PATRIOTS // BEARS OVERVIEW
The scorching hot, 4-2 Patriots will travel to Chicago to take on the upstart, 3-2 Bears. New England is coming off an uplifting home win over the previously undefeated Chiefs, while the Bears are returning home off a disappointing overtime loss in Miami.
Vegas has given a good bit of respect to the Bears this week, installing the Patriots as only three point favorites on the road. This game pairs a Patriots unit that ranks seventh in the NFL in pace of play against a Bears team that plays at the third-slowest pace in the league. Each team has leaned run-heavy, though the Patriots can obviously modify their approach from week to week, depending on the matchup, while the Bears can shift over to the pass if the Patriots take a lead.
PATRIOTS RUN OFFENSE
Typically, we kick off our exploration of a game with the visiting passing attack, but with the Patriots shape-shifting so fluidly on offense — and with them going run-heavy lately in matchups that set up well on the ground — we’ll take a look at this side of the matchup first.
The Bears have been one of the better teams against the run on the year, ranking eighth in yards allowed per carry, while allowing only one rush play all season of 20+ yards (third best in the league). The Bears have been even better against running backs (3.9 YPC allowed overall; 3.7 allowed to RBs), and they are the only team in the NFL that has not yet allowed a rushing touchdown to running backs. Chicago has also allowed the fewest receptions and the third-fewest receiving yards to the position.
New England has a way of taking matchups like this and smashing in them from time to time — figuring out ways (for example) to get exactly the look they want for James White, and to put him in position for something like a 7-85-1 line through the air against a team that had previously been nails against his exact role; but on paper, this is a difficult draw for White through the air, and it is a difficult draw for Sony Michel on the ground.
If you want to bet on the Patriots coming out on top in a strength-on-strength matchup, Michel has only one reception across the last three weeks, but he has carry counts of 25 // 18 // 24, with four touchdowns scored. In all, he has seven carries inside the five-yard-line, good for fourth in the league.
White has touch counts on the year of 9 // 11 // 7 // 16 // 12 // 11, giving him a low floor in this spot — though with his pass game role, his skills in space, and his five touchdowns on the season, his upside remains.
PATRIOTS PASS OFFENSE
This is the sort of matchup in which we should expect the Patriots to still lean on the run in order to slow down the Bears’ pass rush (and to set up play-action) — but the likeliest way for New England to move the ball effectively will be through the air, against a Bears team that ranks 22nd in yards allowed per pass attempt, and that has allowed the 12th-most yards to wide receivers, in spite of the early bye. On a per-game basis, the Bears have surprisingly given up the second-most yards per game to the wide receiver position, behind only the Saints. The Bears are allowing a massive 70.9% completion rate to wide receivers, while putting the clamps on running backs and tight ends through the air (only two teams have allowed fewer receptions to tight ends, and only three teams have allowed fewer yards).
In the short areas of the field, the Bears are best attacked over the middle, but their issues have come from downfield passing and yards allowed after the catch.
Last week, Josh Gordon not-so-quietly played 63 of a possible 78 snaps for the Patriots, while Phillip Dorsett was on the field for only three snaps. The routes that Dorsett had been running — and that Gordon has mostly taken over — are the routes that have given the Bears trouble this year: primarily go routes, but also deep posts and short/intermediate curls, quick outs, etc. Gordon saw nine targets last week on 35 Tom Brady pass attempts. On the season, Brady has pass attempt numbers of 39 // 35 // 26 // 35 // 44 // 35, so this is a comfortable range to project for overall volume. With the Bears tightening up on tight ends and running backs, another eight to 10 looks is a reasonable projection for Gordon.
Julian Edelman has seen target counts of nine and seven since returning to the field, though he’ll need a touchdown or a scramble-drill play to pay off his surprisingly lofty price tag on DraftKings, while he is less valuable on FanDuel without full PPR scoring. Edelman is priced appropriately on FantasyDraft, but the inclusion of the Sunday night game on there bumps him further down the list.
While Edelman and Chris Hogan each run about half their routes from the slot and half their routes out wide, Hogan runs a lot more vertical routes, making him a sneaky deep-tourney bet for a strong game. From a “floor” perspective, this is a thin play, as he has zero games all year north of five targets (and he has not topped four targets in a month), but upside is there.
Rob Gronkowski is good enough to win even in difficult matchups — though in addition to the tough matchup, this is the sort of spot in which the Patriots are likely to use Rob Gronkowski to chip on Khalil Mack throughout the game. The Patriots are notorious for trying to isolate an opponent’s best threat, and to go out of their way to minimize this threat — something they try to do on offense, as well as on defense. Mack is dealing with some injuries, but he is almost certain to play. If Mack is out this week, of course, all players will see a boost.
BEARS RUN OFFENSE
Only six teams have run the ball more frequently than the Bears, and as long as this game remains close, they are sure to stick with this approach — which has led to Jordan Howard seeing touch counts on the year of 20 // 17 // 26 // 11 // 14. For upside-hunters, it is concerning that Howard’s receptions have slid steadily downward throughout the season, going 5 // 4 // 2 // 0 // 0. After averaging over 21 pass routes per game through the first three weeks, he has averaged only 12 pass routes per game in two games since the bye — with Tarik Cohen seeing 17 targets and going a monstrous 14-211-1 through the air during this stretch. As noted last week: there is a chance this usage for Cohen is game plan specific — but as with last week, this is another matchup that sets up well for Cohen, against the Patriots’ slow, coverage-liability linebackers. New England has been beatable both on the ground and through the air with running backs, but as with last year, they tighten up near the end zone, and have allowed only one running back rushing touchdown on the year. Howard has yet to top 82 rushing yards in a game, so without receptions and touchdowns, he’ll have a tough time hitting for upside.
On the other hand, only four teams have allowed more receiving yards to running backs, with Kareem Hunt, Nyheim Hines, and Corey Grant used in a similar manner against the Patriots to how the Bears like to use Cohen. If Cohen is featured again, the Patriots really don’t have an answer for him.
BEARS PASS OFFENSE
The Patriots have traditionally been less interested in applying pressure on opponents between the 20s — instead opting to force opponents to move the field steadily without any big plays, followed up with strong red zone defense. New England does not quite have their red zone legs under them, as they rank 13th in red zone touchdown rate allowed — with nine touchdowns allowed to wide receivers on the year — but they have been solid against the big play, allowing fewer pass plays of 20+ yards than all but eight other teams.
The Patriots play as much man coverage as any team in football — leading to an average aDOT, an average catch rate, and average yards after the catch.
Beating this defense is all about crossing routes — using speed to move across the field, and to avoid the safety play of Devin McCourty over the middle. This is how Tyreek Hill, Chester Rogers, Eric Ebron, Kenny Stills, Kenny Golladay, Dede Westbrook, and DeAndre Hopkins have all been used against New England this year, and when the Bears have used this approach this year, it is Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller they have leaned on. Look for the Bears to use Gabriel’s speed on deep crossers — giving him an opportunity to either outrun his defender, or to pull the safety over with him and leave the seam open for Cohen. Gabriel has target counts on the year of 5 // 7 // 10 // 7 // 5, and another five to seven looks is a reasonable expectation here — giving him iffy floor, but big ceiling. If rostering Gabriel, hope for the Patriots to jump out to a lead, and for the Bears to ramp up usage on their speedy wideout.
Miller played 41 snaps last week off the bye, but ran only 21 pass routes. He has yet to top five targets in a game and is primarily used underneath, but he does have a respectable two targets inside the 10-yard-line, tied with Allen Robinson.
Robinson has taken a backseat to Gabriel lately, with target counts of 7 // 4 // 6 over his last three games, compared to 10 // 7 // 5 for Gabriel. Robinson will have a chance to make some nice contested catches in this one, and he’ll post a strong game if he hauls in a touchdown, but his skill set doesn’t play as well in this matchup as that of his speedy teammate.
Trey Burton has target counts on the year of 6 // 4 // 5 // 4 // 4, and he has topped 55 yards only once. He’ll likely need a touchdown to be worth a spot on your roster.
I expected James White and Tarik Cohen to both stand out to me in this game, but after digging into the research, White is less appealing to me, as a guy who will almost certainly need another score (or two) to support his rising price tag. Cohen, however, is a strong play in this spot as a salary-saver with big upside, and he’s in play on half-PPR FanDuel as well for his yardage upside. A bet on Cohen is a bet on his usage remaining where it’s been the last couple weeks — but given the fact that “guesswork” is part of almost any play down in his price range (and given that Cohen has week-winning upside), I’ll feel good about this play myself. This comfort is heightened by the fact that everything lines up for Cohen to be featured again.
I also like Josh Gordon in this spot, as his price (11.2% of the cap on DraftKings, 11.17% on FanDuel, and 10.2% on FantasyDraft) does not reflect his apparent role in this offense. While the Patriots are known for tricking us with their usage from time to time, it appears that Gordon’s expanded role is here to stay — and if he’s on the field, he’ll be the best way to attack this Bears defense.
Hogan is an interesting deep-tourney play, while Gronk has the talent to pop off even in a tough matchup — giving him his typical upside, to go with the lower-than-expected floor he has shown this season. Edelman will need a touchdown or two to justify a spot, while Sony Michel has a difficult draw against the stout Bears run defense.
On the other side, Howard, Robinson, and Burton won’t make the cut for me. Any of them “could” have a good game, but there are plays on the slate that are likelier to hit.
Quarterback is shaping up to be thin this week on the main slate, putting Tom Brady in play. Realistically, a tourney shot could be taken on Mitchell Trubisky as well, as the Patriots have allowed the 10th-most fantasy points per game to quarterbacks, and Trubisky could be asked to open things up a bit if the Patriots jump out to a lead.
SATURDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Rob Gronkowski did not travel with the Patriots, and he is doubtful for the game against the Bears. With so many weapons on the Patriots, this doesn’t filter targets to any one player (and realistically, Gronk has been seeing only a handful of targets each game), but this should provide a small boost to “pass catchers” in general, with no clear idea available of who will profit the most individually. The best matchups remain on the outside, where Josh Gordon plays heavily, and where Edelman/Hogan will split time. Dwayne Allen will fill in at tight end.