Here is a look at hypothetical propositional wagers between the Bears and Panthers.
First team to score
Bears. The Bears have begun two of the first three games on offense and scored within the first two possessions when doing so. This is a game in which they should be able to put up in surplus of 20 points as they face a Panthers defense yielding 22.7 points per game. I think the Bears defense will have a much better performance when it takes the field for the first time than it did last week against the Packers, and I expect the Bears to take the early lead.
First Bears player to score
Matt Forte. Forte is ranked fifth in the league in total yards with 406, but he has just one touchdown, that which came through the air. This is the game he could and should score his first rushing touchdown as he faces a Panthers run defense ranked 25th in the league while allowing 117 yards per game.
First Bears player to catch a pass
Dane Sanzenbacher. Sanzenbacher has developed into a nice option for Jay Cutler in the passing game and he is getting an increased role in the offense. What that means for the Bears’ offensive prospects this season is a story for another day, but I could see him getting involved in the offense against the Panthers right away.
Bears player to catch most passes
Matt Forte. Forte is second in the league with 22 receptions, trailing only New England’s Wes Welker. He’s on pace for over 117 receptions and 1,530 receiving yards. Obviously, I expect that pace to slow down considerably, but in the meantime, until one of the Bears receivers decides to step up and give Cutler a more formidable option, Forte should continue to lead the team in receptions.
More passing yards – Jay Cutler or Cam Newton
Jay Cutler. Cam Newton has to make a believer out of me before I’m ready to anoint him a certified NFL quarterback, despite his big numbers through the first three games of the season. Sometimes rookies come on to the scene strong because the first few opponents on the schedule don’t have much game film on him. Newton has yet to face a defense this season the caliber of the one the Bears will present on Sunday, so I expect Cutler to throw for more yards despite increased production from the Bears run game.
More touchdown passes or interceptions by Jay Cutler
Touchdowns. The Panthers have just one interception this season, which ranks them 27th in the league, and they’re not exactly filled with playmakers in the secondary. Their top cornerback, Chris Gamble, missed practice Thursday and his status for the game is in question. After facing three of the toughest teams in the league, the offense should look a little improved and Cutler will throw for a few scores.
Jay Cutler sacks
4. The Panthers have not been able to get after the quarterback much this season as they rank just 23rd in the league with five sacks. Rest assured, though, that former Bears defensive coordinator and current Panthers head coach Ron Rivera will be sending the attack dogs after Cutler. Look for defensive end Charles Johnson to have a big game as I think the Panthers have a chance to double their season sack total in this game.
More rushing yards – Bears or Panthers
Bears. This is a matchup in which it’s probably not fair to pit one running back against the other considering both teams figure to use an array of weapons in the backfield. The Panthers use a two-back attack with DeAngelo Williams (27 carries) and Jonathan Stewart (23), and Newton (25) also runs the ball quite a bit, too. Marion Barber had full participation in practice this week and could finally see the field this Sunday. I think he will help the Bears run the ball more effectively and the Bears should finish with more rushing yards.
Total combined rushing and receiving yards by Matt Forte
145. Forte should have a productive game this week against an average Panthers defense. I expect him to dramatically improve on his eight inches per carry average from last week and he’ll have his usual prominent role in the passing game. He should account for a large chunk of the Bears’ total yards this game.
Team to win the turnover battle
Bears. Newton had good success against the Packers in Week 2, but let’s see how he does on the road after a few weeks of scouting reports have developed on him. Sensing the urgency of the moment, the Bears offense will take care of the ball and the defense will be at the top of their game and record more takeaways than their counterpart.
Total points scored
40. The Panthers and Bears have remarkably similar numbers in terms of points scored and points given up this year. Each team has scored 60 points through three weeks and the Bears have allowed one more point (69) than the Panthers (68). This should be a moderate-scoring game with a fairly even ratio of touchdowns to field goals.