The New Orleans Saints play their third straight NFC North opponent, and fourth within their first 7 games, when they host the Chicago Bears this Sunday.
This will be the 30th meeting between the two franchises, including postseason, with Chicago holding a 15-14 edge in the series. New Orleans holds a 6-5 series lead of games played at home, including 5-3 in games played in the Superdome. The first game between the two took place on December 1st, 1968 in Tulane Stadium. New Orleans held Chicago quarterback Jack Concannon to just 5 of 19 passing, but surrendered 194 yards rushing to Bears running backs Brian Piccalo and Ronnie Bull in a 23-17 loss. The Saints first victory over the Chicago, after three consecutive losses, took place on October 7th, 1973 in Tulane Stadium. New Orleans defeated the Bears, 21-16, on the strength of two touchdown runs from quarterback Archie Manning.
The Saints and Bears have faced off two times in the postseason, both games taking place in Chicago. The 1990 New Orleans team slipped into the playoffs with an 8-8 record, and came to Chicago's Soldier Field for a wild card round playoff game against the 11-5 NFC Central champion Bears on January 6, 1991. Despite a valiant defensive effort, the Saints offense managed just 2 field goals, 11 first downs, 193 total yards, and threw 3 interceptions in a 16-6 playoff loss.
The next time that New Orleans and the Bears met in the playoffs came on January 21st, 2007, also in Chicago, and was the first ever NFC Championship appearance for the Saints. New Orleans had finished the 2006 regular season with a 10-6 record, earning the number two seed in the NFC. The Bears were the top seed, with a record of 13-3, and possessed one of the top defenses in the league. Quarterback Drew Brees passed for 354 yards, and Reggie Bush added 132 yards receiving and a spectacular 88 yard touchdown on a snowy Illinois afternoon, giving Saints fans visions of a trip to Super Bowl XLI when New Orleans closed the score to 16-14 early in the 3rd quarter. The Saints could not overcome 4 turnovers however, as Chicago pulled away in the second half on their way to a 39-14 victory.
Saints coach Sean Payton attended Naperville Central high school, a suburb of Chicago, and played college ball at Eastern Illinois University. His brief NFL experience was as quarterback for the Chicago Bears in 1987, playing 3 games as a replacement player during a player strike that season. His last NFL game was against the Saints on October 18th, 1987 in Chicago, where Payton was 3-11 for 28 yards, throwing an interception and getting sacked twice in a 19-17 New Orleans victory. He has faced the Bears a total of six times as head coach, including that playoff showdown in 2007, and 5 of those six meetings have been in Chicago. The Saints record in those games is 3-3, but winning the last three games.
Bears general manager Ryan Pace is quite familiar with the Saints, having served in the New Orleans personnel department from 2001-2014. He has acquired a number of former Saint players over his three years with Chicago, including current Bears Akiem Hicks, playing at an All-Pro level at defensive end, as well as defensive lineman John Jenkins and kicker Conner Barth.
A surging Saints defense will be facing off against a Chicago offense that is ranked near the bottom of the league in a number of categories. The Saints are nearing the middle of the pack in a number of defensive statistics, but have turned into an aggressive, mistake forcing group that's improving weekly. They will need to control a talented pair of Bears running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, but look to have a significant advantage against Chicago's passing attack, and rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Offensively, New Orleans has seemed slightly less proficient than what we've come to expect from a Sean Payton/Drew Brees led team, but still rank in the top 5 in points, total yards, and passing yards while 10th in rushing. New Orleans has been missing a number of offensive pieces this season due to injury, but looks like it's beginning to reach it's full potential. They must be proficient against a Bears defense that has 21 sacks, scored 3 touchdowns, and ranks near the top 10 in both run and pass defense.
PREDICTION: Saints 24, Bears 10
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