Both teams enter the night boasting a mighty .385 winning percentage and matching 5-8 records. Fortunately for the Saints (who may actually deserve their nickname of the 'Aints this year), they are second in the abysmal NFC South behind the Panthers (5-8-1) and can actually take the lead in the division if they leave the painted dirt of Soldier Field with a win. The Bears, on the other hand, are the worst team in the NFC North, trailing even the hapless Vikings and their rookie QB, with our friends at Windy City Gridiron wondering whether HC Marc Trestman, OC Aaron Kromer, Jay Cutler or GM Phil Emery can survive (or whether they even should).
Drew Brees is usually ranked in the Big Four of Elite QBs (along with Rodgers, Peyton, and Brady), but he's been battling reports that he's declining in skill, or that he's on his way out soon, as the Saints face looming salary cap issues and he's due $38.5M over the next two seasons. In addition to controversy surrounding Brees' future, there's talk that the entire Saints roster will fall apart and that HC Sean Payton will be leaving the Big Easy before his contract is up in 2017. Either way, the Saints depend on a 36-year-old QB to carry them to glory, are reportedly benching 2013 1st round pick Kenny Vaccaro, lost star FA-signing Jairus Byrd to season-ending IR in October, released Joe Morgan, and are witnessing lackluster performances by highly paid players like Junior Galette and Marques Colston. With all that said, Brees still has Jimmy Graham (TE/pass-catching extraordinaire), Mark Ingram, and Kenny Stills, so they should be able to take on the cellar of corpses that now calls itself the Bears' defense.
Meanwhile, Jay Cutler is not an elite QB despite being paid like one. He also, according to NFLN talking head and HOF RB Marshall Faulk, gets people fired. The Bears lost their leader, Brandon Marshall, to season-ending IR after a terrifying rib injury that led to a collapsed lung. They still have Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett, and Matt Forte, so they shouldn't be struggling offensively like they are, since Trestman, like Payton, is considered an offensive guru who was able to mask Josh McCown's many deficiencies last season while Cutler was out. Unfortunately, there is allegedly a sense of buyer's remorse over Cutler's deal, and OC Aaron Kromer came clean and admitted to leaking a report about his QB in the media this past week, further increasing the nonsense surrounding a faltering team that had expected to challenge for second place in their division and a spot in the playoffs. The situation in Chicago is so ridiculous that even sunshine and rainbows Jon Gruden is commenting on it.
A major issue with both teams is the defense. The Monsters of the Midway are no more, as the Bears have lost Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, to injury or retirement, with no one stepping in the fill the voids. Additionally, draft picks like Shea McClellin have developed slowly and an aging Jared Allen cannot carry the load by himself. Jeremiah Ratliff is questionable for the game, but if he, Stephen Paea, Tim Jennings, Ryan Mundy and Chris Conte can work with Allen and McClellin, they might be able to slow down Brees' passing attack. Rob Ryan's defense boasts Cameron Jordan, Curtis Lofton, and Parys Haralson. Together, they should be able to disrupt Cutler's already struggling passing offense.
When the NFL schedule-makers put this game together, they surely thought we'd be tuning in to watch two of the biggest arms in the NFL, both challenging for a playoff spot late in December. Instead, we're destined to watch two inconsistent teams surrounded by controversy and dealing with ineffective play. Regardless, ESPN isn't going to heed Brandon Marshall's suggestion and take the teams off the air, so get your popcorn ready to see a gloriously ugly hot mess tonight!
Live from the pits of despair, it's Monday Night Football!