The Who Dat Nation is fired up and for good reason. After an 0-4 start in 2012, Sean Payton's return has helped lead the New Orleans Saints to an impressive 4-0 start in 2013. As one of five remaining undefeated teams in the NFL, the Saints travel to the dreaded Soldier Field looking to keep their unblemished record in tact against the 3-1 Chicago Bears.
While the Saints' offense is feeling stronger every day, the Saints defense have actually been better than expected. What a big surprise. There have been some offensive line struggles, but while it's hard for me to say I'm sorry that Bushrod is gone, he has performed well in Chicago. But as active head coach, Sean Payton is currently on an impressive twelve game regular season winning streak dating back to 2011 (last loss was that train wreck against the Rams almost 2 years ago). Clearly, you're the inspiration Sean.
Okay, enough hidden references to Peter Cetera and his remarkably cheesy love ballads. But you have to admit, dude had a nice run in the late 70s/early 80s.
The Chicago Bears defense has also had a nice run. During the Lovie Smith era, the Bears defense was in the top half of the NFL in points allowed in 8 of 9 seasons, ranking top five 4 times. While the Bears may still be a very opportunistic defense, the Bears of 2013 have shown that there are yards to be had and points to be scored. The Bears have yet to hold an opponent's offense to under 21 points, but have an impressive 14 turnovers in 4 games, which ranks 1st in the NFL. However, the Bears are 31st in net yards allowed per pass attempt and 17th in yards per rushing attempt.
So while the Bears still know how to create turnovers, there will be plenty of opportunities for Drew Brees and the Saints offense to move the football on Sunday. The Bears only have 6 sacks in 4 games (30th in the NFL) and are 26th in points allowed per game (28.5). Protecting the football will be by far the most important factor in determining the outcome of this game.
It certainly is surprising to say, but Chicago will face the best defense that they have faced all season. What the Saints have done with Rob Ryan's defense has been amazing. Fifth in points per game allowed (13.8), sixth in total yards per game allowed (304.5), seventh in turnovers (10), fourth in least first downs allowed (67), fifth in passing yards allowed per game (192.2), sixth in least net yards per pass attempt (5.4), and third in interceptions (7).
Jay Cutler and the Bears offense has also been a surprise under new coach Marc Trestman. With former Saints offensive line coach Aaron Kromer at offensive coordinator, the Bears are suddenly 3rd in the NFL in average points per game. After 4 games in 2012, Cutler was sacked 13 times. In 2013, Cutler has been sacked only 6 times, leading to a much more successful start on offense. Will the Saints' much improved defense be able to one up the much improved Bears' offense in what may well be the most important matchup to watch on Sunday?
Of all the factors to discuss in this game, the one that may be the biggest problem for the Saints is Soldier Field. Under Sean Payton, Soldier Field has been an unwelcoming venue for the high flying offense. The weekend calls for a high chance of showers and thunderstorms that will move an untimely cold front into the area. As of this writing, Sunday's forecast in Chicago calls for a high of 59 degrees with a 40% chance of rain and 15 mph winds. Considering the high on Friday is 85 degrees, you can see that Soldier Field is always unkind to the Saints. Sure, it's not December or January, like the last three home meetings have been for the Saints in Chicago, but how ironic is it that the field may be wet and mushy and that the temperature may drop almost 30 degrees between now and game time?
Will the Saints be able to overcome the curse of Soldier Field by once again playing solid defense and overcoming the possible elements on offense? (Remember, our worst offensive game so far this season was in the rain and on the road in Tampa). It's time for Payton to break the curse in an attempt to tie his longest regular season game win streak at 13 against a nemesis that may be for real in 2013.