The New England Patriots look to cement their status as the AFC’s best team with an interconference showdown with the Chicago Bears. The Bears are 9-3, but they need to keep winning to stay ahead in the NFC playoff race.
The early spread on this game is Patriots (-3). Here are seven of the key aspects of the game and what to watch out for when betting. All lines from Cooper’s Picks.
#1: Short Week
The Patriots will be traveling to Chicago on a short week after a Monday Night Football game with the New York Jets. This is important, especially against an interconference rival that only meets once every four seasons.
#2: Chicago Bears Offensive Line
The weak link of the Bears has been their offensive line. It hasn’t been as devastating since Mike Martz has reverted to a more conservative game-calling approach, but the Bears have still allowed 45 sacks, by far leading the NFL (Cardinals in second with 40). The Patriots are 24th in sacks, so they may not exploit it to the fullest.
#3 New England Patriots Passing Defense
The Patriots are 31st in passing defense. They’ve given up more passing first downs (183) than anyone in the NFL, with the Texans coming second (167). Mike Martz has been more conservative because of the unstable offensive line, but could he be tempted to run more deep routes against the Patriots secondary?
#4: Chicago Bears Passing Defense
The Chicago Bears have one of the NFL’s premiere passing defenses. They’re 2nd in opposing quarterback average as they hold teams to a 71.1 QB rating. They allow the lowest average per completion (6.2), are tied for fifth in interceptions (16), have surrendered the second fewest touchdowns via pass (9), and they’re 3rd in points allowed (192).
Poor weather conditions could favor the Bears because of their defense and the Patriots unspectacular running game. However, Tom Brady is more experienced in playing in these conditions and would likely handle it better than Jay Cutler.
#6 40+ Yard Plays
Don’t expect fireworks in this contest. The Patriots and Bears have combined to allow four 40+ yard passing plays the entire season. Both defenses prefer to keep everything in front of them.
#7 Lovie Smith v. Bill Belichick, Chapter 1
The 2006 match-up in New England was a defensive struggle. This was during the Bears Super Bowl run under Rex Grossman and the Patriots AFC Championship loss to the Colts after getting up 21-3 in the first half. The Bears lost 17-13, becoming another victim to the Gillette Stadium advantage.
I believe this is going to be a methodical, low scoring game that relies on critical plays from the defenses and special teams. Both teams are good at creating turnovers, and the turnover ratio could determine the difference in this match-up.
The Bears have a better defense, better special teams, home field advantage, and longer to prepare for this interconference match-up. I also feel that the Bears have a chip on their shoulder because most fans and critics don’t seem to be taking them seriously even after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles. Bears need this more for their playoff lives and for respect.
As a bonus I’d recommend taking the under on the total because of the defenses and potential for extensive drives from defenses that allow few big passing plays. Currently, the total is 41.
Against the Spread: Chicago Bears (+3)
Straight: Chicago Bears
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Cooper’s Picks, December 7, 2010.
NFL.com, December 7, 2010.
Injury Reports, Covers.com. December 7, 2010.