From 2014-2016, about 63 percent of the plays ran by the New Orleans Saints were passes. Through six games in 2017, the Saints have passed 57 percent of the time, underscoring an evolution of Sean Payton’s offense in the twilight of Drew Brees’ career.
These aren’t the throw-it-all-over-the-place Saints of years past, with the 38-year-old Brees operating a more balanced offense with running backs Mark Ingram (89 carries, 389 yards) and Alvin Kamara (34 carries, 215 yards). Brees is averaging 275 yards per game so far, the first time that rate has been under 300 yards since 2010.
And that’s been an effective approach: New Orleans is averaging 28 1/2 points per game, has won four in a row and looks to have the inside track on winning the NFC South. The Bears’ defense, for as good as they’ve been as a collective group over the last few weeks, will probably allow some points in the Superdome. The trick is to keep things as close as possible for this group, which they’ve shown they can do so long as catastrophic mistakes are avoided on offense and special teams.
An X-Factor here for the Bears, though: Not only is defensive end Akiem Hicks playing the best football of his career (six sacks and outstanding run support in seven games), but he didn't leave the Saints on good terms in 2015 when he was dealt to the New England Patriots for blocking tight end Michael Hoomanawanui. The last thing the Saints' offense line -- which will be missing starting right guard Larry Warford -- needs is extra motivation from a guy in Hicks who's playing at an All-Pro level this year.
New Orleans’ run defense is vulnerable (4.9 yards/carry, tied for second-worst in the NFL), but this group has been good against the pass, which may not be conducive to a breakout game from Mitchell Trubisky. The best thing the Bears could do would be run the ball successfully and control the clock, but that may be difficult if New Orleans sells out to stop the run with eight or more men in the box on a consistent basis.
While the Bears have shown some good things (specifically on defense) in wins over the Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers, this trip to New Orleans looks difficult, and leaving Louisiana with a win will be a tall task.
Prediction: Saints 26, Bears 16