Originally posted on The Football Fan Spot  |  Last updated 12/7/12
Minnesota Vikings (6-6) at Chicago Bears (8-4) The Bears lost last week in upset fashion, but they still have a very good chance to be this year’s team that goes from out of the playoffs to a first round bye because the 49ers also lost. If they win 1 more game over their final 4 games than the 49ers do, they will almost definitely be the NFC’s #2 seed this year and they are really the only candidate remaining to fulfill that trend, something that’s happened every year in at least the last decade. The Seahawks are also a candidate, but they would have to win out, something that could be tough considering the impending suspensions of their cornerbacks. The Bears can easily win out as they are expected to be favorites in every game the rest of the way, including next week at home for Green Bay, which will be by far their toughest game the rest of the way. The 49ers, meanwhile, have to go to New England and Seattle, and will be dogs in at least one, maybe both of those games. For this reason, I’m not betting against the Bears as small or medium sized favorites the rest of the way. They’re just 3 point favorites here and that definitely counts. Besides, that line is way too small anyway. The Bears rank 8th in net points per drive at 0.46, while the Vikings rank 21st at -0.18. If you take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game), and push it 3 points in Minnesota’s direction to account for Minnesota’s home field, you get a real line of Chicago -4. That also checks out with DVOA, as these two teams rank 6th and 19th respectively. That also doesn’t take into account that Jay Cutler is healthy for the Bears. That figure might be skewed by the 1 ½ games that Cutler missed. Excluding the Houston game, in which he got hurt before halftime, the Bears are actually 13-2 straight up in Jay Cutler’s last 15 starts with one of those losses being a very excusable one in Green Bay on a short week. In the last 2 seasons, when he starts, again excluding that Houston game, the Bears are 15-5 and score 27.5 points per game. When he doesn’t, including that Houston game, they are 1-7 and average just 12.3 points per game. That isn’t all him. For instance, Matt Forte missed a few of those games as well and Caleb Hanie, who started 5 of those games in his absence, is one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL. Still, it shows he has a huge value to this team. He doesn’t put up flashy stats and his body language can be off putting, but the numbers don’t lie. They don’t have a ton of offensive talent. Brandon Marshall is great, but they don’t have another receiver and their offensive line is atrocious. Cutler has done a great job of leading drives in spite of this and he is actually very tough to sack. That also doesn’t take into account that Harvin is hurt for the Vikings and that the Vikings have no momentum right now. Christian Ponder has been terrible lately, going 96 of 174 (55.2%) for 879 yards (5.1 YPA), 6 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in his last 6 games. Having Harvin out certainly doesn’t help. The Vikings, while they rank 19th in DVOA, rank 23rd in weighted DVOA, which puts more weight on more recent games, and have really been playing like a bottom-5 team for the last 5-6 weeks. The Bears have some injuries, as well, as Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings expected to miss this game as well. Urlacher’s injury isn’t a huge deal because he’s overrated at this point in his career and Jennings’ won’t matter, at least in this game, because Christian Ponder is too limited to take advantage. Adrian Peterson will go bonkers on an overrated (22nd in YPC allowed) and Urlacher-less Bears’ run defense because that’s like his thing, but Christian Ponder will struggle against the Bears’ #3 pass defense, even without Jennings. They’ve still got plenty of talented defensive backs and good depth and Ponder just isn’t very good. As we saw last week, Peterson alone can’t carry this team to victory. In fact, as good as Peterson is, this team is only 1-4 when Ponder completes fewer than 60% of his passes this season. Conversely, they’re actually 3-2 on the rare occasions when Peterson has been held to less than 5 YPC. They need a good game from Ponder here to pull off the home upset and I don’t think they’ll get it. One trend is on Chicago’s side. Teams are 26-12 ATS off a home loss in overtime, exclude road dogs, since 2002. When the team is road favorites like the Bears are here, the ATS record is 14-5. Besides, while the Bears have admittedly had some issues with higher quality opponents, they’ve blown out almost every average or worse team they’ve faced this season. They beat Indianapolis by 20, St. Louis by 17, Dallas by 16, Jacksonville by 38, Detroit by 6 (they had them shutout for 59 ½ minutes, before the Lions got a late backdoor cover 13-7), Carolina by 1 (the one true exception), Tennessee by 31, and then these Vikings by 18 two weeks ago. This should be another blowout win for the Bears. Public lean: Chicago (60% range) Chicago Bears 23 Minnesota Vikings 13 Pick against spread: Chicago -3 (-110) 3 units
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