GAME PLAN: This will be another tough test for the Patriots' offense, which will face the league's third-ranked defense Sunday in Chicago. The Bears have been strong against the run and their front seven is dangerous, but the Patriots have one of the best offensive lines in football and know how to handle various defensive fronts.
The smart money says the Patriots will utilize their max protection a lot in this game, primarily as a necessity, and let it fly through the air. Tom Brady is the hottest player in the league right now, and it remains to be seen whether any defense can slow him down.
Offensively, the Bears have the potential to be explosive, but overall they're ranked near the bottom of the league in every important offensive category. The Patriots' secondary has momentum on its side following Monday's dominant performance and this could be another chance to keep the ball rolling.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Patriots TE Alge Crumpler. While Crumpler isn't an offensive lineman, he's a team captain and one of the best blockers on the roster. The Patriots will need his help up front to keep Peppers out of the backfield. So far, Tom Brady has remained upright for most of the year and the Patriots would like to keep it that way, which is why they'll need Crumpler to help out on the edge.
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Bears secondary. This is one of those unconventional matchups. With Brady having thrown four touchdown passes in each of his last two games, it'll be interesting to see how he operates against a team ranked second in the league in total defense and third overall in points per game allowed. Stop Brady, and you have a chance, otherwise it will be a long day.
Bears CB Charles Tillman vs. Patriots WR Deion Branch. Tillman will have his hands full. Branch has been hot in recent weeks and has once again become Brady's go-to receiver. More importantly, he's picking up significant yards after the catch, which means Tillman needs to tackle well, not just focus solely on knocking the ball away, because if he misses, Branch could take one to the house.
INJURY IMPACT: The Patriots have managed to fill the void left by all the injuries they've had. OL Dan Connolly is a perfect fit to replace Stephen Neal and the loss of CB Jonathan Wilhite hasn't made a significant impact since Wilhite's role was always limited.
With neither starting SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) nor top backup Nick Roach (back) expected to play this week, the Bears are expected to start Rod Wilson, who filled in last week when Tinoisamoa was unable to start and Roach was hurt in the first quarter.
But this week, as was the case last week, the Bears will probably play more nickel defense, which gets second-year playmaker D.J. Moore on the field in place of Wilson, who has never played much in the base defense but contributes on special teams. Moore leads the Bears with four interceptions, and he picked up a half-sack last week, his first in the NFL.
GAME PLAN: The Bears' Cover 2 defense, which they have been playing more and more frequently, is designed to prevent long completions. But it comes at the expense of permitting completions underneath the coverage, which is what the Patriots and QB Tom Brady have excelled at this season. The Bears will be content to allow the underneath stuff if they can eliminate the running game and occasionally force Brady to throw the ball before he's ready.
While it might be tempting to throw the ball all over the yard when looking at the statistical ranking of the Patriots' defense, Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz says a lot of that yardage has come after teams have fallen far behind and are playing catch-up. So the Bears are not expected to abandon the balance between run and pass that has coincided with their five-game winning streak. The longer the Bears are able to possess the ball, the less time Brady has to work with.
Other factors that might work against throwing the ball are the cold temperatures and heavy snowfall that are predicted. The Bears say they won't devise their game plan based on inclement weather that may or may not arrive, but they will be prepared to adjust if necessary.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Bears 5-foot-9, 183-pound CB D.J. Moore, who leads the team with four interceptions, vs. Patriots 5-foot-9, 185-pound WR Wes Welker, who excels at working underneath the coverage and leads the team with 72 catches and 672 receiving yards.
Patriots 6-foot-2, 325-pound NT Vince Wilfork vs. Bears 13-year veteran C Olin Kreutz, who will need help from LG Chris Williams and RG Roberto Garza in controlling the run-stuffer.
INJURY IMPACT: LB Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee), LB Nick Roach (back) and RB Chester Taylor (knee) did not participate in Wednesday's practice outside at Halas Hall. Neither linebacker is expected to play Sunday, but Taylor was expected back at practice Thursday.