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Bears-Dolphins Preview and Prediction

Hester has enjoyed many happy returns in Miami

Despite residing in opposite conferences, the Bears and Dolphins franchises have some intriguing connections. Consider… 

  • They’ve both had to recover from Dave Wannstedt-led regimes.
  • The Bears made their last Super Bowl appearance in Miami in January 2007.
  • Speaking of Super Bowls, it was the Dolphins’ 38-24 win over the 1985 Bears that served as the only blemish on the Super Bowl Shufflin’ Chicago squad that finished 18-1.
  • That ’85 team was, of course, coached by Mike Ditka. The same guy who traded an entire draft class to nab Texas Longhorn RB Ricky Williams…who just happens to play for the Dolphins.

While Thursday night’s battle won’t captivate the nation like that memorable Monday night game in ’85, it does present an intriguing showdown between teams with winning records.

There should be enough matchups, mismatches, subplots and storylines to drown out the forgettable commentary spewed from the mouths of Matt Millen and Joe Theismann, who will be calling the game for the NFL Network.

Here are a few things I’m looking forward to watching…

The battle between Pro Bowlers Julius Peppers and Jake Long.

Dolphins stud left tackle Long separated his shoulder vs. Tennessee on Sunday, but it looks like he’ll give it a go on Thursday. Opposite him, the Bears prized free agent has gone sackless in 7 of 9 games…and Long (healthy or not) will serve as Peppers’ toughest challenge yet. But as we say every week, #90 can impact a game in so many other ways without recording an official sack.

See if Jay Cutler can get his first “W” in a road night game with the Bears.

Cutler has thrown 4 TDs and a ridiculous 12 INTs in 4 night road games with Chicago. Can he reverse those fortunes under the bright lights of South Beach? Last week against the Vikings, Cutler completed passes to 9 different Bears. While that achievement will be hard to match, spreading the wealth around will help the Bears’ 29th ranked offense keep the MIA defense on its toes.

Tyler Thigpen picked the wrong opponent to make his first start in 2 years.

Due to a season-ending injury to starter Chad Pennington, who was hurt on the 2nd play of his first start in a year, and a separated shoulder to backup Chad Henne, the Dolphins will be starting their 3rd stringer, Thigpen, against the Bears. Chicago leads the league with 24 takeaways, including 14 interceptions. Which would lead me to believe…

The Dolphins will run more plays out of the Wildcat.

Ronnie Brown was picked 2 spots ahead of Bears Super Bust, Cedric Benson in the ’05 draft. Unlike Benson, Brown has delivered multiple productive years with the team that drafted him. He serves as the main ball handler in the Wildcat, where he’ll either call his own number or hand off to his running mate, Ricky Williams. If the Bears jump out to an early lead, it could force the Phins out of the Wildcat into more passing plays, which despite the presence of WR Brandon Marshall, should play into the Bears’ hands considering Thigpen’s rustiness.

The Windy City Flyer returns to South Beach

Devin Hester returns to Miami for the first time since the most exciting opening play in Super Bowl history. After allowing 2 special teams returns for TDs (1 kickoff and 1 blocked kick) – plus a blocked punt – in an early season game against the Patriots, the Dolphins fired their special teams coach. While they’ve improved since then, Coach Toub’s Chicago unit holds a substantial advantage. Don’t be surprised if Hester finds the end zone again in Miami, something he grew accustomed to while playing down the road at the old Orange Bowl as a Miami Hurricane.

Prediction:

Without much time to game-plan due to a short-week, this one should come down to which team executes better. I think a big special teams play (cue #23) could be the difference:

Bears: 23

Dolphins: 17


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