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What to watch for when the Seahawks take on the Chicago Bears in Week 16

By Bob Condotta Seattle Times

SEATTLE – So much for the benefit of the easy portion of the Seahawks’ schedule.

When the schedule was released in May, the final two home games of the season – against Chicago and Detroit – were considered a favorable stretch to make up ground in the playoff race, if needed, or to solidify standing in the division and postseason hunts.

Instead, Seattle is essentially out of the playoff hunt entering these two games against teams with a combined six wins.

That, as well as the continuing specter of COVID-19 and which players will be available, makes this game hard to read, and potentially harder to watch.

But despite the teams’ disappointing records (Seahawks 5-9, Bears 4-10) and little but pride to play for, there are some interesting elements to the matchup.

On to our keys to the game.

Matchup to watch

Seahawks defense vs. running back David Montgomery

In a surprise, the Bears on Friday named Nick Foles their starting quarterback, with Justin Fields dealing with an ankle injury and Andy Dalton ruled out because of hand and groin injuries. So that means Foles – the hero of Philadelphia’s 2017 Super Bowl-winning team – will make his first start of the season and the 56th of his career. Foles started seven games for the Bears a year ago, so Chicago should have full use of its playbook. But you’d imagine Chicago might try to ride running back David Montgomery, a third-year player who had 1,070 yards last season and has 668 this year despite having missed four games at midseason. Seattle’s run defense has been solid, ranking second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per carry at 3.8. The Seahawks need that kind of effort again to avoid the upset.

Player to watch

QB Russell Wilson

Wilson is under a microscope like never before in his 10-year Seattle tenure. He is coming off one of his worst games, and fans will look to see how he will approach his first stretch of meaningless games. Wilson is trying to find his form following finger surgery and is dealing with a sore ankle suffered Tuesday against the Los Angeles Rams. Much speculation has swirled around his future, and because you never know in the NFL, these might be the last two home games of his Seattle career. But if Wilson plans to angle for a trade after this season he’ll want to use these last three games to show the NFL he is still the same player he always has been.

Coaching move to watch

To run or not to run?

Coach Pete Carroll lamented after the Rams game that Seattle had 34 dropbacks against just 19 rushing attempts despite averaging a respectable 4.2 yards on the ground. That included a 15-to-4 dropback-to-run ratio in the first half. Seattle’s only TD drive (85 yards, 11 plays) against the Rams featured seven runs for 39 yards, and that’s a formula Carroll always wants to follow. Seattle had 41 yards rushing on 12 carries on its other nine drives. Expect Carroll to try to even that out Sunday. And if it snows, it probably makes Seattle more eager to get its running game going.

The X-factor

Both teams’ resolve

The Bears were eliminated from the playoffs with a loss Monday night and the Seahawks were essentially eliminated from the playoffs with a loss Tuesday, a year after both made the postseason. Both are now playing under the inevitable cloud of uncertainty. Though the teams’ 2021 fate might be decided, players are competing for their futures, knowing the league’s other teams are always watching. Still, for the Seahawks this is uncharted territory, and how they react will be interesting to watch.

Player who could surprise

WR Dee Eskridge

The Seahawks hoped to get a boost when Eskridge – their first pick in the 2021 NFL draft at No. 56 overall – finally returned to play in November. But his impact has been minimal, with six receptions for 41 yards on 13 targets in six games since recovering from a concussion. He has no catches on five targets the past two weeks despite charting his two highest snap counts – 28 against Houston and 40 against the Rams with Tyler Lockett sidelined. Eskridge also doesn’t have a rushing attempt after gaining 22 yards on two carries in the opener against Indianapolis, something the Seahawks hoped could be a big weapon this season. Lockett is back, off the COVID-19/reserve list Thursday, so maybe that will dip into Eskridge’s snaps some. But if for no other reason than knowing what they have for the future, the Seahawks would like to see more from Eskridge the last three games.

Key stat

Fourth-quarter comebacks

The Seahawks will hope they don’t need one in this game. But if they do, they’ll hope they can pull one off for the first time this season. It might have gone unnoticed that Seattle does not have a fourth-quarter comeback this season, which would be the first year in Wilson’s career he would go without one. He had a combined seven the previous two years in Seattle’s 23 wins. He also had eight winning drives the previous two years but has none this season. Again, we’re not saying the hope is this game will require one. But if it does, Seattle must reverse course after losing four games this season by three points or fewer.

Prediction

Seahawks 19, Bears 9: Call this the Tight Turnaround Bowl (hey, that’s better than a lot of bowl game names), with both teams coming off short weeks and tough losses.

Seattle had one fewer day of rest but doesn’t have to travel. And yes, it may snow.

Who knows who that will favor, but the last time there was a real snow game at home was in 2008 when Seattle beat the Jets 13-3 in the season finale. Snow or no snow, Seattle gets the W.

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