The last time they faced Jay Cutler in 2010, the Patriots got the better of him, with a 36-7 win. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The last time they faced Jay Cutler in 2010, the Patriots got the better of him, with a 36-7 win. (Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Here’s everything you need to know about Sunday’s contest between the Patriots and Bears:

Our three favorite matchups on the afternoon (other than the Darrelle Revis-Brandon Marshall showdown, which we detailed here):

1. Running back Matt Forte against the Patriots defense: Forte is the driving aspect to the Bears defense — no other back in the league presents himself as much of a dual threat than the 29-year-old, at least according to Vince Wilfork. Forte leads the league in receptions (52, to go along with 436 receiving yards), is second in the league in combined yards from scrimmage (884, trailing only Dallas’ DeMarco Murray, who has 1,072), and is tops on the team in rushing (111 carries, 448 yards, three touchdowns). Stopping (or at least minimizing) the impact of the 6-foot-1, 221-pound Forte figures to be the top priority for the New England defense. With their size and depth in the secondary — the deepest part of the defense after the injuries up front and at linebacker — the Patriots likely feel pretty good about their chances when it comes to slowing down the supersize tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. While tight end Martellus Bennett remains a different story (more on him in a second), their ability to slow down Forte will likely play sizable role on Sunday afternoon.

2. Tight end Rob Gronkowski against the Bears linebackers and safeties: The Bears have struggled to defend tight ends in the passing game all year long — according to Football Outsiders, they are 30th in the league against opposing tight ends at 29.7 percent, having yielded an average of 7.8 catches and 69.9 passing yards per game against tight ends. And with Gronk back to what appears to be full-on Gronk status (18 catches on 30 targets for 262 yards and a touchdown in his last three games), this sets up to be a winnable matchup for New England. Last week against the Dolphins, Chicago frequently gave free release to Charles Clay and Dion Sims, and then struggled to catch up — the Miami duo ended up with a combined six catches for 91 yards and a touchdown. If the Bears show the same sort of issues this week against Gronkowski and Tim Wright, the Patriots should make them pay.

3. Quarterback Jay Cutler against his instincts: Cutler against himself is really going to be one of the more fascinating battles of the afternoon. The Vandy product has some of the best arm strength in the league. At the same time, on a weekly basis, he manages to make at least one questionable decision. The quarterback tossed two interceptions in each of the team’s three previous losses heading into Sunday’s game against the Dolphins, and last week, he committed two more turnovers (an interception and a fumble) against Miami. According to ESPN, in each of the team’s four losses this season, Cutler’s turnovers have led to a total of 37 points for the opponent. That doesn’t bode well for Chicago, which is facing a New England team that enters this week’s action best in the league at plus-9, a stat that includes 14 takeaways (seven fumbles, seven interceptions).

4. Under the radar opponent who Patriots’ fans need to know: It’s easy to get lost in an offense with high-profile names like Marshall, Jeffery and Forte, but Martellus Bennett has really done a good job as a consistent pass-catching presence for the Bears. The occasionally quirky 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett — who answers to the nickname “Black Unicorn” — has 41 catches for 422 yards and four touchdowns over the first seven games of the season. He’€™s been limited by a hamstring issue as of late, but given the fact that the Patriots have had issues when it comes to defending even mediocre tight ends in the passing game, he’ll be one to watch come Sunday afternoon.

5. By the numbers: 1 – Only one running back has more than four catches in a game against the Patriots this season (Minnesota’s Matt Asiata, who finished with five), while only two backs have more than 20 receiving yards against New England’s defense this season (Asiata with 48 and Minnesota’s Rhett Ellison, who had one catch for 24 yards in the same game). On the other side of the equation, Forte, who leads the league leader in receptions with 52, has caught at least five passes in every game this season and gone over 60 yards receiving four times. As they say, something has got to give on Sunday. (One more: Tom Brady and the Patriots have a 12-game winning streak against the NFC North — the only game Brady lost to an NFC North team was when he and the Patriots lost to the Packers at Gillette on Oct. 13, 2002 by a 28-10 margin.)

6. Quote of note: “The Gronk? I watch him all the time. He’s like the Terminator of tight ends. I enjoy watching him play. He’s just…like I say, he’s like the Terminator. … You look at Arnold Schwarzenegger, the way he moved in Terminators [he's] similar to Gronk. He’s a hell of a player. He does a lot of great things. It’ll be fun to talk to him before the game. He’s a great guy.” — Bennett on whether or not he watches Gronkowski

7. Patriots fans should be worried about… a consistent Cutler. A quarterback with the unique ability to keep both teams in the game at the same time, there’s a question as to what Cutler the Patriots will see Sunday. Will it be the steady and consistent Cutler, the one who leans on a reliable option like Forte, doesn’t take too many chances and makes solid (if unspectacular) decisions at the line? That was the one who showed earlier this season against the Niners, and was rewarded with an upset win in San Francisco, a game where he tossed four touchdown passes and completed 68 percent of his passes in a 28-20 win over the defending NFC champs. That quarterback deserves to be mentioned among the best in the league. Or will be bad Cutler, the one who checks down out of runs and into deep passes, tries to fit throws into the tightest of windows and turns the ball over at a scary clip? That was the guy who showed up last week against the Dolphins. If it’s the former, it could be a long day for the Patriots. If it’s the latter, it’ll be bad news for the Bears.

8. Bears fans should be worried about… Brady getting enough time in the pocket when it comes to pass protection. Our own Ryan Hannable did an impressive breakdown of the time the quarterback had to throw the ball as of late, and the amount of time he had against the Jets opposed to what he had to work with earlier in the year is astounding. Not all of that is on the offensive line — there’s been a concerted effort to get the ball out quickly in an attempt to try and negate the opposing rush. But at the same time, the fact that Brady’s numbers have spiked dramatically over the last few weeks is at least due in some part to the work of the offensive line. If that grouping can continue to give Brady the time he needs — a good bet, since it appears that center Bryan Stork and guard Dan Connolly will be able to come back this week after missing time because of head injuries — it’ll go a long way toward determining whether to not the Patriots will win this game.

9. One more thing: When it comes to game-planning for Forte, there’s one other possibility: On more than a few occasions in the past, the Patriots have entered the game with the understanding that a exemplary back is going to get his yards on the ground, no matter what you do, and it’s simply more advantageous to yield those yards on the ground because it’s better than the alternative. In Super Bowl XXI, the Giants allowed Thurman Thomas to pile up the yardage because it kept Buffalo’s fast-break offense in a lower gear. The same was true for Super Bowl XXXVI when facing the likes of the Rams and Marshall Faulk. To an extent, it was the same philosophy the Patriots utilized against the Broncos in the regular-season matchup last year, a game where Denver had 48 carries for 280 yards. (In that same game, Denver’s Peyton Manning was 19-for-36 for 150 passing yards.) Just a thought, but maybe the Patriots believe that if Forte is running the ball, that’s another minute that Cutler isn’t throwing it to the likes of Marshall, Jeffery or Bennett. Ultimately, maybe it wasn’t a coincidence that the names Marshall Faulk and Thurman Thomas came up when talking about Forte this week. The same sort of game plan could be in store for the Tulane product.

10. Prediction:

Blog Author: 
Christopher Price
Hall of Famer Michael Irvin checks in with the Dale and Holley show and offers up some perspective on the Seahawks locker room situation, and whether the supposed discord amongst other players and quarterback Russell Wilson is part of the reason why the Seahawks have struggled on the field of late.

The Patriots will officially be without Chandler Jones on Sunday when they take on the Bears, as he is listed as out on the injury report with a hip injury. The injury is reportedly going to keep him sidelined for about a month.

The Patriots will officially be without Chandler Jones on Sunday when they take on the Bears, as he is listed as out on the injury report with a hip injury. The injury is reportedly going to keep him sidelined for about a month.

Shane Vereen popped up on the injury report for the first time this week on Friday as he missed practice with an illness. He is officially listed as questionable. With Stevan Ridley going down for the year two weeks ago against Buffalo, Vereen has taken over the No. 1 running back role, so his status is worth monitoring.

After missing last weeks game against the Jets due to concussions, offensive linemen Bryan Stork and Dan Connolly are listed as questionable, but it is promising the two practiced everyday this week, although on a limited basis.

Here is the complete injury report:

Out
DE Chandler Jones (hip, did not practice)

Questionable
OL Dan Connolly (concussion, limited participation)
DL Dominique Easley (shoulder/knee, limited participation)
DB Nate Ebner (finger, limited participation)
OL Cameron Fleming (finger, limited participation)
WR Matthew Slater (shoulder, limited participation)
OL Bryan Stork (concussion, limited participation)
RB Shane Vereen (illness, did not practice)

Probable
QB Tom Brady (ankle, full participation)
DB Brandon Browner (ankle, full participation)
LB Jamie Collins (thigh, full participation)
LB Dont’a Hightower (knee, full participation)
S Devin McCourty (rib, full participation)

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable

The Patriots have announced two signings to the practice squad as they have re-signed linebacker Ja’Gared Davis and signed rookie wide receiver Jonathan Krause.

Here is a portion of the press release from the team:

Davis, 24, was signed to the 53-man roster form the practice on Oct. 4 and played in three games before being released on Oct. 22. He did not record any statistics. The 6-foot, 238-pounder began the regular season on the practice squad after being released at the end of training camp. Davis spent the majority of his rookie season in 2013 on the Patriots’€™ practice squad, but did see action in one regular-season game and both postseason games after joining the 53-man roster. He was originally signed by Houston as a rookie free agent out of Southern Methodist on May 10, 2013, released by Houston on Aug. 27, 2013, and claimed off waivers and awarded to the Patriots on Aug. 28, 2013.

Krause, 22, was originally signed by Cleveland as a rookie free agent out of Vanderbilt on May 12, 2014. The 5-foot-11, 190-pounder, was released by Cleveland on Aug. 25, 2014. Krause had a career-year in 2013 for Vanderbilt, starting in 11 of 13 games and setting career highs with 42 receptions for 714 yards and three touchdowns. He finished his college career with 98 receptions for 1,197 yards and five touchdowns. Krause was also used as a punt returner in college, returning two punts for touchdowns as a junior in 2012.

Blog Author: 
Ryan Hannable
Devin McCourty discusses the dangerous Bears offense.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Friday to preview the Patriots-Bears game and discuss other NFL news. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Adam Schefter

Adam Schefter

ESPN’s Adam Schefter made his weekly appearance on Middays with MFB on Friday to preview the Patriots-Bears game and discuss other NFL news. To hear the interview, go to the MFB audio on demand page.

Darrelle Revis reportedly was sent home Tuesday after arriving late to practice. Coach Bill Belichick would not discuss the matter with the media, and it’s not known if Belichick plans to hold Revis out of the starting lineup Sunday against the Bears.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if he doesn’t start. That wouldn’t surprise me at all based on the way they’ve handled things in the past. I could see that happening,” Schefter said. “This is a game you obviously want him out there. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Santonio Holmes, Martellus Bennett — [the Bears are] loaded in the air, and they’re more formidable on the road.”

The Patriots are heading into a challenging stretch of six games against some strong competition, and they’ll be doing it without some key players who are out with injuries.

“Let’s be honest, the Patriots’ issues have compounded a little,” Schefter said. “You lose [Jerod] Mayo, you lose Chandler Jones, Revis is late, whatever that means, we don’t know. You’ve got all these issues out there. Now you’ve got really, arguably, the toughest teams in the NFL all on deck. You could make an argument that the Broncos, Colts, Packers and Chargers are four of the top five teams in the NFL right now.”

Looking at league news, reports out of Seattle indicate there are some issues in the Seahawks locker room, with quarterback Russell Wilson apparently viewed as “not black enough” for some teammates’ liking.

“A locker room is a melting pot — different races, different backgrounds, different ideologies, different everything,” Schefter said. “Russell Wilson seems to, by all accounts, lead a very clean existence. That doesn’t match up with everybody in that locker room. So, so what? So what? …

“I look at it this way: Last weekend Russell Wilson became the first quarterback in NFL history that threw for over 300 yards and ran for over a hundred yards in one game. Last season, in his second season, he led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl title. And, oh, by the way, we don’t even talk about the fact that a black quarterback won the Super Bowl. I thought we moved past that. And now, to hear that, it sounds so ‘street’ to me. Like, just so immature. That’s how it sounds to me.

“And I will say this, I’m sure there are some people in that locker room — I know this — that have some issues with Russell Wilson — that I know. So what? So what? … They have some questions about his character — not lack of, but just the way he handles himself. You know what it is? The teacher’s pet, goody-goody, ‘Go ‘hawks’ kind of thing.”

Following are more highlights from the conversation. For more Patriots news, visit the team page at weei.com/patriots.

On Peyton Manning and the Broncos: “I think a few things are obvious when you watch the Broncos. No. 1, I think Emmanuel Sanders gives them a lot more juice than Eric Decker did. He’s just quicker, shiftier, more elusive. Eric Decker had some issues with drops last year that Sanders has not had. They’re more potent at the receiver position. I think Ronnie Hillman has also brought an element of quickness and speed to the run game that Montee Ball didn’t. So the running game has gotten back a little bit to where it was last year when Knowshon Moreno was there. So I think the run game is operating at a high level.

“And I think the big difference in this team right now is the defense. Aqib Talib, who we know well, has been very good there. DeMarcus Ware has been very good there. Von Miller is back to being Von Miller. Overall it’s a very formidable defense, particularly put into the situation that it often is in, with the offense playing as well as it is.

“So, to me, this Denver team is better than the one that went to the Super Bowl last year. It’s better. It doesn’t mean it goes to the Super Bowl again, it doesn’t mean it wins the Super Bowl this time. Just, this is a more impressive Broncos team than the one that got to the Super Bowl last year.”

On if the Patriots might make any more trades to bolster their defense: “They’re going to go and they’re going to explore to see if there are more Akeem Ayers and Isaac Sopoagas out there, teams willing to move. I could see that happening, some defensive guy that’s not a household name finding their way to New England.”

Blog Author: 
Jerry Spar
Adam Schefter breaks down the Patriots and Darrelle Revis, Russel Wilson and the Seahawks, and Jay Cutler and the Bears
Akeem Ayers has nine career sacks with the Titans. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Akeem Ayers has nine career sacks with the Titans. (Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots are in pretty dire straits when it comes to depth at linebacker.

With the loss of Jerod Mayo for the season to a torn patellar tendon and light depth in terms of proven performers at the beginning of the season, the Patriots want to make sure they aren’t caught short at linebacker.

Right now, the Patriots go into Sunday with a group that includes Rob Ninkovich, Dont’a Hightower, Jamie Collins, Deontae Skinner and Chris White. And maybe Akeem Ayers. The linebacker coming off a pair of patellar knee surgeries 10 months ago was acquired this week from Tennessee.

But Bill Belichick isn’t about to put a player on the field cold without having some idea of what he’s doing. Will the outside linebacker known for his pass rushing skills be ready for the Bears this weekend?

“Well, the only thing we can evaluate until he plays is practice,” Belichick said Friday morning before the fourth and final practice of the week. “Between the walkthroughs and maybe the meetings to a degree but more importantly practice then that’€™s what we have to try to evaluate. Certainly it’€™s a small window. It’€™s a brief snapshot relative to what we’€™ve seen other players do, but it is what it is. Akeem is a guy that’€™s played, he had three years of a lot of playing time so it’€™s not like he’€™s never played before.

“But he hasn’€™t played in this system. It’€™s a question of how comfortable he is, we are with that and once you put him in the game then evaluating how the game, how that part of it goes. Like the same conversation we would have had a month ago with let’€™s say Casey Walker. You practice them. Now Casey was on the [Carolina] practice squad for a couple weeks so it was a little bit different but similar ‘€“ a new guy coming in, learning the system, seeing some things that you feel positive about in practice then being able to feel like mentally the player is ready to execute the assignments and the game then put them in the game and evaluate that.

As Belichick continued, you got the sense that he’s more willing to take a chance to let Ayers learn on the fly, if only because of the position the Patriots are in.

“Of course it’€™s not going to be perfect, but it’€™s going to get some kind of game evaluation,” Belichick said. “Again, similar but different in the case of [Brandon] Browner and [Brian] Tyms because those guys were here all camp and we saw them in games and in a lot more practices but I think Casey Walker is another good example of a similar situation to Akeem. We’€™ll just have to see how ready we feel like he is for game action this week.

“Whether that’€™s this week, next week or whenever it is, then evaluate how he does when he gets that opportunity in game situations. But that’€™s all based on practice and again to a degree walkthroughs and meetings because you can’€™t get a sense of how well prepared a player is in that setting. Practice is in a way a better evaluation, there are just fewer opportunities. You only have, call it 30-35 plays defensively that you’€™re running so whatever fractional number of plays he’€™s in there for, that’€™s part of the evaluation. I’€™d say you have to supplement that with some other things.”

Will Ayers play? Tune in Sunday to find out for sure.

Blog Author: 
Mike Petraglia