Sunday Night Football Preview: Can the Bears' Defense Slow the Chiefs' Passing Attack?
The Chicago Bears will attempt to play the role of spoiler as they host the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16 on Sunday Night Football. The Bears have already been eliminated from playoff contention, while the Chiefs have already clinched the AFC West. Kansas City does have incentive to play hard this week, however, as they can steal the 2 seed and a first-round bye if they win out and the New England Patriots lose one of their remaining two games.
We have some very interesting betting trends to analyze as bettors are hammering the Chiefs (-6.0), per our oddsFire tool. A whopping 93% of the bets and 94% of the money is on the Chiefs' side of the spread. Things get complicated when we look at the moneyline, though, as 65% of the bets are coming in on the KC (-260) while 61% of the money is on the Bears (+220). This implies that some bigger bets are taking Chicago to win outright. Even the over/under (44.5) has an interesting split, with 59% of the bets on the under but a whopping 89% of the money is siding with the under.
With money coming in from every angle on this Sunday Night matchup, let's look to our projections to see if we can find some clarity in the numbers.
Passing Game Preview
Kansas City enters Week 16 with the third-best passing offense in the league by our numbers, posting 0.27 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back. Despite battling an assortment of injuries this season, Patrick Mahomes has produced just one negative Passing NEP per drop back performance all year.
Last week against the 10th-ranked Denver Broncos' pass defense, Mahomes managed a masterful performance in which he threw for 340 yards and recorded 0.36 Passing NEP per drop back. Mahomes is the rare quarterback who can excel against top-notch competition, posting a mark of 0.34 Passing NEP per drop back in four games against top-10 pass defenses in 2019, throwing for seven touchdowns and two interceptions while being sacked just five times.
Travis Kelce has really become the focus of this passing game, leading the team in targets each of the last four outings. Of all tight ends with 50-plus targets on the season, Kelce ranks fifth with 0.75 Reception NEP per target. His 122 targets trail only Zach Ertz at the position, and Kelce is coming off of one of his finest games of the season in Denver last week (11 receptions on 13 targets for 142 yards).
Tyreek Hill hasn't surpassed 100 yards or 10 targets since Week 10 and has become the second option to Kelce. But Hill remains an efficient big-play threat, recording 0.97 Reception NEP per target this year, and he reached the end zone twice against the Broncos last week. Deep threat Mecole Hardman has been explosive when given the chance, as shown by a team-high clip of 1.22 Reception NEP per target on his 40 targets this year. The rest of KC's receiving options have been a bit lacking, with Demarcus Robinson and Sammy Watkins producing lackluster numbers, and the committee of running backs who have been shuffled in and out of the lineup have failed to make their mark as receivers.
Defensively, the Bears rank as the eighth-best pass defense, allowing 0.03 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. Prince Amukamara looks like a game-time decision with a hamstring injury, but the secondary is healthy otherwise. While the passing defense has been a bit up and down at times this year, they certainly can still perform like a top unit. Chicago held Aaron Rodgers to 16 completions on 33 attempts last week, and they would no doubt have an even better resume if they had an offense that held up their end of the bargain from time to time.
The Bears have given up some big performances to number-one options like Zach Ertz, Kenny Golladay, Davante Adams, and Michael Thomas, so while this is a tough defense, Mahomes should still be able to get the ball to Kelce and Hill.
Chicago rolls into Week 16 with the league's 24th-ranked passing offense, at 0.01 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back in 2019. Mitchell Trubisky had some positive momentum heading into last week until he took a step back against the Green Bay Packers, producing -0.13 Passing NEP per drop back and going for 334 passing yards on a massive 53 attempts. With very little running game to speak of, this passing offense has been leaned on heavily as of late. Trubisky's inconsistent play makes that game-plan a scary proposition from week to week.
Allen Robinson is the Bears' most used receiving option, and for good reason, as he leads the team with 0.79 Reception NEP per target on 129 targets. Anthony Miller has emerged as a solid number-two wideout in the passing game as Taylor Gabriel has missed time with a concussion. Miller's 0.71 Reception NEP per target is the second-best rate on the Bears, and with a lack of options beyond Miller and Robinson, these two have been relied upon heavily as of late.
Running back Tarik Cohen has produced an abysmal 0.16 Reception NEP per target on 90 targets, and no other healthy receiving option on Chicago has received 35 targets this year. Tight ends have been a relative non-factor, leaving Robinson and Miller to do the heavy lifting most weeks.
The Chiefs surprisingly possess the league's fifth-best pass D, allowing -0.03 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. Kansas City hasn't given up a positive Passing NEP performance since Week 9, bottling up Ryan Tannehill, Philip Rivers, Derek Carr, Tom Brady, and Drew Lock over the past five games. While that's not an elite stretch of quarterback competition, Trubisky certainly shouldn't inspire fear in this confident unit. Coming into the matchup relatively healthy, the Chiefs' defense should be able to hold their own in the passing game.
Rushing Game Preview
The KC offense has been a big disappointment on the ground this year, ranking as the league's 15th-best rushing offense with 0.01 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry through 15 weeks. Mahomes helps boost that number with 0.68 Rushing NEP per carry on 24 attempts, but the running backs have really struggled.
LeSean McCoy has rushed for 0.02 Rushing NEP per carry on 102 attempts, Darwin Thompson has a similar 0.01 Rushing NEP per carry on 29 attempts, and the recently signed Spencer Ware has produced 0.09 Rushing NEP per carry on just nine rushes. Damien Williams appears set to return from a rib injury, but his impact is felt more in the passing game, as his -0.16 Rushing NEP per carry on 83 attempts provides little hope for a boost in the ground game.
Overall, it is hard to expect much from this unit, so the offense should continue to rely on Mahomes and the passing game.
The Bears rank as the eighth-best run defense in the NFL, giving up -0.04 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. Akiem Hicks has been practicing but is questionable with an elbow injury, and he is a huge part of the Bears' run defense. However, against a struggling Chiefs rushing attack, the Bears should have no problem against this ground game with or without Hicks.
Things are even worse when the Bears attempt to establish the run, as Chicago owns the second-worst rushing offense in the league, at -0.11 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. Trubisky is the only healthy Bear with a positive Rushing NEP per carry (0.29 on 34 rushes). David Montgomery has -0.14 Rushing NEP per carry on 214 attempts, and Cohen has been even worse on his chances. Much like the Chiefs, there is very little reason to expect a turnaround this week, even in a nice matchup.
Kansas City is the 28th-ranked run defense this year, surrendering 0.09 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry. This is certainly the spot to attack the Chiefs, so the Bears will likely run often in this game. But with the Bears' struggles to run the ball and the potential to fall behind to Mahomes and Kansas City's explosive passing offense, Chicago will be unable to exploit this prime matchup if they can't keep the game close.
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