CHICAGO BEARS (3-9) AT CINCINNATI BENGALS (5-7)
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Bengals lead series, 6-4, including wins in two of the past three meetings. The Panthers are the only current NFL franchise the Bengals have played fewer times. The Bears won the most recent meeting, 24-21 at Soldier Field in 2013.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bears need to do what they should have been able to do last week: run the ball out of two-tight-end formations. It should work against a Bengals defense ranked 28th against the run.
The Bengals have given up the second-most rushing attempts (369) because offenses know they can't stop the run. Of course, the worst team in this regard is San Francisco, and the Bears couldn't sustain a running attack against the 49ers last week. But they need to vary their running game and run more inside rather than punching the outside zone button every time, as they've been doing.
Running Jordan Howard out of the shotgun on the inside is something they can do to keep Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins from being overly occupied with his pass rush. They will need to use play-action passing, move Mitchell Trubisky around to avoid the rush, and run it with authority.
Defensively, the Bears' pass rush needs to be strong up the middle and come right at Andy Dalton. He's not a good passer outside on the run unless on a planned bootleg. If defensive linemen Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks can cave the pocket from the middle, it will make the Bears' absence of outside pass rushers less important.
Cincinnati's running game isn't much to worry about, ranking 30th in the league and rookie talent Joe Mixon is out (concussion),. Another game in the lineup for linebacker Danny Trevathan as he bounces back from a calf injury should help address any leaking they had against the run last week.
The Bengals are banged up following a tough 23-20 loss to the Steelers on Monday night. They dodged a bullet when safety George Iloka's suspension was overturned, but they have six players listed as out, including hyperactive linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
Cincinnati's defense needs to make Trubisky uncomfortable, and that would be easier if Howard were kept under control. This could be a low-scoring affair, which would favor the Bengals' defense.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
--Bengals LT Cedric Ogbuehi vs. Bears DE Akiem Hicks. Hicks has seven sacks through 12 games. Ogbuehi has graded better in recent weeks as the offensive line has steadily improved.
--Bears WR Dontrelle Inman vs. Bengals CB William Jackson III. Adam Jones has a groin injury and Darqueze Dennard a knee injury, so it's likely Jackson will be playing outside on Inman. The Bears absolutely have to get the ball down the field to have a chance to open up the rest of their offense, and Inman is really their only threat, beyond running back Tarik Cohen, to make a catch downfield.
FRIDAY INJURY REPORTS
--Doubtful: S Adrian Amos (hamstring), DT Eddie Goldman (hip), LB Pernell McPhee (shoulder)
--Questionable: S DeAndre Houston-Carson (ankle)
--Out: LB Vontaze Burfict (concussion), CB Adam Jones (groin), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (concussion), RB Joe Mixon (concussion), LB Nick Vigil (ankle), S Shawn Williams (hamstring)
--Questionable: DT Geno Atkins (toe), CB Darqueze Dennard (knee), LB Vincent Rey (hamstring), S Brandon Wilson (ankle)
PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Bears TE Adam Shaheen. The rookie second-round draft pick had only nine plays on the field last week and is potentially a strong blocker, but still has to develop after coming out of Division II. The Bears have to get the running game going this week, so Shaheen should get more snaps and have an impact blocking the run, if not as a receiver in the short passing game or on bootleg passes. Shaheen has rarely shown the speed general manager Ryan Pace claimed he had after the draft. At 6-foot-6, his biggest contribution was expected to be in the red zone. But with the Bears last in the league at reaching the red zone (1.8 times a game), Shaheen hasn't exactly had numerous opportunities to display this strength.
FAST FACTS: Chicago RB Jordan Howard has 275 rushing yards in his past three road games. He is aiming for a third straight game vs. the AFC with 100 rushing yards. ... Rookie RB Tarik Cohen returned a punt 61 yards for a TD last week. He is the first player since Terry Metcalf (1975) and first rookie since former Bear Gale Sayers (1965) with scores via punt, run, reception and pass in a season. ... DE Akiem Hicks has a sack in two of the past three on the road. ... LB Christian Jones leads the team with 82 tackles. He tied a career-high with 13 last week. ... LB Danny Trevathan aims for a third straight game with at least 11 tackles. In two career games vs. Cincy, he has 18 tackles and a sack. ... CB Kyle Fuller is tied for third in the NFC with 13 passes defensed. He recorded his first interception of the season in Week 13. ... In his past six games, Cincinnati QB Andy Dalton has thrown 11 TD passes and zero interceptions, begetting a 103.1 rating. ... RB Joe Mixon has run for a TD in three of the past five games. He ranks fifth among NFL rookies with 784 scrimmage yards. ... RB Giovani Bernard had 96 scrimmage yards in Week 13. In his past seven home games vs. the NFC, he has 726 scrimmage yards and four rushing TDs. ... WR A.J. Green caught two TD passes last week, his sixth career multi-TD game. He is tied for fourth in the NFL with eight TD catches. ... DT Geno Atkins has 7.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss in his past eight home games. ... DE Carlos Dunlap had a sack in Week 13 and has 3.5 sacks in his past three games. His 62.5 sacks are the most in franchise history.
PREDICTION: The Bears have been blown out in three of their five road games, but they did beat Baltimore in overtime. They have a shot to knock off the banged-up Bengals here.
OUR PICK: Bears, 20-17.