Although in most games the quarterbacks are front and center, the Carolina Panthers' battle vs. Chicago could be an exception.
Bear running back Matt Forte and Panther wide receiver Steve Smith have often dominated this series in recent years, so watch out for No.22 and No.89 when the two teams play Sunday.
Forte rushed for a staggering 205 yards in the Bears' 34-29 victory in 2011, second all-time in yardage allowed by Carolina. He also ran for 166 yards in 2010 vs. the Panthers, which gives him two of the top 10 rushing games against Carolina ever.
But Smith has been even better, especially at Soldier Field. Three of the top 10 Panther receiving performances ever have been put up by Smith in Chicago -- 218 in the playoff win after the 2005 season (No.1), as well as 181 last year vs. the Bears and 169 in the 2005 regular season.
-- The Bears will undoubtedly try to put Charles "Peanut" Tillman on Smith in many situations. Tillman was instrumental in shutting down Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the Bears' 13-7 win Monday night. Megatron was targeted 11 times but had only three catches for 34 yards Monday. Tillman is also excellent at stripping the ball -- since 2003, he is first among NFL defensive backs with 32 forced fumbles.
-- If history holds, former Panther Julius Peppers will make exactly one big play against Carolina, and otherwise you won't notice him much. Peppers had an interception vs. Carolina in 2010 and a field-goal block in 2011 (both Chicago wins).
-- Devin Hester doesn't have a return of 40 yards on either a kickoff or a punt all season. But if I were the Panthers, I'd still avoid kicking to him after last year. His 69-yard punt return for a TD was a dagger.
-- The two current NFL quarterbacks most criticized over the years for their sideline demeanor are both playing in this game. The criticism has subsided for Chicago's Jay Cutler at the moment, though, since Chicago is 5-1.
-- Watch to see how many passes Cam Newton completes to his tight ends and running backs against the Bears. The Panthers have been emphasizing to Newton that he needs to take the sure seven-yard gain more often instead of trying for the 25-yard rocket downfield and starting to run when that's not there. Against a Bears defense that is No.1 in the NFL in scoring defense and takeaways, this is especially important.
"When shots are called, when plays are given and when plays break down," Newton said, "instead of me running it I have to have faith in my offense and just check the ball down to a tight end or running back and know they are getting paid just like I am."
-- My game-by-game prediction record for the Panthers has been horrible this season (2-4). I am going to try to fix that by not picking them to win again for awhile. Bears 27, Panthers 14.
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