Khalil Mack is the best defender on the Giants’ schedule this season.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fiction - Mack is great and I wouldn’t blame anyone for saying he is the best. But I think there are too many other candidates that could take the crown. J.J. Watt is still excellent. Is Mack a better player than Fletcher Cox? Not sure. DeMarcus Lawrence has gotten himself into Mack territory as well. Calais Campbell is pretty awesome. Let’s not forget defenders like Luke Kuechly either. Mack is close but not “the one.”
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Before this season, I would have given the edge to Houston’s J.J. Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But seeing the effect that Mack has had on his new team makes me lean more toward him at this point. After some down years for the historic franchise, Mack seems to have given the Bears a sense of belief and confidence – and not just on defense. It’s not rare in other sports for a single player to make such an impact, but it is in football. That just speaks to Mack’s greatness.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - The Giants have already been tested by several great defensive players, including Dallas’ DeMarcus Lawrence, J.J. Watt of the Texans, New Orleans’ Cam Jordan, Fletcher Cox and Michael Bennett of the Eagles, and Washington’s Jonathan Allen and Ryan Kerrigan. I can certainly add a few names to that lengthy list and make a case for several of those players, but based on his play this season, it’s hard to put anyone ahead of Khalil Mack because of how disruptive he has been. The 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year leads the Bears with eight sacks and five forced fumbles and has also returned an interception for a touchdown. Based on those stats alone, Mack is an extremely active and opportunistic player and you always have to be aware of where he’s lined up because the Bears move him around on both sides. Chicago’s defense was solid in 2017 but Mack has taken that group to new heights.
Protecting the football is the first priority vs. Chicago.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - No one takes the ball away more than the Bears. Their 29 takeaways and 20 interceptions lead the league. They have five interceptions returned for touchdowns and 104 points off turnovers. Their defense leads to offense. The Giants have not won a game this year where they haven’t been at least plus-2 in turnover ratio. It is the key to the game on Sunday.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Like the case with sacks, it’s not so much about the number of them; it’s what comes after they happen. Can the Giants regroup? Or does it start to snowball and completely wreck the game? Chicago is the best in the league right now at doing the latter to opposing offenses. The Bears have more interceptions than passing touchdowns allowed and have scored six touchdowns – five on picks and one on a fumble return.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - It’s not just the first priority. It’s also the second, third, fourth and fifth. The Bears are tied with the Browns for the best turnover differential in the NFL at plus-14. They’ve collected a league best 29 takeaways in 11 games, including an NFL-high 20 interceptions (five returned for touchdowns). Ten different players have at least one pick and seven different players have forced at least one fumble. As a team, Chicago has forced a league-best 17 fumbles with nine recovered and one returned for a score. This group is ridiculously opportunistic and, as a result, the Bears have scored an NFL-high 108 points off turnovers. I rest my case.
Saquon Barkley will have more yards receiving than rushing against the Bears.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The Bears have the second-best rush defense in football, and they are able to do it with seven guys in the box because their defensive line and linebackers are so good. There isn’t one liability in the entire group. Mack’s dominance overshadows excellent players like Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman and Danny Trevathan, who are all dominant run defenders. For the Giants, Barkley is going to have to run the ball if the Giants want to win the game. Third-and-long situations against the Bears turn into turnovers. They must be avoided at all costs. The Bears want to make teams one-dimensional.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - Neither will be easy. Only the Chiefs, Rams, Chargers, Buccaneers and Saints have more 20-yard plays than the Giants (52) this season, but the Bears have given up the fewest (31). Coming out of the Eagles game, we heard a lot about the Giants getting off-schedule in the second half as the offense evaporated. This week could be the reverse. The Bears have outscored their opponents by 104 points in the first half, the best in the league. In the second half, they are just plus-5. So what does that have to do with Barkley’s rushing vs. receiving stats? If the Giants get behind early, it will be harder and harder to run the ball against a defense that ranks first in yards-per-carry.
LANCE MEDOW: Fact - The Bears are second in the NFL against the run. They are only allowing 81 yards per game. With that being said, Saquon Barkley has proven he can easily break free for a long run against just about every defense, but the Bears have been solid when it comes to containing opposing running backs. Stingy actually may be a more appropriate term. The Dolphins’ Frank Gore is the only running back to pile up over 100 rushing yards against Chicago this season and that came back in Week 6. Detroit’s Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount are actually the only other opposing backs to surpass 50 rushing yards against the Bears and Johnson had just 51. I think the Giants will look to get Barkley into open space through the screen game as a way to loosen up the Bears defense, and I can see him doing more damage as a receiver.
The Giants will win the game if they score at least 24 points.
JOHN SCHMEELK: Fact - The Bears do not have a dynamic offense. Instead, they score a lot because of the great situations their defense puts their offense in. If the Giants can score 24 points and take a lead early in this game, they should win the game. Twenty-four points in a situation where they trail big probably won’t get it done. So I’ll stick with “Fact” here even though it is a little more complicated than just scoring 24.
DAN SALOMONE: Fact - The Bears haven’t won when the opponent does, so I think that’s the magic number this week. Additionally, the Giants will try to take advantage of backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who isn’t a runner like Mitchell Trubisky.
LANCE MEDOW: Fiction - The Giants are 3-1 this season when they score at least 24 points and the Bears are 0-3 when they surrender at least 24 points, so based on those trends, that’s a favorable position for the Giants but it’s not so simple. In two of the Bears’ three losses, against the Dolphins and Patriots in consecutive weeks, they scored 28 and 31 points, respectively, so even if the Giants manage 24 points, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee a victory, especially with Chicago’s ability put points on the board on defense. There’s so much more than simply coming up with a point total in determining the results of Giants’ games this season.