When the Chicago Bears are at their best — and their worst has been on display for several years — defense is their identity. So Khalil Mack makes sense as the face of the franchise.
The Bears paid a steep price for Mack, and this is his type of game. On a cold Sunday night on the Chicago lakefront, Mack will try to tackle the NFL’s rushing leader and one of the league’s top offenses in a high-stakes game in the NFC.
Mack has helped turned cynics into believers in the Bears, who rank No. 4 in scoring defense (20.1). Sean McVay, on the other hand, is the architect of the Los Angeles Rams’ No. 2-ranked scoring offense (34.9). The stage is set for a power struggle on both sides of the ball. It’s McVay’s offense versus the Mack-led defense, and Chicago coach Matt Nagy’s offense versus Wade Phillips’ defense.
McVay’s offense defines balance with Jared Goff (27 touchdown passes) continuing to develop as a franchise quarterback while Todd Gurley leads the league in rushing with 1,175 yards and 15 TDs. The Goff critics are quiet, thanks to McVay.
Nagy is working to develop Mitchell Trubisky in the same way. The Trubisky critics are waiting to see if the Bears’ second-year quarterback implodes under pressure in December. Trubisky is set to return and he’ll see Aaron Donald, the NFL sacks leader with 16.5, in his face.
With temperatures in the 20s — only light winds and no snow is in the forecast — the Rams will rely heavily on Gurley, and Trubisky’s ability to make plays on the run will be a key.
The Bears (8-4) lead the NFC North and need to bounce back from a bad loss to the Giants. The Rams (11-1) are trying to hold off the Saints in the chase for home-field advantage in the NFC. Early money showed on the ‘dog, dropping the line to 3 after the Rams opened -4. The Rams are 2-5-1 against the spread since the beginning of October, and a December game in Chicago is out of their comfort zone. I’ll take the points with the Bears.
Four more guesses for Week 14 (home team in CAPS):
* Colts (plus-4½) over TEXANS:
As gamblers know, aggressive decisions sometimes have costly consequences. Frank Reich’s gamble backfired on Sept. 30 in Indianapolis and triggered Houston’s nine-game win streak. Hopefully, it’s payback time. Expect a strong performance from Andrew Luck a week after the Colts’ embarrassing shutout in Jacksonville.
* BROWNS (plus-1) over Panthers:
Cam Newton has a shoulder injury, coach Ron Rivera suffers from brain cramps and Carolina has lost four in a row. Off his worst game in Houston, Browns rookie Baker Mayfield should bounce back. Cleveland is 3-1 ATS as a home ‘dog.
* 49ERS (plus-3½) over Broncos:
Injuries are piling up on the Broncos, who lost wideout Emmanuel Sanders and cornerback Chris Harris. Just when it appeared the season was a lost cause, Denver has won and covered three straight. Assuming coach Kyle Shanahan is not tanking and still trying to win, this should be a good spot for San Francisco.
* Eagles (plus-3½) over COWBOYS:
This is make-or-break time for Philadelphia. The NFC East race is hitting the stretch run and Dallas (7-5) would pull away with a win here. The Eagles (6-6) stayed alive by beating Washington on Monday, when Carson Wentz passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys are riding a four-game win streak that started with a 27-20 upset of Philadelphia, a 7½-point favorite, on Nov. 11. Dak Prescott passed for 270 yards and Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 151 in the turning point of the season. The Eagles’ success against a crippled Redskins crew is not necessarily a buy sign. However, the Cowboys are fat and happy and set up for disappointment. This seems like the type of game the Cowboys could lose because that’s what Jason Garrett-coached teams typically do.
Last week: 1-3-1 against the spread