Key matchups, predictions: Chicago Bears at Cincinnati Bengals
When the Bengals have the ball
G Frank Omiyale vs. DT Tank Johnson or Pat Sims
Omiyale, who had a miserable time against Atlanta's Jonathan Babineaux last week, simply has to play better. Omiyale promised the problems he has had run-blocking are easy to fix. If they aren't, he might find himself on the sidelines watching new starter Josh Beekman. Ex-Bear Johnson likely has some anger to let loose after being booted out of Chicago. A foot injury might limit his time, and Sims has started the last three games in Johnson's place. The Bengals need someone to step up on the line with sack-master Antwan Odom (Achilles') done for the season.
RB Matt Forte vs. LB Dhani Jones, Rey Maualuga and Keith Rivers
A push from the offensive line would help, but Forte is sure to be motivated, regardless, coming off his 23-yard, two-fumble outing in Atlanta. His 3.4 yards-per-carry average is more than a yard short of Jay Cutler's (4.7). If Forte can get to the second level, he's sure to see his share of the sensational rookie Maualuga, Rivers and reality TV star Jones, the Bengals' leading tackler. As a team, the Bengals are solid against the run, holding the Ravens and Texans to fewer than 90 yards in consecutive games.
When the Bengals have the ball
RB Cedric Benson vs. LB Nick Roach or Hunter Hillenmeyer
Benson says he isn't running to prove anything, but you can count on him being a little more jacked up than he ever was in his Chicago career. The Bears also will have to watch him closely on passing downs, as the Bengals are using him effectively as a receiving outlet. Roach has been playing the run wonderfully and likely will continue to start at the position, but there is a chance coach Lovie Smith will decide to move Roach to the strong side and reinsert Hillenmeyer at middle linebacker.
WR Laveranues Coles vs. CB Zack Bowman
Assuming Charles Tillman follows Chad Ochocinco and they play to a draw, the matchup between Coles and Bowman could be very influential in determining the score. Coles was a free agent in the offseason and the Bears decided to pass on him. The former Pro Bowler has not had more than 40 yards in a game but is crafty enough to light up an inexperienced cover man. Bowman started to play with more confidence against the Falcons and says he is going for the ball more.
David Haugh, Bears 27, Bengals 24: The Bears reacted to the Falcons' loss the way you would want from a veteran team, publicly and privately acknowledged the self-inflicted errors in the Atlanta game. Don't expect a similarly lax performance against a beatable Bengals team.
Vaughn McClure, Bears 21, Bengals 17: Matt Forte should rebound, and the much-maligned offensive line should play with a sense of urgency. But this could come down to how the Bears' defense fares. There is no way the Bears will allow ex-teammate Cedric Benson to run loose.
Fred Mitchell, Bears 24, Bengals 20: Jay Cutler has new paper, Cedric Benson has a new team and Chad Ochocinco has a new book. Should make for an entertaining afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bears will emerge victorious if they don't beat themselves again.
Rick Morrissey, Bears 24, Bengals 17: This pick is more about skepticism of the Bengals than it is a strong belief in the Bears. The historically woefully Bengals 4-2? This can't be.
Dan Pompei, Bears 31, Bengals 24: This could be the day Jay Cutler breaks out. The Bengals have the 28th-ranked passing defense. The key is the Bears will have to load up the box to slow down an inspired running back named Cedric Benson.