When the Bears take on the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday night at Soldier Field, keep an eye on these three matchups:
Bears DT Akiem Hicks vs. Chiefs T Mitchell Schwartz
The Chiefs enter Week 16 as one of the league's premier offenses over the last two seasons. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano acknowledged that keeping a lid on Andy Reid's high-octane passing attack won't be easy.
"They've got a bunch of those guys in that offense that make that thing go and a bunch of guys we've got to tend to," said Pagano. "It's a shame we can't play with 12 or 13. We're going to have to do it with 11. We'll have our hands full."
When healthy, the 6-4, 352 pound Hicks is almost worth an extra man on defense.
Hicks provided a spark on defense last week against the Green Bay Packers. The veteran defensive tackle can rush the passer, clog running lanes and lean on his force of personality to inspire his teammates. While his injured elbow is still a nuisance for Hicks, the team has given every indication that Hicks will play Sunday against the Chiefs.
The Chiefs have been able to keep quarterback Patrick Mahomes upright for most of the season. As a whole, the offensive line has only allowed a sack on 4.4 percent of passing plays, fourth in the league behind the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.
Schwartz has been a vital part of that success. Coming off his All-Pro selection in 2018, Schwartz has played nearly every snap this season, forming a compelling bookend with former first-overall pick Eric Fisher.
Bears LB Nick Kwiatkoski vs. Chiefs TE Travis Kelce
In his increased role this season, Kwiatkoski has proven that he is a complete linebacker, defying his early-career reputation as a run-stopper who would struggle in pass coverage. Coach Matt Nagy saw improvement in the fourth-year player early on this season.
"I think we felt that early on with Kwit in training camp," said Nagy. "He came in in really good shape. You could see him flying around. You noticed it in preseason, training camp, and then when he had that opportunity against the Vikings, you felt it there against a team that runs the ball a lot. So probably that's the biggest place is just being able to cover backs out of the backfield, because we all know he can play the run game really well."
Kwiatkoski will face his most daunting task of the season in Kelce. The five-time Pro Bowler has 86 catches on the season for 1,131 yards and four touchdowns. Whether getting the ball from Alex Smith or Mahomes, Kelce is the focal point of the Chiefs offense. Few people know that better than his old offensive coordinator Nagy.
While Kelce's size and speed jump out, it was the tight end's improvisational nature that sticks out in Nagy's mind.
"I really enjoyed watching him grow in route running, on the field and in practice," Nagy said. "He ended up putting his own little flavor on certain routes. So it might be drawn a certain way in the playbook, but he does it a little bit different, and it works. So that's a Kelce route. That's Kelce doing his thing."
Bears WR Anthony Miller vs. Chiefs CB Bashaud Breeland
Miller has emerged late in the year to be one of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky's top weapons. After shaking off a slow start to the season, Miller has now accounted for 50 catches for 649 yards and two touchdowns.
Miller has been so good that defenses have been less able to key in on his counterpart Allen Robinson II, who carried the team's passing game for the first half of the season.
Miller will likely be covered by a combination of Breeland, Charvarious Ward and Kendall Fuller, the younger brother of Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller. In the past month, Miller has proven a knack for wiggling free of coverage as well as catching passes thrown through tight windows.
Breeland matches up well with Miller in terms of speed and size. While not necessarily known as a ballhawk, he has notched a pick-six in each of the past three seasons.