LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Bears are facing a win-win scenario.
Beat the Carolina Panthers and they boost their chances at the No. 1 overall pick in the draft.
It’s an unusual spot to be in, yet that’s where the Bears find themselves heading into their matchup at Soldier Field on Thursday night. If they come out on top, it would be a win on two fronts.
That’s because Chicago (2-7) owns Carolina’s first-round draft pick next year.
“I’m just trying to get to 3-7,” Bears guard Teven Jenkins said. “That’s the only thing I’m worried about, sir.”
The Bears had the No. 1 pick in the draft last spring after finishing with the league’s worst record. They traded it to Carolina for receiver DJ Moore.
Chicago is in the running for the top spot with its own first-round pick. But another route at the moment is through Carolina (1-7). Only Arizona (1-8) has a worse record.
Panthers coach Frank Reich said he hadn’t considered the potential draft implications and the potential to play a sort of spoiler.
“Interesting question,” he said. “I guess this is good, but I hadn’t even thought about that. This is just about tryin’ to win the next football game. One of the things I said to the guys today — sometimes when you get in this position, you look back and you wanna change some things that have happened. You wish, somehow, that you can double down.
“‘Hey, let’s put it all in this one game. Let’s double down on everything. Get it all back!’ But that’s not real life. That’s not real life in the NFL. That’s not real life, period. You gotta take ’em one at a time.”
Both teams have more immediate concerns. And for both, they involve the quarterback spot.
For Chicago, quarterback Justin Fields is doubtful because of a dislocated right thumb. That means rookie Tyson Bagent will likely start his fourth straight game.
Fields hasn’t played since dislocating his right thumb during a Week 6 loss to Minnesota. The Bears are 1-2 with Bagent — an undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia — as their starter after losing last week at New Orleans.
For Carolina, rookie Bryce Young looks to rebound from his worst game as a pro in last week’s loss to Indianapolis.
MOORE OF THAT
The most recent time the Bears played on a Thursday night, Moore had the best game of his career.
He went off in a Week 5 win at Washington, setting career highs with 230 yards and three touchdowns. Since then, he hasn’t had more than 55 yards in a game.
Moore will be facing his former team for the first time since a blockbuster trade in March. The Bears sent the No. 1 pick to Carolina and moved back eight spots in this year’s draft.
They also acquired the Panthers’ 2024 first-round pick.
Moore could be in for another big game in prime time. Carolina’s secondary is banged up with Jaycee Horn (hamstring/IR) and C.J. Henderson (concussion) out this week
Carolina’s defense has been plagued by injuries all season and it enters Thursday night even thinner on the depth chart after several more on Sunday.
Outside linebacker Brian Burns will not play after suffering a concussion against Indianapolis.
That position has also been depleted by injuries with Justin Houston and Yetur Gross-Matos already on injured reserve.
That leaves the Panthers young at outside linebacker as second-year player Amare Barno and rookies DJ Johnson and Eku Leota are left to handle the reps.
Carolina’s secondary is likely to be without starting cornerback C.J. Henderson, who like Burns remains in the concussion protocol. Starting cornerback Jaycee Horn has been on injured reserve since Week 1 and is not quite ready to return.
Young, the No. 1 pick in the draft, has one of the worst QB ratings in the NFL. He is coming off a game where he threw three interceptions — two of which were returned for touchdowns by Colts cornerback Kenny Moore — against the league’s 32nd-ranked defense.
Despite Young’s struggles, Reich said he is sticking with him as the starter.
“I’ve seen this happen to the best quarterbacks in the history of the game,” Reich said. “They all have games like this. Sure, it’s easy to put it on the quarterback, but you bounce back. That’s what makes the great ones.”
LACK OF SACKS
Chicago comes in with a league-low 10 sacks. Maybe this is the week to get the pass rush going.
The Bears acquired Montez Sweat from Washington at the trade deadline to do just that. He didn’t have much of an impact at New Orleans with just two tackles in his Chicago debut. But he should be a little more comfortable this week.
Carolina has allowed 29 sacks — tied with Tennessee for fifth most in the NFL. Only the New York Giants (49), Washington (44), New York Jets (32) and Bears (30) have given up more.
THIELEN FACES FAMILIAR FOE
The Panthers’ most productive player this season has been 33-year-old wide receiver Adam Thielen, who has 62 receptions for 610 yards and four touchdowns for one of the league’s worst offenses.
Thielen has plenty of experience playing against the Chicago Bears having spent 10 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings, but hasn’t had much success against them. He’s never had more than 68 yards receiving in game against Chicago.
CAROLINA (1-7) at CHICAGO (2-7)
Thursday, 8:15 p.m. EST, Amazon Prime
BETTING LINE: Bears by 1 1/2, according to FanDuel SportsBook.
AGAINST THE SPREAD: Panthers 1-6-1; Bears 3-5-1.
SERIES RECORD: Bears lead 7-4.
LAST MEETING: Bears beat Panthers 23-16 on Oct. 18, 2020, in Charlotte.
PANTHERS OFFENSE: OVERALL (28), RUSH (24), PASS (27), SCORING (26).
PANTHERS DEFENSE: OVERALL (8), RUSH (28), PASS (5), SCORING (T31).
BEARS OFFENSE: OVERALL (19), RUSH (4), PASS (24), SCORING (19).
BEARS DEFENSE: OVERALL (19), RUSH (4), PASS (28), SCORING (T28).
TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL: Panthers minus-4; Bears minus-9.
PANTHERS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Bryce Young. Young is coming off his worst game as a pro, throwing three interceptions against the Indianapolis Colts, including two that were returned for touchdowns. The Colts entered the game as the league’s 32nd-ranked defense. Young has thrown eight touchdown passes and seven interceptions and is 1-6 as a starter. Despite the No. 1 overall pick’s struggles, Panthers coach Frank Reich said he has no plans to bench Young for veteran Andy Dalton.
BEARS PLAYER TO WATCH: QB Tyson Bagent. Bagent is set to make his fourth straight start with Justin Fields doubtful because of a dislocated right thumb. The undrafted rookie from Division II Shepherd University in West Virginia has thrown for 697 yards, three touchdowns and six interceptions in four games. Bagent was picked off three times and lost a fumble last week. The Bears are 1-2 with him as their starter. Fields, who returned to practice Friday, hasn’t played since dislocating his right thumb during a Week 6 loss to Minnesota.
KEY MATCHUP: Bears WR DJ Moore vs. Carolina’s banged-up secondary. The most recent time D.J. Moore played on Thursday night, he had eight receptions for a career-high 230 yards and three touchdowns against the Washington Commanders in Week 5. This time, Moore faces his former team, which traded him to Chicago as part of a package that allowed Carolina to move up eight spots in the draft to get Young. The Panthers also sent their first-round pick in the 2024 draft to Chicago. Carolina’s secondary is banged up with both Jaycee Horn (hamstring/IR) and C.J. Henderson (concussion) out this week, meaning Moore could be in for a another big game in prime time.
KEY INJURIES: The Panthers will be without OLB Brian Burns and CB C.J. Henderson, who have been ruled out with concussions suffered in Sunday’s loss to the Colts. Several other key defensive players are on injured reserve, leaving the Panthers thin on that side of the ball. … Bears S Jaquan Brisker returns after missing the past two games with a concussion and illness. … RB Khalil Herbert (ankle), WR Equanimeous St. Brown (hamstring) and CB Josh Blackwell (hamstring) are in 21-day windows to return from injured reserve and are questionable for this game.
SERIES NOTES: The Bears have won two straight and five of six against Carolina.
STATS AND STUFF: Chicago and Carolina meet in a matchup of teams with two of the five worst records in the NFL. The Panthers have yet to win on the road this season. … QB Bryce Young has the 29th-ranked QB rating in the league with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions. He is 1-6 as a starter. … Panthers QBs have been sacked a combined 29 times this season. … RB Miles Sanders played well in the second half of Sunday’s loss to the Colts and could see added carries against the Bears. However, Chuba Hubbard will start again this week. Hubbard’s 3.86 yards per carry ranks 30th in the league. … WR Adam Thielen’s 62 receptions are tied for sixth in the league. … P Johnny Hekker is ranked sixth in the league in punting average at 43.8 yards per punt. … Chicago is 1-3 at home. … The Bears have a league-low 10 sacks and are last in the NFL in turnover differential. … Edge rusher Montez Sweat, acquired from Washington at the trade deadline to boost the pass rush, had two tackles in his Bears debut. … WR Darnell Mooney is coming off his best game this season with season highs of five catches and 82 yards.
FANTASY TIP: Moore going against his former team would seem to be an easy choice here, assuming the Bears give him the opportunities. He was targeted five times last week and caught three passes for 44 yards. He hasn’t had more than 55 yards since the Washington game.