The New Orleans Saints and the Chicago Bears are both in pretty good shape.
The Saints are 4-2 and just a half-game behind first-place Tampa Bay in the NFC South. The Bears are 5-2 and just a half-game behind first-place Green Bay in the NFC North.
But both teams are looking to improve when they meet Sunday in Chicago. The Saints hope to get better on defense, and the Bears hope to get better on offense.
New Orleans has allowed 17 touchdown passes. Only the Atlanta Falcons, who have played one more game than the Saints, have allowed more touchdown passes (19).
"We have to eliminate the explosives," Saints coach Sean Payton said.
New Orleans' run defense has been much better. It's allowing 3.5 yards per rush, the third-lowest average in the NFL.
"I think everyone on our defense comes in with the mindset that we're going to make every team one-dimensional," defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins said. "As far as stopping the run, we're kind of clicking on all cylinders right now.
"We've got to get everything else connected and fix little things here and there. It's a beautiful thing to be sitting at 4-2 and still feel like you haven't played your best football."
The Saints have won three consecutive games as they try and duplicate their recent history of lengthy win streaks. They started slowly each of the last three seasons before going on to win the division title.
They followed a 0-2 start with an eight-game winning streak and an 11-5 record in 2017. In 2018 they lost their opener, won their next 10 and finished 13-3. Last season they started 1-1, won their next six and finished 13-3.
"We don't ever plan for early-season stumbles, but adversity to start a season is nothing new to us," Rankins said. "We'll continue to get better and continue to fix the things that need to be fixed and we'll get on a roll here."
The Bears were on a pretty good roll after a 5-1 start before stumbling in a 24-10 loss to the host Rams on Monday night.
"We're fortunate to be 5-2," quarterback Nick Foles said. "Everything is in front of us. The good teams really find a way to get through this in a positive way and improve."
While the Saints look to improve their pass defense, the Bears are looking to improve their pass offense.
Foles completed 28 of 40 for 261 yards with two interceptions. He was sacked four times and hit four more.
It was the ninth consecutive game that Chicago failed to pass for 300 yards. Foles has six touchdowns and six interceptions since taking over for Mitchell Trubisky as the starter.
"Ultimately I've got to play better and help our team out in these situations and we have to figure out how to run the ball effectively," Foles said. "I think the big thing is finding a rhythm of who we want to be.
"We've really got to assess who we want to be and find an identity and when we find the identity of what we want to be, that's when we'll take off. We have the people here to do it."
The Bears don't have everybody they would like to have, though.
Running back Tarik Cohen (knee) and guard James Daniel (pectoral) have suffered season-ending injuries.
Linebacker Khalil Mack (ankle), center Cody Whitehair (calf) and wide receiver Allen Robinson (concussion) missed practice Wednesday.
New Orleans is still awaiting the return of All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas, who suffered an ankle injury in the season opener and had a setback with a hamstring injury in practice last week. He missed practice Wednesday as did two other receivers -- Emmanuel Sanders (COVID issues) and Marquez Callaway (ankle).
--Field Level Media