LAKE FOREST – Bears quarterback Justin Fields said the first thing he thinks about when he hears the name Buffalo Bills is a hard hit he took in his second preseason game as a rookie last year.
A Bills defender nailed him on a blitz that the Bears didn’t pick up and sent his helmet flying. Much has changed since then. First and foremost, Fields has gotten much better at avoiding defenders. The second-year QB has surpassed 1,000 rushing yards on the season and counting.
Fields and the Bears will take on the Bills for the first time in a regular season game since they demolished Buffalo 41-9 in November 2018. The Bears have won three of their past four games against Buffalo going back to 2006.
This Buffalo team has changed a lot since 2018, however. The Bills are firmly Super Bowl contenders. The Bears are in the mix for a top draft pick. The teams will kick off at noon Saturday and the game will be broadcast on CBS. Here’s what to watch for.
1. The winter weather
Everyone is talking about the weather. It will be cold and windy Saturday in Chicago after a winter storm dumped snow throughout the area on Thursday and Friday. Winds are expected to be blowing at 20 mph, with gusts as high as 40mph.
It will not be an ideal day to play football. The Bills changed their schedule and hoped to leave Buffalo a day early.
Due to the inclement weather forecast on Friday, the Bills are planning to depart for Chicago on Thursday evening.— Buffalo Bills PR (@BuffaloBillsPR) December 21, 2022
Buffalo has experience in the snow. The Bills beat Miami in a snowy home game last week. The Bears have faced a lot of rain this season, but no cold like this.
Throwing and kicking the football will be difficult.
[ Chicago Bears preparing for bitter cold Saturday at Soldier Field ]
2. Fields’ quest for the rushing record
Fields has his eyes set on breaking the NFL’s single-season rushing record for a quarterback after reaching 1,000 yards and breaking the Bears’ record against Philadelphia.
Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson set the record in 2019 when he rushed for 1,206 yards. He also ran for 1,005 yards in 2020, and Michael Vick had 1,039 yards in 2006 with Atlanta.
Fields will need to average 69 yards in the team’s remaining three games in order to break the record. He’ll face a tough Buffalo rushing defense. The Bills allow an average of 106.1 rushing yards per game, the sixth-fewest in the league.
3. Stefon Diggs vs. the Bears secondary
The Bears secondary will face off against one of the NFL’s best wide receivers for the second straight week and they’ll do it without their top cornerback. Jaylon Johnson was placed on injured reserve Friday with a finger injury after being listed as questionable Thursday for Saturday’s game.
After Johnson and the Bears limited Philadelphia’s A.J. Brown to an 181 yard-day on nine receptions with no touchdowns Sunday, the Bears will need to stop another wideout who is top-five in the league in receiving yards in the Bills’ Stefon Diggs.
Diggs enters Saturday’s game third in the league with 1,299 receiving yards in 14 games. The Bill averages 92.8 yards per game and is tied for third with 10 touchdowns.
The Bears also placed cornerback Kindle Vildor on injured reserve Friday after he missed the last two games with an ankle injury. Bears rookies Kyler Gordon and Jaquan Brisker will have the spotlight on them as they try to stop one of the NFL’s best.
4. Who’s playing on the offensive line?
The Bears’ offensive line will have major questions heading into Saturday’s game. The team listed guard Cody Whitehair (knee) and Teven Jenkins (neck) as doubtful against the Bills. Whitehair didn’t practice during the week, and Jenkins was limited Tuesday before not practicing Wednesday and Thursday.
Losing both guards would be a tough hit for an offensive line that at times has struggled to protect Fields. Eberflus said Michael Schofield would be the first fill-in if either Whitehair or Jenkins don’t play, and Larry Borom could fill in at the other spot if both can’t play.
Whoever takes the field, they’ll face a difficult task stopping a stout Bills defense. Buffalo has 30 sacks and allowed the second-fewest amount of points in the league with 250.
5. Can Justin Fields become Josh Allen?
Bears fans will get to see an opposing quarterback they hope Fields can become for the second straight week after watching Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts last week. Buffalo’s Josh Allen has become one of the league’s best quarterbacks after a slow start to his career.
Allen threw for 2,074 yards, 10 touchdowns and 12 interceptions during his rookie year in 2018 before he turned things around. He boosted those numbers to 20 touchdowns in 2019 and followed that up with 37 and 36 in 2020 and 2021, respectively. Buffalo has made the playoffs the last three seasons under Allen, including the AFC Championship during the 2020 season.
He heads into Saturday’s game fifth in passing with 3,857 yards and third with 30 touchdowns, leading Buffalo to a 11-3 record.
Allen’s growth should have Bears fans excited about Fields’ potential if the team can build around him and the coaching staff can continue to develop the quarterback.