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New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears: Series history and game prediction

Can a shorthanded Saints offense make enough plays to support their disruptive defense to win a key conference game against Da Bears?

Walter Payton Leaps Over Players to Score Touchdown

The New Orleans Saints blow into the Windy City this afternoon to take on the defending NFC North champion Chicago Bears. The Saints come into the game with a 5-1 record, winners of four straight despite the absence of injured quarterback Drew Brees. Chicago enters the game with a 3-2 record, and is coming off a bye week.

This is the 31st meeting all-time between the Bears and Saints, with each team having 15 victories over the other. The Bears do hold a 10-8 edge when they face off in Chicago though, including 2 postseason defeats of New Orleans at home. The first game between the two took place on December 1st, 1968 in the Saints home of Tulane Stadium. New Orleans forced 3 Chicago turnovers and held Bears quarterback Jack Concannon to just 5 of 19 passing. Chicago running back Brian Piccolo ran for 112 of his team's 213 rushing yards though in a 23-17 win. The Bears would win the first three times they'd play the Saints, including their first meeting in Chicago on October 10th 1971. New Orleans would turn the ball over four times that game, and Bears receiver Dick Gordon caught 8 passes for 139 yards and a score as Chicago rolled to a 35-14 victory.

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Saints would finally get a victory over the Bears during the 1973 season, beating them 21-16 at Tulane Stadium. New Orleans wouldn't notch a victory in Chicago however, until October 2, 1977. Bears great Walter Payton rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns, adding another score and 53 receiving yards that afternoon. The Saints countered with 4 total touchdowns from quarterback Archie Manning, three of them rushing. The New Orleans defense forced 3 turnovers, and a Bob Pollard fumble return for a touchdown followed by an interception return for a score by Jim Merlo in the fourth quarter put the finishing touches on a 42-24 New Orleans road win. Walter Payton would explode for 183 yards when the teams would meet again in Chicago on September 14, 1980, as the Bears handed the Saints a 22-3 pounding.

Walter Payton Chased by New Orleans Saints Tacklers

Both franchises would make a coaching change in the early 1980's in hopes of turning around their struggling fortunes. New Orleans would bring in Bum Phillips in 1981, while the Bears added Hall of Fame tight end Mike Ditka in 1982. Both coaches had hard-nosed, defensive philosophies, and that would often lead to hard-hitting affairs when the two teams would clash on the field. A September 19, 1982 game in Chicago was a perfect example. New Orleans would get 138 rushing yards from Wayne Wilson, and the defense sacked Chicago quarterbacks five times and intercepted them three times in a 10-0 shutout. After a rare shootout between the two during a game in New Orleans during the 1983 season, a 34-31 overtime Saints win, history would be made during their 1984 matchup in Chicago. The date was October 7, 1984, and Bears running back Walter Payton was on the cusp of an unthinkable record. With a 6-yd. run around left end in the second quarter, Payton would surpass Browns great Jim Brown as the NFL's All-time rushing leader. Payton would finish with 154 rushing yards in the 20-7 Chicago victory, the last game he would play against the Saints in his legendary career. A different Payton would soon carve his place into this North-South NFC series.

The 1987 NFL season was notable mainly because of a player strike that eliminated one regular season contest and caused every team to play with "replacement" players in three other games. Current Saints head coach Sean Payton was one of those replacement players, suiting up at quarterback for the Chicago Bears. Payton's final NFL game, and the last game of the player strike, was on October 18, 1987, when the Bears would host the New Orleans Saints. Payton would see the field that day, completing 3 of 11 passes for 28 yards while throwing an interception and getting sacked twice. The Saints would win the game, 19-17, and Sean Payton's career as an NFL quarterback would end with 8 completions in 23 attempts for 79 yards with zero touchdowns and 1 interception. Both Chicago and New Orleans would have two of the NFL's most intimidating defenses through the mid-1980's into the early 1990's. Only ten times in the thirty games between these two franchises has a team scored over 30 points.

These two would have their first postseason meeting against one another during the 1990 season in a Wild Card round matchup. On January 6, 1991 Ditka's 11-5 NFC Central champion Bears would host New Orleans, who slipped into the playoffs with an 8-8 record. This showdown of two top-10 defenses wouldn't disappoint on that side of the ball. The Saints quarterback duo of John Fourcade and Steve Walsh completed only 11 of 34 pass attempts for just 128 yards while throwing 3 interceptions. New Orleans would fare no better on the ground, managing only 65 yards. Chicago did just enough offensively, led by 102 yards from running back Neal Anderson, to come away with a 16-6 win. The Saints would start the 1991 season 7-0, but were once again stymied by the Bears defense, this time at home in a 20-17 loss, to send them to their first loss of the year.

CARICATURE: Mike Ditka Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The great defenses of both squads began to age and deteriorate through the '90's. The Bears had moved on from Ditka after the 1992 season, while New Orleans hard-nosed coach Jim Mora resigned midway through the 1996 season. Saints owner Tom Benson couldn't resist the temptation of past success and name recognition when looking to replace Mora in 1997, and would hire Mike Ditka as his team's head coach. Ditka's Saints would face his old team on October 5, 1997 in Chicago. His new team would overcome his old one with a strong defensive effort, prevailing 20-17 thanks to a late touchdown pass from quarterback Heath Shuler to wideout Randal Hill. Ditka's three year tenure in New Orleans was an unmitigated disaster though, and he would be fired after the 1999 season. Not before the coach's old team would even the score against their former coach, when the Bears would beat the hapless Saints 14-10 in Chicago on October 3, 1999 thanks to two late touchdown passes. That would be the only time the Bears would defeat New Orleans in six meetings between 1996-2003, four of which took place in Chicago. New Orleans would begin recovery from the Ditka disaster with the hiring of Jim Haslett, who would take the team to the playoffs in his first season. Haslett's Saints would pound the Bears 31-10 in Chicago during that 2000 season. The progress of the franchise would gradually go stale during Haslett's six year tenure though.

NFC Championship: New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Sean Payton has a 4-3 record against the Bears as Saints head coach, including a 2-2 record in Chicago. He would guide his team to it's first ever appearance in the NFC championship game in his first season at the helm, where his Saints would square off against the team Payton played for in his brief pro tenure. January 27, 2007 was the date, and the Chicago Bears would host the upstart Saints for the right to go to the Super Bowl. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees would hit rookie wideout Marques Colston with a touchdown pass at the end of the first half to cut a Chicago lead to 16-7. Brees then hit rookie running back Reggie Bush for a spectacular 88-yd. score early in the third quarter to close the gap to 16-14, fanning the flame for the Saints championship dreams. Unfortunately, despite 354 yards passing from Brees, the Bears would pull away in the final quarter for the 39-14 postseason win. The Saints would lose their first three games in consecutive years to the Bears with Brees and Payton at the helm, all three of which took place in Chicago. The last of those road defeats was a late season battle on December 11, 2008. The Saints would claw back from a 14-pt. deficit to take a late lead, but 2 Robbie Gould field goals first tied the contest on the final play then lifted Chicago to a key 27-24 overtime win.

New Orleans Saints v Chicago Bears

New Orleans has beaten the Bears the last four times they've played, including wins in Chicago during the 2013 and '14 seasons. The second of which was a Monday prime time showdown on December 15, 2014, the Saints last appearance in the Windy City. Five New Orleans players would have at least four receptions, as Brees completed 29 of 36 passes for 375 yards and 3 touchdowns. Not to be outdone, the Saints defense intercepted 3 passes and collected 7 sacks on their way to a 31-15 thrashing of the home team. The last time these teams met at all was an October 29, 2017 contest in New Orleans. Brees efficiently completed 23 of his 28 passes for 299 yards, while the Saints pass defense frustrated Bears rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky in a 20-12 victory.

NFL: Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The Saints will not only be without Brees for this game, but also minus injured star running back Alvin Kamara and tight end Jared Cook. New Orleans quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has played safe and controlled football in relief of Brees, and is 3-1 against the Bears as a starting quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings in 2014-15. The Saints have won games just as much due to solid special teams and dominant defensive play. Their powerful and explosive defensive line should be able to exploit a struggling Bears offensive line to pressure the pass pocket and contain the run. The Saints secondary has been playing outstanding, and looks to again shut down a Chicago receiving corps that has been underwhelming.

Chicago Bears vs New Orleans Saints Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

The shorthanded New Orleans offense must be able to manufacture yards and points against a powerful and opportunistic Bears defense. An elite offensive line looks to protect Bridgewater from the pass rush of Khalil Mack, and establish a run game with Latavius Murray. The Saints will look to control the ball with Murray and short passes to All-Pro receiver Michael Thomas offensively. The strategy has paid dividends in the second halves of games, and New Orleans boasts the best kicking duo in the game with Wil Lutz and punter Thomas Morstead to give them an edge in field position battles. Those factors, coupled with a defense that's on a roll against a struggling Chicago offense should be enough in what's expected to be a hard-hitting throwback of a contest.