Five Things to Watch Sunday

The Chicago Bears will host the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field for the second time in 2007, but the stakes are considerably lower Sunday. However, the Saints still have faint playoff hopes, so here are the top five things to be on the lookout for that could have a major effect on the final score.

1. Can Orton put together back-to-back strong performances?
After struggling greatly in his first start of the season at Minnesota two weeks ago, Kyle Orton played very well in an upset victory over rival Green Bay last Sunday. As tends to be in the case in the city of Chicago, fans weren't giving him much support after stinking it up against the Vikings but applauded his effort after posting a 103.2 passer rating in brutal conditions against the Packers. It's impossible to forecast what the depth chart at quarterback will look like before training camp next season, although Orton is almost certain to be in Bourbonnais – both Rex Grossman and Brian Griese are question marks right now.

If Orton can get this team to finish the schedule on a two-game winning streak and carry some good vibrations into the offseason, perhaps the front office will feel better about giving him a chance to compete for No. 1 in 2008.

2. Is Sunday the last time we'll see Briggs wearing a Bears uniform?
Lance Briggs finally gets his wish and will be a free agent after the season, and it looks more and more like he won't be back with the Bears in `08. Headed to his third straight Pro Bowl, Briggs has recently begun talking to the media again and sounds like a player simply looking to get paid and will most likely sign with the highest bidder. He is a tremendous player and maintains a very close friendship with All-Pro Brian Urlacher, but weakside linebackers have proven to be replaceable in this defense over the years.

The Midway Monsters have a lot of holes to fill before next season, most specifically along the offensive line and at the safety position, but Jamar Williams has shown that he can play and Michael Okwo was drafted in the third round last April for a reason.

3. Will Wolfe solidify himself as the primary change-of-pace back?


RB Garrett Wolfe
Paul Sakuma/AP Images
General manager Jerry Angelo fell in love with running back Garrett Wolfe during a private workout before the NFL Draft and took him off the board in Round 3, but not until Cedric Benson's season-ending ankle injury did the former NIU star get much of a chance to show what he can do. While he's only averaging 2.9 yards per carry on 27 attempts this year behind a brutal offensive line, he's caught eight balls out of the backfield and showed some serious wiggle with a 33-yard gain off a harmless screen pass last Sunday aganst the Packers. Adrian Peterson may have rushed for 102 yards in that game, but it took him 30 carries to get there – only one of his 130 rushes this season has gone for more than 11 yards.

Neither Benson nor Peterson has shown much of an ability to make defenders miss and create something out of nothing, a skill that the 5-7, 186-pound Wolfe has developed since he was in high school because of his diminutive frame.

4. Is the secondary ready for the Saints and their high-octane passing attack?
The Saints are still alive in the NFC playoff picture, so Drew Brees and Co. will have plenty of motivation to throw the ball all over the field and light up the scoreboard. Deuce McAlliser has been on injured reserve since September and Reggie Bush will miss his fourth straight game, plus it's possible that third-stringer Aaron Stecker could also be in street clothes because of a turf toe injury – undrafted rookie Pierre Thomas might be the only tailback available for New Orleans. Brees has thrown more passes (595) than any other quarterback in the NFL, yet he's incredibly only been sacked 13 times.

Make no mistake about it, Brees is going to throw the ball 40-50 times and will test the Chicago defensive backfield from start to finish.

5. How will the Bears respond for the last game of a disappointing season?
To their credit, the Monsters of the Midway could have laid down like dogs this past Sunday but managed to put together their most complete effort of the season against the Packers. However, New Orleans is not a bitter rival like Green Bay is, so motivation might be hard to muster since the Bears will be cleaning out their lockers directly after this ballgame. That being said, the Packers finished the 2006 season on a high note and seemed to carry that momentum into 2007, a message head coach Lovie Smith has been conveying to his team ever since his squad was eliminated from playoff contention.

The Bears owe it to the Soldier Field faithful to put together another spirited effort Sunday in a rematch of last year's NFC championship game.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.


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