In the 2011 edition of the NFL's International Series, the Chicago Bears and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers square off in Great Britain's Wembley Stadium this Sunday in a scheduled 1:00 PM EST game. The contest is the fifth to be held at Wembley and the second visit for Tampa Bay. This will be Chicago's first appearance. The early NFL betting line favors the Buccaneers by -1 point.
The Bears got back on the winning track on Sunday night, blasting NFC North rival Minnesota, 39-10. The victory evened Chicago's won-loss record at 3-3, keeping them within shouting distance of Division foes Green Bay (6-0) and Detroit (5-1). The Bears needed this win badly after stumbling badly the previous week in a 24-13 loss to Detroit. QB Jay Cutler, who's fought offensive line protection all season, received excellent support from his front five versus the Vikings, being sacked just once and enduring only 5 QB hits. In the Bears first 5 games, Cutler had been sacked 18 times. However, that was all in the past Sunday night, as Cutler connected on 21 of 31 pass attempts for 267 yards and 2 TDs. WR Devin Hester had a big game, catching 5 passes for 91 yards, including a first-quarter 48-yard touchdown reception, as well as scoring on a 98-yard kickoff return, his first since 2007. Hester later suffered a chest injury on a punt return and left the game. Tests will be conducted this week, with no word on his availability for the Buccaneer game. RB Matt Forte also came up big, gaining 87 yards on 17 carries.
Chicago's defense also made Minnesota's evening miserable, holding the Purple to 286 yards in total offense, including just 53 from the ground game. All-Pro RB Adrian Peterson could only pile up 39 yards on 12 carries, by far his poorest outing in 2011. DE Julius Peppers, despite a knee injury that kept him from practicing during the week, collected 2 sacks as Chicago racked up 5 sacks on the evening, as well as recording 8 tackles-for-loss.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers bounced back on Sunday to defeat NFC South rival New Orleans, 26-20, improving to 4-2 and into a first-place division tie with the Saints, who had a 4-game winning streak snapped with the loss. The win came a week after the Bucs had suffered the worst defeat in franchise history, 48-3 to the San Francisco 49ers. QB Josh Freeman, who'd played a miserable game against the 49ers, recovered nicely, connecting on 23 of 41 passes for 303 yards and 2 TDs. Tampa's ground game was also clicking, despite the sidelining of leading rusher LaGarrette Blount with a knee injury. Blount is questionable for the Chicago game. In his place, Earnest Graham ran for a season-high 109 yards, while WRs Arrelious Benn and Mike Williams combined for 142 yards on 9 catches, including Benn's second-quarter 65-yard TD reception from Freeman.
Facing Saints QB Drew Brees and his seemingly endless corps of weapons is never easy, and Brees did pile up 383 yards through the air, but was also intercepted 3 times, setting up 2 Buc scores. Tampa's defense held New Orleans multi-faceted ground game to 70 yards, limiting rookie RB Mark Ingram to 22 yards on 9 carries. Veteran CB Ronde Barber and LB Geno Hayes were especially active, consistently making the going rather tough for Saints ballcarriers.
This NFL International Series contest should be plenty hard-hitting, and with both QBs not shy about putting the ball up, the British fans could be in for a treat. The availability (or not) of Devin Hester could be a huge factor for the Bears, while both Forte and Cutler need to continue their sterling play. For the Bucs, Josh Freeman will probably face considerably more pressure than he did versus the Saints, and Tampa's coaches are hoping that Earnest Graham can come close to duplicating his performance against New Orleans. Offensive balance is extremely important to both of these teams, and the one that shows the most balance will have an advantage.
|NFL OFFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS||15||350.5||14||238.7||15||111.8|
|NFL DEFENSIVE RANKINGS||TOTAL||Passing||Rushing|
|TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS||25||390.5||26||276.0||18||114.5|