Rams (11-1) at Chicago (8-4)
When Rams have the ball
After one of his least efficient performances of the season in Week 13 at Detroit, Rams quarterback Jared Goff faces a Bears defense that leads the NFL with 30 takeaways, including 21 interceptions. Edge-rushing linebacker Khalil Mack has nine sacks and cornerback Kyle Fuller a team-leading six interceptions for a unit that has scored seven touchdowns. Goff has passed for 27 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. But against the Lions, he was barely above 50% on his attempts and lost a fumble for the third time in two games. Running back Todd Gurley leads the league in rushing, touchdowns and scoring, and also provides coach Sean McVay with a dynamic pass-catching threat. Second-year pro Justin Davis and rookie John Kelly will step in for back-up running back and special teams standout Malcolm Brown, who suffered a season-ending clavicle injury against the Lions. Davis has one NFL carry, Kelly none. Brandin Cooks has reached 1,000 yards receiving for the fourth time, and Robert Woods is within 29 yards of achieving the feat for the first time. This isn’t the dominant 1985 Bears defense, but coordinator Vic Fangio’s unit ranks fourth in the NFL. Along with Mack and Fuller, lineman Akiem Hicks, linebacker Roquan Smith and cornerback Prince Amukamara are standouts.
When Bears have the ball
Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, the second pick in the 2017 draft, returns after sitting out the last two games because of a shoulder injury. Trubisky has passed for 20 touchdowns, with nine interceptions, and also has rushed for 363 yards, second most on the team. But Trubisky was injured on a hit after running the ball, so it remains to be seen whether he will adopt a more conservative approach against the Rams. Running back Tarik Cohen has rushed for three touchdowns, and also has 59 receptions, four for touchdowns. Receivers Taylor Gabriel, Allen Robinson and Anthony Miller, and tight end Trey Burton are other targets. Rams lineman Aaron Donald has recorded 161/2 sacks and appears on his way to a second consecutive NFL defensive player of the year award, if not the MVP. Edge rusher Dante Fowler was acquired at the trade deadline, and has been improving and making a larger impact in each successive game. After an eight-week absence because of an ankle injury, cornerback Aqib Talib returned in Week 13 against the Lions and played about 30 plays before he was pulled for precautionary reasons. He is not expected to be limited against the Bears and will start again opposite Marcus Peters.
When they kick
Rams punter Johnny Hekker played at Soldier Field as a rookie in 2012, and said he would be ready for all conditions, including a windy night. Kicker Greg Zuerlein has made 19 of 21 field-goal attempts. Former Rams running back Benny Cunningham is averaging 21.6 yards per kickoff return for the Bears. Cody Parkey has made 19 of 24 field-goal attempts.
Gary Klein’s prediction
The Rams can clinch a playoff bye and stay on track to secure home-field advantage throughout the postseason with a victory. That should be enough incentive to overcome a Bears team that is on the upswing under first-year coach Matt Nagy, but has not played a very difficult schedule.