After finally ending their disastrous nine-game losing streak last week, the Arizona Cardinals will be looking to finish up their 2012 campaign on a winning note in their final two games. Their final home game beckons Sunday in Glendale when they welcome in the Monsters of the Midway, the playoff-hopeful Chicago Bears. Let's take a look at the matchup:
The Bears are in desperate need of a win to keep their NFC playoff hopes alive. They've lost three straight and are in a dogfight for a wildcard slot. Middle linebacker Brian Rancher (hamstring) has not practiced all week and is not expected to play. Although he has slowed down in recent years, his absence will be felt. The Bears will also be without backup running back and short-yardage specialist Michael Bus h, who was placed on injured reserve earlier this week with a rib injury. So Chicago is not only slumping but they're hurting as well.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall has been Chicago's most dynamic offensive weapon this season and his matchup with cornerback Patrick Peterson should be a fascinating one. Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler have a special chemistry going back to their days in Denver together and it's shown in leaps and bounds this season. Marshall leads the NFL with 107 receptions, ranks second in receiving yards (1,398) and is third in touchdown catches with 10.
Cutler, on the other hand, has tossed 14 interceptions with just 17 TD passes and will be facing a Cardinals defense that ranks first in interception percentage and seventh in the league in sacks (36, tied with the Bears, Panthers and Browns). Cutler possesses one of the strongest arms in the league but he's also very erratic and prone to pouting when things don't go his way.
The Bears will try and establish a running game behind Matt Forte, who is 15th in the NFL with 903 yards on the ground. Although Forte has not scored a rushing touchdown since Week Nine, he is still a dangerous pass catcher out of the backfield (41 catches for 312 yards).
Defensively, the Bears will look to tee off on QB Ryan Lindley, who has played very poorly overall in his rookie campaign. Expect the Bears to dial up the pressure on Lindley and Arizona's shaky offensive line and create some turnovers, which they excel at doing.
The Cardinals are finally feeling a little better about themselves following their 38-10 rout of the Lions last week. They're in evaluation mode right now so this will be another important start for Lindley, who has really struggling in his three starts. He has a putrid 45.0 QB rating and should be under the gun from Chicago's defensive line, led by defensive end Julius Peppers. Peppers leads the Bears with 8.5 sacks and will be itching to attack Arizona's porous offensive line.
Lindley will be trying to get the ball to Larry Fitzgerald, which has been easier said than done lately. In his last five games since the bye week, Fitzgerald has a grand total of 10 receptions for just 89 yards and no touchdowns. He has not seen the end zone since November 4 at Green Bay.
The Red Birds will try and establish a running game behind Beanie Wells, who enjoyed one of his best games of the season last week with 67 yards rushing and three touchdowns against Detroit. it won't be easy though because the Bears rank 12th in the league against the rush while allowing just 17.1 PPG, which ranks third in the NFL. The Bears will miss Urlacher at middle linebacker so Arizona will try and exploit that weakness. Look for LaRod Stephens-Howling to be involved, especially as a pass receiving halfback.
For the most part the Cardinals defense has been terrific this season – they will try and force Cutler into mistakes as well. Cutler can be rattled and the Red Birds lead the NFL in interceptions with 22. The Bears have had issues with their offensive line as well so look for Daryl Washington (9.5 sacks) and Calais Campbell (4.5 sacks) to bring the heavy heat.
Prediction: The Bears are the more desperate team but they have not been playing well and head coach Lovie Smith's job may be on the line. I think Cutler, Marshall and Forte do just enough to keep Chicago alive in the playoff hunt but it won't be easy. Expect the Cardinals to come out fired up to end their home season on a winning note. I don't like the match up of Lindley vs. the Bears defense though at all. Chicago 20, Cardinals 16.
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