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Week 17 game preview: Bears-Falcons

Finish out 2023 with the Bears hosting the Falcons.

NFL: DEC 24 Colts at Falcons Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

New Years Eve 2023.

Whether the year was a good one for you or not, let’s be excited to ring in 2024.

A new year always brings new hope, new beginnings and new opportunities.

That’s going to be especially true for the Chicago Bears as they face a very interesting offseason with plenty of questions, but also plenty of hope and opportunity.

This week’s opponent, the Atlanta Falcons, also has a lot of interest as they head into the new year.

They have been up-and-down but aren’t completely dead in the playoff hunt but face questions about their quarterback and coach (stop me if that sounds familiar, Bears fans).

Sunday holds plenty of intrigue for both teams, even if their fanbases are looking ahead more to 2024 than the end of the 2023 season.

Atlanta Falcons

SB Nation site: The Falcoholic

Record: 7-8, second in NFC South

Last week: 29-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts

Game day, time, TV: Sunday, noon CT, CBS

Spread: According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Bears are 3-point favorites over the Falcons. The game total is set at 38.

Bears all-time record against: 15-14

Historical meetings: This is the latest these two teams have ever met. The only other December meeting between these squads was week 15 of the 2005 season.

If you’re my age, you likely really remember this game.

The 9-4 Bears hosted the 8-5 Falcons at Soldier Field, where the temperature was 12 degrees with a windchill of -3 for Sunday Night Football.

The Bears came in following a loss that snapped an eight-game win streak.

Chicago’s defense completely shut down Michael Vick and the Falcons offense. The offense, though struggled to just six first-half points with Kyle Orton going 2 for 10 for 12 yards.

At halftime, Lovie Smith went back to veteran Rex Grossman, who was finally cleared following his preseason ankle injury. Grossman was only marginally better, going 9 for 16 for 93 yards and an interception.

But it was all the Bears needed as Thomas Jones ran for 91 yards and a touchdown. The Bears won 16-3.

Last meeting: Week 11 last year, the Bears traveled down to Atlanta and played a tough game against the Falcons. The Bears took a 17-7 in the second quarter before Cordarrelle Patterson returned the ensuing kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown.

They tied the game heading into halftime with a field goal.

The Bears could only manage seven second-half points, with David Montgomery scoring on a two-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter to tie the game at 24.

But the defense allowed the Falcons to bleed out the clock with a 12-play, 40-yard drive that took nearly six-and-a-half minutes and gave them the lead with a field goal.

With 1:47 on the clock and all three timeouts, the Bears managed just three plays and five yards when Justin Fields threw an interception.

The Bears lost 27-24.

Injury report: The Falcons had nine players on their Wednesday injury report. However, the only two who did not practice at all were rest days.

Did not participate

  • RB Cordarrelle Patterson (rest)
  • DT Calais Campbell (rest)

Limited participation

  • QB Taylor Heinicke (ankle)
  • OT Jordan Matthews (knee)
  • OG Chris Lindstrom (ankle)
  • C Drew Dalman (ankle)
  • DT David Onyemata (ankle)
  • OT Kaleb McGary (knee)
  • DE Lorenzo Carter (neck)

Offense: The Falcons come into the game ranked 24th in points and 16th in yards.

Their passing offense ranks 22nd and their rushing offense ranks eighth.

The Falcons are to Taylor Heinicke (59.8 pct. cmp./727 yds./4 TD/1 INT) as their starting QB.

He’s throwing to Desmond Ridder (61 rec./808 yds./2 TD), Kyle Pitts (50/635/3), RB Bijan Robinson (48/373/3) and Jonnu Smith (47/553/2).

Mack Hollins (18/251/0) and RB2 Tyler Allgeier (14/108/0) are also helping out in the pass game.

On the ground, Robinson is the man (188 att./873 yds./4 TD) and Allgeier (175/646/4) is very close in terms of carries and TDs. But Bijan is the key for Atlanta. His 1,246 total scrimmage yards and seven TDs leads the team by a wide margin.

It’s worth noting that the rushing TD leader for the Falcons is actually the benched QB Desmond Ridder, with five.

Defense: The Falcons’ defense ranks sixth in points allowed and ninth in yards allowed.

Their passing defense ranks eighth and their rushing defense ranks 15th.

The leader for the Falcons defense is S Jessie Bates III (117 tkls/6 INT/11 PD/3 FF/2 TFL), who leads them in tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles. LB Kaden Elliss (110 tkls/10 TFL/3 sk/5 QB hits/3 PD) leads in tackles for loss and OLB Arnold Ebiketie (6 sk/11 QB hits/2 FF/3 TFL) leads in sacks.

Ageless wonder Calais Campbell (5.5 sk/1 FF/1 PD/14 QB hits) is still making plays and Bud Dupree (5 sk/8 TFL/7 QB hits/1 FF) is getting after QBs, too.

AJ Terrell (10 PD/42 tkls) is also playing well in the secondary.

Key match ups: The passing defense of the Falcons is definitely going to give the Bears fits, especially with DJ Moore and Cole Kmet potentially being limited or out with their injuries.

Relying on the ground game is going to be pivotal, so the OL play against Campbell, the LBs and the rest of Atlanta’s DL will be a big match up.

Justin Fields has to avoid the costly turnovers that have plagued him at times, especially late in the game when it could be tight.

For the defense, getting after Taylor Heinicke and forcing him into mistakes will go a long way toward limiting what the Falcons can do.

But the true key to disrupting their gameplan is slowing down Bijan Robinson. He’s a dual threat running back and has a full arsenal of weapons at his disposal in terms of breaking tackles, breakaway speed and power.

Key stats

  • The Falcons have a top-10 defense on third downs (third; 33.7 percent allowed), red zone (first; 38.1 percent) and fourth downs (ninth; 45 percent).
  • Atlanta has allowed the second-fewest rushing touchdowns on the year, six. Opponents are averaging 3.9 yards per carry against them as well, which is the ninth-fewest allowed.
  • Though many of those numbers are impressive, Atlanta ranks 24th in turnovers and 25th in interceptions.
  • The Falcons are a different team on the road, they are just 2-5 away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium this season. They’re 2-3 outdoors, granted the coldest game they’ve played outside was 47 degrees against the Carolina Panthers.
  • Chicago has won three of the previous five meetings between the two teams.
  • The Bears are 0-2 all-time on New Years Eve.

Can the Bears win two in a row, again? What’s it going to take for the Bears to get a win Sunday?