points or more. The Rams season-low point total is 23 (at DEN). Their next-lowest point total is 29 (vs GB).
Check out photos of the Rams taking on the Chicago Bears through the years .
9) The Bears have not allowed a 100-yard rusher in regulation this season (and only one over their past 30 regular season games). Todd Gurley will attempt to snap that streak on Sunday Night Football, without his trusted backup Malcolm Brown. However, don't be surprised if McVay decides to get Gurley his touches in the passing/screen game. For one, it might help to slow down the pass rush of Khalil Mack and company. And it could be more productive than running Gurley into a physical front that has allowed the second-fewest yards per attempt in the NFL.
10) The Chicago defense also does a fantastic job of tamping down explosive plays, where the Rams offense makes its living. The Bears have surrendered the fewest total plays of 20-plus yards in 2018. Will they be able to contain Gurley, Brandin Cooks, and Robert Woods, the most explosive trio in the NFL?
11) The Rams have not swept an NFC division since realignment in 2002. Having already gone 4-0 against the AFC West this year, tonight is an opportunity to sweep the NFC North. (The Rams can also go 6-0 against the NFC West with wins over Arizona and San Francisco later this month).