By Lawrence Vos (@NFLFANINENGLAND)
When the Oakland Raiders host the Chicago Bears tomorrow in London it will remarkably be the 85th NFL game played outside of the United States of America.
The game itself will be a landmark contest as it represents the first time NFL football will have been played at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, the first venue of its kind in England to have been built to specifically host and showcase the alternative brand of football.
Sunday’s contest, the 15th time the Bears and the Raiders have met, will be the 34th NFL contest to take place in London, including pre-season games. When you think 34 and NFL history there is only one image that comes to mind, that of the dearly-departed Bears Hall of Fame and Super Bowl winning running-back Walter ‘Sweetness’ Payton.
The NFL was first introduced to a completely bewildered audience of around 30,000 people in 1983 when British entrepreneur John Marshall hired Wembley Stadium for the day and arranged a game, called the Global Cup, between the St Louis Cardinals and the Minnesota Vikings.
Just three years later and the Chicago Bears, Walter Payton, William ‘The refrigerator’ Perry, Jim McMahon and head coach Mike Ditka, made their way to Wembley Stadium to play the Dallas Cowboys in the inaugural game of the ‘American Bowl’ series that lasted until 1993.
After a 14 year break the NFL formally returned to England in 2007 for real regular season matchups, and since then the Bears have been back once, a 2011 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Tomorrow will mark the third time the Raiders, who will be the home team, have played a meaningful contest at Wembley, having suffered losses in 2014 (14-38 to the Dolphins) and last year (3-27 to the Seattle Seahawks).
HEAD TO HEAD
Season series – 7-7
Points totals – Bears 256 – Raiders 249
Overtime contests – 1 (1978 a 25-19 Raiders win)
Last meeting – 2015 in Chicago. Bears won 22-20 courtesy of a 49-yard Robbie Gould field goal in the final two seconds of the game. Derek Carr was the Raiders QB then, he got 196 yards and two td’s, including one to the departed Amari Cooper.
Times played since the Millennium – 4. Bears have won three of four, by margins of 3, 11 and 2. Raiders last beat the Bears in 2011.
Key Raiders stats
- Allowed 16 first-downs by penalty
- Opponent is 3 of 5 on 4th downs
- Minus 1 turnover ration
- Only had 5 sacks this season – Missing Khalil Mack still
- Derek Carr completing 72% of his passes
- Rookie running-back Josh Jacobs leads the team in rushing with 307 yards at an impressive 5.0 yards a carry.
- 21st in yards per game (335.8)
- 9th in rushing 125.8 yards a game
Key Bears stats
- 28th in points scored – 16.5 a game
- 30th in yards – 273.5
- Allowed just 13 3rd down conversions all season
- Giving up just 3.0 yards a rush attempt
- Accrued 17 sacks – 4.5 of those by Khalil Mack the former Raiders pass rusher
- Kicker Eddie Piniero is 8 of 9 on field goals
- Turnover ratio +6
- Before his injury starting QB Mitch Trubisky had thrown for 588 yards. ‘Bear’ in mind that Jared Goff threw for 517yards in Week 4 alone.
- Rookie running back David Montgomery lead the team in rushing with 200 at a mediocre 3.4 a carry. He also has 8 catches.
- Bears edge Khalil Mack v both Raiders tackles Trent
Brown and Kolton Miller.
Of all qualified edge rushers Mack is ranked number one by Pro Football Focus, both by position and by pass rush grade. Mack will be licking his lips against crocked left-tackle Trent Brown, but seeing as he lines up on both sides, the Raiders tackles will be both tested. Mack has continue his All-Pro form into 2019 with 4.5 sacks and 4 forced fumbles. With his engine running all game Mack will be eyeing up a British hat-trick of sacks against Derek Carr.
- Bears WR Allen Robinson v Raiders CB Gareon
The Raiders pass defense is ranked 27th, and they have given up 9 touchdowns through the air. Even in limited snaps Bears QB Chase Daniel has built up an instant rapport with Robinson. In Week 4 against the Vikings Robinson caught all 7 of his targets for 77 yards. Conley, a 2017 first round pick will have a busy day, and he will need his 4.44 40 speed to be in constant action. Robinson is more than capable of a 100+ yard game, it’s the touchdowns that are harder. Look for Robinson to get 12 targets.
Bears and Raiders season surprises and disappointments
- Bears WR Allen Robinson leads the team in catches (24) and yards (280) but he is yet to find pay-dirt. Look for this to change at the home of Harry.
- Missing out on the game is Bears WR Taylor Gabriel who broke an NFL Monday Night Football record in a Week 3 win against the Redskins when he caught three touchdowns in a quarter.
- Raiders tight-end Darren Waller was a fantasy darling coming into the season, but he has outperformed even the most optimistic projections. 33 catches for 320 yards leads the team in balls and yards by a significant margin, but like Robinson he is yet to score.
- The biggest Bears let-down so far is second-year WR Antony Miller who was a high-ranked breakout projection. Miller has 4 catches for a paltry 28 yards so far.
- Bears Swiss army knife RB Tarik Cohen has 116 offensive yards to date, averaging just over 2 yards a carry. 14 catches is good but 89 yards in the air is not so much.
- Raiders rookie WR Hunter Renfrow was supposed to be a Julian Edelman type slot-machine, but he has 11 catches for just 89 yards at a pedestrian 8.1 a catch.
This will be my 25th NFL game I will be seeing live, and my 18th in London (including pre-season and Twickenham) so I look forward to celebrating with a healthy Bears win. Former Heisman Trophy winner Chase Daniel will be making only his 5th start in his 10-year career. The archetypal backup played two games for Chicago in 2018, going 1-1 so he knows his team strengths well. The Raiders will look to feed rookie RB Josh Jacobs the ball early and often, but the Bears defense is akin to a great white shark’s mouth. You break the front teeth and another row simply grows from behind. The Bears depth is phenomenal. Look out for defensive end #95 Roy Robertson-Harris who has stood out amongst a quality defensive line.
– Prediction –
Bears 27-10 Raiders
The Bears to get a big game out of utility back Tarik Cohen and Chase Daniel’s command of the offense will be making Windy-city faithful wonder if he can do a better job than Mitch Trubisky longer-term.