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How the Bears and Bengals match up

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green runs sidelines first half an NFL preseasfootball game against Indianapolis Colts Thursday Aug. 29

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green runs to the sidelines in the first half of an NFL preseason football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Tom Uhlman)

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STAFF PREDICTIONS

RICK MORRISSEY: Bengals, 27-23

RICK TELANDER: Bengals, 24-21

DAN McGRATH: Bengals, 24-16

HUB ARKUSH: Bengals, 20-17

ADAM L. JAHNS: Bears, 27-20

MARK POTASH: Bears, 27-20

PATRICK FINLEY: Bears, 23-21

WEEK 1

Bengals at Bears

Time:

Noon Sunday at Soldier Field

TV: Ch. 2 (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM

Line: Bears by 3

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

Marc Trestman’s offense relies on the passing game but doesn’t ignore weapons such as Matt Forte, who has averaged 4.6 ypc over the past three seasons. Even with a work-in-progress line, Forte averaged 9.9 yards per carry in the preseason (15-149). The Bengals, led by DTs Geno Atkins and Domata Peko and LBs Vontaze Burfict (174 tackles in 2012) and Rey Maualuga (152), ranked 12th vs. the run last year but were vulnerable vs. good teams. They allowed 161 rush ypg against the four teams that were ranked in the top 15 in rushing last year. Michael Bush is an underrated inside complement to Forte.

IN THE AIR

With a revamped offensive line that includes four new starters and two rookies on the right side, Jay Cutler’s ability to execute the most fundamental element of Trestman’s offense — get rid of the ball quickly — will be tested right away against a defense that was third in the NFL in sacks with 51 last year. The Bengals were eighth in the NFL in passing defense in 2012 but struggled early, allowing 308 yards vs. the Ravens and 309 vs. the Browns in their first two games. In his last three openers, Cutler has averaged 339 yards, two TDs, one INT, a 65 percent completion rate and a 105.0 passer rating.

KEY PLAYERS

Rookie G Kyle Long looks like he’ll be able to handle himself and will have C Roberto Garza to help out, but RT Mills is a fourth-round draft pick who could be vulnerable on the outside. Atkins, a two-time Pro Bowler, is strong vs. the run and pass. He led all NFL DTs with 121⁄2 sacks in 2012, when he was a first-team ­All-Pro selection.

WHEN THE BENGALS HAVE THE BALL

ON THE GROUND

The Bengals upgraded a middling running attack (18th in rushing last year) by adding second-round draft pick Giovani Bernard of North Carolina, who averaged 4.3 ypc in the preseason with three touchdowns. The shifty Bernard complements veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who rushed for 1,094 yards (3.9 ypc) with six TDs last year. The Bears’ run defense, eighth in the NFL last season, is expected to still be stout with DTs Henry Melton and Stephen Paea. The Bears, though, lost three key defenders in the run game in LBs Brian Urlacher and Nick Roach and DE Israel Idonije.

IN THE AIR

QB Andy Dalton is a rhythm passer who runs hot and cold but usually gives a team like the Bears a chance to make a big play. Dalton threw 27 TDs last year, but four of his 16 INTs were returned for TDs. A.J. Green (97-1,350, 11 TDs) has made the Pro Bowl in each of his two NFL seasons. At 6-4, he gives Dalton a safety net, similar to what Brandon Marshall does for Jay Cutler. With first-round pick Tyler Eifert and Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham, the Bengals have a pair of TEs who can do some damage deep in the middle of the field. Whoever mans the middle for the Bears will face a big challenge.

KEY PLAYERS

Whether its veteran D.J. Williams or rookie Jon Bostic, the MLB will have an unenviable task as the replacement for Brian Urlacher. Both will be challenged in the passing game. The Bears are used to defending big receivers, but they are not as familiar with Bengals Pro Bowler A.J. Green, a big-play threat who can turn short passes into touchdowns.

THE X-FACTOR

The Bengals have a Lovie Smith-like defense that does what it does well, dominates the line of scrimmage with four linemen and relies on takeaways to make the difference. But adjusting to the unknown is a different matter. How do you prepare for an offense that hasn’t been run in the NFL since 2003? ‘‘I don’t think they’re going to run the Wishbone,’’ Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. ‘‘They’re going to do the things they’ve been doing in the preseason. We have to apply our principles and play defense the way we know how.’’ Based on Marc Trestman’s history, the unknown factor is an advantage to his side.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears had one of the best special-teams units in the NFL under Dave Toub — they were first in punt coverage and fourth in KO coverage in 2012 — and expect to be as good in every phase under veteran coordinator Joe DeCamillis. The focus will be on KR Devin Hester, who is looking for a resurgence in 2013. PK Robbie Gould was 10-for-11 on FGs in the preseason. The Bengals have dangerous returners in Adam Jones (five career punt TDs) and Brandon Tate, and Marc Trestman is wary. ‘‘They’ve been as aggressive as any team in the NFL in faking FGs and making big plays,’’ Trestman said.



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