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NFL Preview - New Orleans (5-8) at Chicago (5-8)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - If you really are what your record says you are, the New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears both have to come to grips with the fact that neither is a very good football team.
One, however, can change that narrative over the final three weeks of the regular season. The other seems to fall deeper into the abyss every day.
Both the Bears and Saints fashioned themselves as legitimate Super Bowl contenders before the season but now find themselves mired in identical 5-8 disasters in advance of their "Monday Night Football" matchup.
New Orleans, however, remains relevant due to circumstance, the fact they play in the miserable NFC South. The Saints are actually tied atop the division with Atlanta, although the Falcons have the inside track because of a perfect mark inside the South. Carolina remains in the mix also at 4-8-1 after drubbing NOLA in Week 14.
None of that should deter the Saints, however, because New Orleans hosts Atlanta on Dec. 21, meaning it controls its own destiny.
The eventual NFC South winner is already guaranteed to become just the fifth division champion with a non-winning record after a 16-game season and could become the second with a losing record, joining the 2010 Seattle Seahawks.
"The only reason we're sitting here still with that small sliver of hope is just because the way the division has unfolded this year," Saints coach Sean Payton admitted.
Chicago, on the other hand, is 5-8 just like New Orleans but its season is done as the Bears are in last place in the NFC North entering Week 15, behind 10-3 Green Bay, 9-4 Detroit and 6-7 Minnesota.
The Saints had a chance to seize control of their fate in Week 14 but responded by laying an egg in the form of a 41-10 setback at the hands of the Panthers, their fourth straight defeat at the Superdome, a place where New Orleans used to be dominant.
The now-injured Cam Newton had a hand in four of Carolina's five touchdowns in that one.
Conversely, Drew Brees was contained for most of the contest, throwing for 235 yards and a score to Benjamin Watson as New Orleans dropped its fourth straight as the host for the first time since 1999 -- Mike Ditka's final season as head coach.
Marques Colston totaled 72 yards on five catches, while the rushing tandem of Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas was limited to 81 yards on 15 combined carries.
"I'd use the word frustrated, I'd use the word embarrassed, to go out there as a professional football team and play that way at home," Watson said. "The outplayed us, outhustled us, out-executed us. Even if we lose, it shouldn't be this lopsided with the talent we have."
The Bears also think they have a lot of talent but it doesn't show up very often and called out sick again in Week 14, resulting in a 41-28 setback to Dallas at Soldier Field.
Matt Forte and Jay Cutler rushed for touchdowns in the fourth quarter, cutting a 25-point Dallas lead to 10. But the Bears lost for the second week in a row after falling in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
Cutler, who entered the game 2-0 against Dallas with a 138.2 rating and no interceptions, completed 32 of his 46 throws for 341 yards, one pick and touchdown passes to Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett.
"I'd be lying to you if I said that I'm OK with it," said Bears linebacker Jon Bostic. "(I'm) disappointed, but the fact is that heading into this game we still had a quarter of our season left so it's not like we can just go out there and start feeling sorry for ourselves and saying, 'We didn't have the season that we wanted to have so let's just cash it in these next four games.'
"We have a great group here, great group of men -- coaches and players -- we've just got to find a way to come together and execute and try to win some ball games and finish strong."
Chicago lost much more than a game to Dallas also, as star wide receiver Brandon Marshall was taken away from Soldier Field in an ambulance after suffering broken ribs and a lung injury in the first half.
Marshall was officially placed on injured reserve earlier this week, ending his season with 61 passes for 721 yards, by far his lowest totals since his rookie season.
The turmoil hardly ended there for the Bears as offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer reportedly apologized to his players for anonymously criticizing Cutler to NFL Media.
According to the Chicago Tribune, Kromer admitted being the guy who claimed Chicago was having "buyer's remorse" after the big-money contract proffered to Cutler in the offseason, claiming the embattled QB's inability to check out of bad plays in the running game was hamstringing the offense.
"I said what I had to say to the players," Kromer said, according to The Tribune.
The Saints and Bears have split 26 previous regular-season meetings with New Orleans taking the last two to even the series. The teams last met in October of 2013 when Brees threw for 288 yards and two TDs as the Saints topped Chicago, 26-18, at Soldier Field.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Normally the Saints want to play at home but four straight losses at the Superdome -- the largest home skid in the Payton era -- and a Bears team that has seemingly checked out on the season make Chicago a desirable location even in December.
Payton seems fed up and some reports have him walking away after the season, although he's denied those rumors and is the highest paid coach in football, meaning a divorce is not tenable. He is, however, intent on making some changes and started that process by releasing talented but troubled wide receiver Joe Morgan.
Meanwhile, safety Kenny Vaccaro, a 2013 first-round pick who has had an awful sophomore campaign, is in danger of being benched, a scapegoat for a defense that has allowed 27 points or more in five straight games while surrendering nearly 500 yards per contest in the past four. Overall, the New Orleans D is 31st in football, allowing 398.7 ypg.
"Guys understand, hey, this is serious," Payton claimed. "It's their profession. It's our profession. It's going to be our job and the leaders of this team to lead. This is exactly when you find out who your guys are. If it's not happening then we're going to look at other options."
Despite Kromer's assertions, which were amplified by the fact that the Bears have rushed for a total of 48 yards in their past two games, embattled Chicago head coach Marc Trestman is sticking with Cutler.
"Jay and I talk daily. I think he has a very good understanding of how we feel about him," Trestman said. "There's a lot of noise out there. We're all aware of that. All we're trying to do here is to get our football team in a position that we can be better on Monday night."
The Bears' defense isn't much better than New Orleans', allowing an NFL-worst 29.1 points per game and giving up 377.8 ypg, tied for 28th in the league. Reports out of the Windy City say the organization has already decided to move on from defensive coordinator Mel Tucker.
In his past two meetings with the Bears, Brees has completed 55-of-72 passes for 558 yards with five TDs for a 121.2 rating.
Both of these teams look like their off the rails but the Saints have one thing they can lean on and that's Brees, who has continued to perform at a pretty high level despite his team's struggles.
Conversely, the Bears have a head coach who looks overmatched, an offensive coordinator leaking things like a shady politician, a defensive chief on his way out the door and a quarterback whose body language ties all of that nonsense up into a bow.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Saints 23, Bears 20
12/12 11:26:20 ET