Five fearless predictions for Sunday’s Carolina Panthers game at Chicago:
1. There will be four takeaways.
The wet forecast for Chicago (70 percent chance of afternoon rain) might make for some ugly, grind-it-out football. But the conditions should be ideal for a couple of defenses that need some help taking the ball away. Both teams are ranked near the bottom in takeaways and turnover margin. But the wet ball will lead to a couple of fumbles and the Panthers’ first interception since Week 1.
2. The Bears will run it 40 times.
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Bears coach John Fox hasn’t really taken the training wheels off rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky. And facing one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing teams, this week doesn’t seem to be the ideal time. Chicago had 54 carries last week in an overtime victory at Baltimore, including 36 from Jordan Horward, the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher. Howard and former N.C. A&T standout Tarik Cohen again will be busy.
3. David Mayo will have a dozen tackles.
With Chicago keeping the ball on the ground, that will mean a lot of opportunities for Mayo, who gets his first career start in place of the injured Luke Kuechly. Mayo is a little shaky in coverage, but he’s tough against the run. So as long as defensive tackles such as Star Lotulelei and Vernon Butler can occupy blockers, Mayo should be able to make plays in the middle of Steve Wilks’ 4-3 scheme.
4. Jonathan Stewart will average 4 yards a carry.
We’re going out on a bit of a limb here, considering Stewart managed to rush for minus-4 yards on eight carries last week in the loss to Philadelphia. That followed a 1.2-yard per carry average the previous week at Detroit. No one is happier to have center Ryan Kalil back in the lineup than Stewart, who should see more running lanes with the Pro Bowler correcting the miscommunication issues that plagued the line in recent weeks.
5. About that Panthers’ interception ...
The Bears’ receiving corps has been decimated, with Kevin White and Cameron Meredith on IR and Markus Wheaton out with a groin injury. Chicago’s wideouts caught two passes last week vs. the Ravens and will serve mostly as blockers for Howard and Cohen. But Panthers defensive end Julius Peppers will get his hand on one of the few passes Trubisky attempts and will pull down the ball for an interception vs. his fellow Tar Heel to give the Panthers a short field. Cam Newton will take it from there. Panthers 24, Bears 16.
Panthers at Bears
Soldier Field, Chicago
Sunday, 1 p.m.
CBS (Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn)