When the NFL scheduled Carolina at Chicago to kick off Week 10 of the regular season, it envisioned a matchup of Bears quarterback Justin Fields against No. 1 overall pick Bryce Young.
It made for a juicy plot line after the Bears acquired a first-round pick and star wide receiver D.J. Moore in exchange for Carolina moving up to draft Young.
Unfortunately for the NFL — and Amazon Prime — Fields is likely to miss his fourth consecutive game on Thursday night with a dislocated right thumb.
The Bears (2-7) are 3.5-point favorites despite again turning to undrafted rookie backup quarterback Tyson Bagent. That’s because the one-win Panthers (1-7) are traveling on a short week after a disastrous game against Indianapolis in which Young three a pair of pick-6s.
Young lacks the downfield targets to force defenses to respect the ground game. With too many third-and-long situations against a Bears defense that now includes Montez Sweat, the Panthers will struggle to win the field position battle — and the game.
Prediction: Bears 20, Panthers 17
Panthers RB Chuba Hubbard Under 45.5 Rushing Yards (-120 at DraftKings): This has been the most popular player prop at the book. Hubbard has gone over 45.5 yards just three times this season, most recently last week when he gained 58 yards on 16 carries. However, he still splits the backfield duty with Miles Sanders, and the Panthers are going up against the Bears’ fourth-ranked run defense that allows only 79.7 rushing yards per game.
The Bears opened as 3.0-point favorites at BetMGM, where the line has shifted to 3.5 with Chicago backed by 57 percent of the spread-line bets and 58 percent of the money. The line is also 3.5 at DraftKings after opening at 2.0.
While the Panthers’ +145 moneyline has drawn 54 percent of the bets at BetMGM, the Bears have been supported by 61 percent of the money at -175.
The public is expecting a low-scoring game between Chicago’s 19th-ranked offense and Carolina, which enters at No. 28. The Over/Under at BetMGM started at 40.5 but has moved to 38.5 with Fields unlikely to play. The Under has seen the heavy action, drawing 71 percent of the bets and 69 percent of the money. The market has shifted even lower to 38.0 points at DraftKings.
When the opportunity to start over with Young or Ohio State product C.J. Stroud at quarterback presented itself, the Bears surrendered the No. 1 pick in the 2023 draft to the Panthers. Once again on Thursday night, draft ramifications are of greater significance than the playoff picture.
The Bears in effect put their chips behind Fields for a make-or-break 2023 season with the safety net, courtesy of the trade with Carolina, of having multiple first-round picks in 2024 to potentially re-address the position.
Fields might have earned no better than an incomplete for his season to date. He had two four-TD games in a row before being sidelined in a loss to the Vikings on Oct. 15. Chicago started Bagent the past three games with Fields recovering from a dislocated right thumb. Fields is considered doubtful to play Thursday.
Fields also has six interceptions and two fumbles to go with 11 interceptions, and he has been sacked three-plus times in every game he’s played this season.
He is far from the only reason the Bears are coming up short. Chicago had zero sacks and zero takeaways at New Orleans last week and lost 24-17 to the Saints. General manager Ryan Poles is confident the newly acquired Sweat can be a building block as the Bears search for more pillars.
Every decision likely feels critical right now for head coach Matt Eberflus, who is 5-21 with the Bears and 1-9 in games decided by eight or fewer points. It hasn’t helped his cause that Bears quarterbacks rank 32nd in the NFL in fourth quarter passer rating.
Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy said Bagent had a “solid game” against the Saints and has the confidence of his teammates.
“That’s the cool part about how we put this thing together at the very beginning. We felt like we put it all out there for our guys and can take this thing in a few directions,” Getsy said. “From everybody else’s perspective in that room other than the two quarterbacks, it’s not going to feel like it’s a different game plan by any means if we go one direction or another (at quarterback).”
Tight end Cole Kmet has 16 receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the past two games and is a player the Panthers are circling on the scouting report along with Moore, a very familiar threat.
“I just know from the tape — big-time playmaker,” Reich said of Moore, whom he never coached. “Truly one of those guys who can do it all. There’s nothing he can’t do. Really great player. Then of course, you hear about the person. He made quite an impression in this building on the type of person he was.”
Getsy said “accuracy was easy” for Young when the Bears scouted his pro day at Alabama, calling him a natural passer.
Young has experienced a rough introduction to the NFL as a rookie with two pick-6s in last week’s loss to the Colts. He also has 20-plus completions in all seven of his starts. He was sacked four times last week, and said he’s focused on “making sure I get the ball out of my hands.”
“We all take ownership in it,” Young said. “One thing I love about this team, players and coaches, we’re all looking at ways to get better and it starts with me.”
Fields has been sacked 24 times in 162 pass attempts, while Bagent has been sacked just five times in 110 pass attempts.
Panthers edge rusher Brian Burns (concussion) was ruled out Wednesday, and wide receivers DJ Chark (elbow) and Laviska Shenault Jr. (ankle) are doubtful.
The Bears’ biggest concern outside of Fields is linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, who sat out the game with the Saints and could miss his second straight game with a knee injury.
THEY SAID IT
If the season ended Thursday, the Bears would draft No. 2 and No. 3 overall, the higher pick by way of Carolina. The Arizona Cardinals (1-8) are the only team ahead of Chicago in the draft order nine weeks into the season.
“When you find your quarterback, you’ve got to go all in. You can’t look back. When you find the quarterback that you want, you have to be willing to make that deal,” Panthers coach Frank Reich said Tuesday, lamenting the deal did cost Carolina No. 1 wide receiver DJ Moore.
–Field Level Media