5 things to watch as the Chicago Bears host the Buffalo Bills on Christmas Eve — plus our Week 16 predictions – The Denver Post


The Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills will meet Saturday for a Christmas Eve gathering at Soldier Field. The Bears, on a seven-game losing skid, will continue their search for encouraging signs within a last-place season while the Bills are still eyeing the No. 1 seed and a first-round playoff bye in the AFC.

Here’s a snapshot look at Saturday’s game.

Pressing question

How much will the weather factor into Saturday’s game?

The snow will be long gone by kickoff, leaving heavy winds and brutal cold as the most challenging elements. The National Weather Service is predicting a daytime high of 9 degrees with windchills dipping below minus-10. Winds of 25 mph with gusts above 30 mph also are expected.

Bears coach Matt Eberflus was asked this week if he had ever coached in a game with such extreme conditions — and immediately referenced Dec. 9, 2013, when he visited Soldier Field as a linebackers coach with the Dallas Cowboys.

That was a Monday night game with a kickoff temperature of 8 degrees, a windchill of minus-9 and winds at 14 mph.

“Couldn’t feel my feet,” Eberflus said. “It was very cold. You had to really make sure all your skin was covered because you would potentially get frostbite. You had to make sure you used Vaseline on your face to make sure everything was covered up.”

The Bears didn’t have much issue dealing with that extreme weather, scoring six touchdowns and two field goals on their first eight possessions in a Josh McCown-led 45-28 victory.

Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy had this advice for players.

“How you stay warm is stepping on the field and playing violently, playing together and celebrating together,” Getsy said. “That’s how you stay warm. You deal with it. And if it’s on your mind or it’s distracting you, then you’re not going to be able to execute at the highest level.”

Player in the spotlight

When the Bears schedule was released in the spring, cornerback Jaylon Johnson made a short list of three receivers he couldn’t wait to face: Justin Jefferson, Tyreek Hill and Stefon Diggs.

Hill visited Soldier Field last month and Jefferson will swing through in Week 18. This weekend, it’s Diggs who will offer Johnson his next big challenge.

Diggs enters Saturday ranked third in the NFL in catches (99), receiving yards (1,299) and receiving touchdowns (10). That’s a byproduct of his elite skill set.

“He’s really crafty,” Johnson said. “He creates a lot of separation with his releases. He’s very dynamic with his route running. And it also helps having a quarterback who can throw the ball a million yards.”

Diggs also has developed undeniable top-tier chemistry with quarterback Josh Allen. The duo has connected for 28 touchdown passes since the start of 2020.

“(Allen) knows where he wants the ball at and Diggs knows the timing of where (Allen’s) best ball is and what his progressions are,” Johnson said. “Them knowing each other really well just enhances everything on the field.”

Another challenge for Johnson? A broken bone in his left hand, which likely will require him to wear a club Saturday.

Johnson drew the assignment last week of traveling with Eagles star A.J. Brown. And while Brown’s numbers were eye-catching — nine catches for 181 yards — Johnson’s competitive tenacity and overall effort in slowing the wide receiver was noted by Bears coaches. He also had three pass breakups, including one on a 23-yard end-zone shot from Jalen Hurts.

“I thought he was competitive and fighting through the whole time,” Eberflus said. “He had a good attitude; his demeanor was great the entire day. That’s the way you’ve got to be when you’re facing an elite receiver.”

Added Johnson: “I feel like I won more than I lost. And he made some big plays that made the numbers seem like it was worse than it was. But overall, I felt like it was a back-and-forth battle. That was my goal going into the game. It was about being on an island and winning more than I lost. And I feel like I did that.”

Keep an eye on …

During his four-game stint on injured reserve with a hip injury, Bears running back Khalil Herbert tried to gain a new perspective and pored over his film from Weeks 1-10, looking to find improvement areas.

“It was me being my own worst critic and looking at the good, the bad, the ugly,” he said Thursday. “One of the biggest things for me is falling forward on all my runs. Taking away the negative plays. Trying to find a way to get a yard if things break down.”

Hebert will be activated from injured reserve and figures to blend back into the offense with a notable role alongside fellow back David Montgomery. Herbert has averaged six yards per carry this season, tops among NFL running backs with at least 100 rushes.

Getsy lauded Herbert’s patience as a runner as a catalyst for his production.

“It’s really just working with our coaches and getting a feel for the offense since April really,” said Herbert, who is eager to put the finishing touches on an encouraging season. “That has helped me a lot. It’s really diving into the details of each run we put in. That helps me slow things down. It’s a feel thing.”

Rush hour

Justin Fields has a chance to set an NFL single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, needing 207 over the final three games to top the mark Lamar Jackson set during his MVP season in 2019.

After Sunday’s 95-yard performance, Fields emphasized he didn’t plan on pursuing 1,000-yard rushing campaigns every season, hoping to eventually become much more of a threat as a passer. But Fields also acknowledged it would be cool to break Jackson’s record if all the stars align.

To that end, Getsy said the offense would not make decisions based on Fields’ pursuit of an individual achievement. But Getsy noted how Kevon Looney was one assist shy of a triple-double in a loss to the Philadelphia 76ers last week and teammates dogged Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr to help the forward accomplish that feat.

“And they took him out of the game,” Getsy said with a smile. “We won’t take (Justin) out of the game.”

Loosely translated: The Bears hope Fields will produce for the offense. And wherever that leaves him on the all-time QB rushing chart, so be it.

Fields has three touchdown runs this season of at least 50 yards and four other runs of at least 25 yards. Getsy said he didn’t necessarily have a favorite Fields run but felt a rush on all the big ones.

“He has made some incredible plays,” Getsy said. “And I think I’ve gone to Flus every single time like, ‘That was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen.’ To be able to say that multiple times is pretty cool.”

Injury update

The Bears are bracing for the probability that neither Cody Whitehair (doubtful, knee) nor Teven Jenkins (doubtful, neck) will play. That creates the newest reshuffling exercise on the offensive line, with the Bears likely using their eighth starting combination in 15 games. Veteran Michael Schofield figures to fill in at one of the two guard spots with Larry Borom potentially getting the nod at the other.

Receiver Chase Claypool also could miss his second consecutive game, still working through a knee injury he suffered in Week 13. Claypool was also unable to practice this week and is listed as doubtful.

The Bears receiving corps will be further short-handed with Equanimeous St. Brown still in concussion protocol and declared out. Kindle Vildor (ankle) and Trevon Wesco (calf) also are out.


Brad Biggs (8-6)

However arctic the conditions are at Soldier Field, the Bills are one of a handful of teams that routinely plays in brutal weather, probably more often than the Bears. Temperatures barely above zero won’t have a huge impact on offensive football, but high winds will be problematic for the passing games — and that could help the Bears defend the league’s fifth-ranked passing attack. The Bears are far better running the ball, which should help them keep it close.

Bills 23, Bears 20

Colleen Kane (9-5)

The Bears are dealing with a slew of injuries to key players, and that’s rough when taking on two really tough opponents in two weeks. Like the Jalen Hurts-A.J. Brown connection Sunday, the Josh Allen-Stefon Diggs connection is going to be a major test for the Bears secondary unless the cold, windy conditions mute it. The Bears could put up big numbers on the ground, but I don’t know if it will be enough against one of the NFL’s best teams. It also feels as if the Bears drew the wrong opponent for a winter storm game, as the Bills surely know how to handle this weather.

Bills 27, Bears 23

Dan Wiederer (9-5)

The winter storm offered the Bills more logical hurdles in getting to Chicagoand getting settled and prepared for Saturday’s game. It also might give the Bears an opening to use their league-best rushing attack to control the clock and shorten the game. For a young team, and particularly for budding second-year quarterback Justin Fields, this is another experience to embrace and learn from. But the Bills are Super Bowl contenders for a reason. They have more playmakers.

Bills 27, Bears 16



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