By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — It’s been an awfully long time since the Patriots have suited up for a game, thanks to last week’s Thursday game, but fortunately, it’s time for football again.

The New England Patriots will host the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium at 1 p.m. in a game that means a lot for both teams. For the Bears, a win Sunday would go a long way in settling things down before their bye week. The Bears have lost three of their last four games and appear to be on the brink. A win Sunday, and they might be OK; a loss, and it’ll be two weeks of panic and controversy in the Windy City.

The Patriots, meanwhile, are embarking on a month during which they won’t have the services of Chandler Jones at their disposal. They’re also heading into the toughest stretch of the schedule, as they’ll be facing Denver (6-1), Indianapolis (5-2), Detroit (5-2), Green Bay (5-2), San Diego (5-3) in their next five games. Picking up a win against the struggling Bears (3-4) might be crucial if the Patriots hope to earn themselves a first-round playoff bye (they’re currently in a three-way tie for the No. 2 seed in the AFC, tied with Indianapolis and Baltimore).

So it’s a pretty crucial weekend for both teams, for very different reasons. Here’s what to watch for when the ball’s finally kicked on Sunday.

Matt Forte
You might remember that the last time the Patriots played, the Jets ran all over them. Chris Ivory ran for 107 yards on 21 carries, Chris Johnson gained 61 yards on 13 carries, and quarterback Geno Smith picked up 37 yards on seven carries. In all, the Jets gained 218 yards on 43 carries for 5.1 yards per carry, and it was nearly enough to pull off a win.

This weekend, the Jerod Mayo-less Patriots defense will be tasked with shutting down one of the game’s premier running backs in Matt Forte. Though he hasn’t really lit it up this year (448 yards on 111 carries, 4.0 YPC, 3 TDs), the 28-year-old might be licking his chops after seeing the New England run defense struggle against the Jets. He’s also a constant danger in the passing game, as he leads the Bears with 52 receptions, gaining 436 yards and scoring two touchdowns.

Bill Belichick is keenly aware of the threat that Forte brings.

“He’s a threat every time he steps on to the field in a number of different ways: passing game, running game. Any time he gets the ball in his hands he’s a good solid player,” Belichick said this week. “He definitely has the ability to turn nothing into something in a hurry and he can turn something into a lot in a hurry, too. … He’s a terrific player; couldn’t say enough good things about him. He’s very good. He gets tough yards, gets yards in space. Catches short passes, runs downfield routes. He’s a very, very complete player.”

Forte may be the key to this game, and it’s up to the Patriots to devise a plan to slow him down.

Alfonzo Dennard vs. Alshon Jeffery II?
OK, so admittedly, this probably won’t pop up on Sunday afternoon, as it’s not very likely that Dennard will even draw the duty of covering Jeffery. But just in case, it’s worth revisiting a classic college round of fisticuffs these two shared a few years back.

Again, I don’t anticipate these two players will duke it out at midfield again. But hey, that kind of history is worth keeping on the radar.

Ball Security
Nothing changes a game faster than an ill-timed turnover, and if ball control factors into this game, it should favor the Patriots.

New England currently owns a plus-9 turnover differential, ranking No. 2 in the NFL, one behind Green Bay. The New England defense has forced 14 turnovers — seven INTs, seven fumbles — while the offense has just two interceptions and three fumbles lost.

The Bears, meanwhile, are on the wrong side of things, as they’re a minus-1 on the year. Jay Cutler has thrown seven interceptions and the Bears have lost six fumbles, with the defense forcing just 12 turnovers (eight INTs, four fumbles).

One fumble may be all it takes to swing this game one way or another.

Will Brady Bust Out The Juke?
Don’t look now, but Tom Terrific is off to the races. The lightning bolt of a QB has been flashing his wheels lately, as the agile athlete racked up 16 yards on eight carries in the two games that preceded last week’s meeting with the Jets. We know the QB has a golden arm, but his prowess as a running back makes him a double threat, much like the aforementioned Forte.

For Tom Brady, gaining 16 yards on the ground is roughly the equivalent of gaining 16 miles on the ground, so all of that high praise is obviously said in jest.

However, as you’ll likely recall, the very best run of Brady’s career came the last time the Bears visited Gillette Stadium:

“Somehow that always gets brought up when we play these guys. There weren’t many of those in my career, so it’s pretty easy to count them all on one hand when something like that happens,” Brady said this week of his famous run. “He’ll be in the Hall of Fame someday, so it’ll probably be the only time I’ve made a Hall of Famer miss.”

Might Brady have another magic act in store for this one?

Tom Brady jukes his way past Brian Urlacher in 2006. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Tom Brady jukes his way past Brian Urlacher in 2006. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Read more from Michael Hurley by clicking here, or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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