Bears know Panthers a threat even at 1-5
This Sunday's opponent, the 1-5 Panthers, have the worst record in the NFC.
But if the Bears are wise they won't take them lightly.
The reasons not to overlook Carolina are numerous, and coach Lovie Smith will have pointed them all out to his team soon, if he hasn't already.
For openers, the Panthers hung 543 yards of total offense on the Bears last season at Soldier Field, even though the visitors lost 34-29.
The Bears managed just 317 yards on offense and wouldn't have won without a pick-6 from D.J. Moore and a 69-yard punt-return TD from Devin Hester.
"Carolina gave us all we wanted," Smith said. "Tough game. They had an onside kick at the end of the game, so that tells you what type of football game it was.
"Our defense has been playing good football throughout the year. (But) Carolina put over 500 yards on us last year, so it will be a big test."
Even as a rookie, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton easily outplayed Jay Cutler, completing 27 of 46 passes for 374 yards.
Newton wasn't sacked and ran eight times for 35 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Newton's play has fallen off from his spectacular rookie-of-the-year campaign in 2011, but he still possesses more impressive skills than most NFL quarterbacks.
"He's fast, he's big, he's got a strong arm, and he's mobile in the pocket," Smith said. "He can make all the throws, and they do a good job of letting him display all of those talents.
"When things break down, just him taking off in the pocket, that gives defenses as much of a problem as anything."
Longtime nemesis Steve Smith will arrive in Chicago just in time for Halloween, which is fitting, considering how he has haunted the Bears in past years.
The undersized but surprisingly tough and powerful wide receiver has bedeviled the Bears since Panthers head coach Ron Rivera was Lovie Smith's defensive coordinator in a 2005 divisional-round playoff game at Soldier Field.
The Panthers upset the Bears 29-21 back then, and Smith was a one-man wrecking crew, running roughshod through the Bears' secondary for 12 catches, 218 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Including three playoff games that season, Smith caught 130 passes for 1,898 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Now 33 and in his 12th season, Smith has slowed down some but not much. He had 79 catches for 1,394 yards last season, including 8 catches for 181 yards against the Bears, and he's on pace this year for his seventh 1,000-yard season.
A few more plays by Smith, Newton or former Bears tight end Greg Olsen (26 catches, 324 yards) and the Panthers' record could be drastically different.
Four of their losses have been by 6 points or fewer, including a 2-point defeat to Atlanta (6-0) and a 4-point loss to Seattle (4-3).
Considering the narrow defeats and key injuries (most recently the loss of middle linebacker Jon Beason), it's easy to see why Rivera isn't very upbeat when he's asked: "How you doin'?"
"We've been better," was his reply.
"Any good news out of Carolina?" Rivera was asked.
"Not really," he answered.
But a victory over the Bears would change all that for Rivera and his staff, which includes former Bears assistants Steve Wilks and Eric Washington, along with Bears linebackers coach Bob Babich's son Bobby.
"You can see that's why it doesn't take us an awful lot to get ready for this team," Lovie Smith said. "We know their coaches, and we know how they coach defensive football. You see a team that plays hard.
"You go through some times like this, but you just keep working on what you believe in, which Ron and his crew will do. We just hope they don't get it right this week."