Chicago Bears (7-5 SU, 6-6 ATS) vs. Denver Broncos (7-5 SU, 7-5 ATS), 4:05 p.m. EST, Week 14 NFL, Sunday, December 11, 2011, Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver, Colo., TV: CBS
by Badger, Pro Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Chi +3.5/Den -3.5
Over/Under Total: 35.5
If the Chicago Bears want to try and save their sinking season theyll need to score a huge win on the road this weekend over one of the hottest teams in the entire NFL, when the Bears travel to play red-hot Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos in Sports Authority Field at Mile High in NFC-AFC action Sunday on CBS.
The Bears are clearly struggling to replace starting quarterback Jay Cutler and it showed again last week a 10-3 loss to Kansas City. What makes matters worse than the Bears measly 181 yards of offense and seven sacks allowed in the loss, is the fact that running back Matt Forte sprained his MCL after just five carries and he will be joining Cutler on the Bears sideline the next couple of weeks at least.
So now the Bears, who were already struggling to replace Cutler, will need to find a way to replace Forte too. Or in other words, nearly their entire offensive output if they want to stay alive in the NFC wild card playoff hunt. Adding to the drama is that the Bears will have to do it against the hottest team in the league, the Denver Tebows.
Nobody has lifted their team from the doldrums and into playoff contention faster than Tebow this year, and nobody gets more segments and polls on ESPN and sports talk radio every 90 minutes than Tebow too. Say what you will about the methods, but the fact is the Broncos are winning with Tebow (now 6-1) and in the NFL thats all that matters.
Last weeks Bronco comeback started with 3:06 to go in the game, when the Minnesota Vikings kicked a field goal to go up three points, 32-29. Tebow led the Broncos on two drives in the final minutes that ended in field goals, the last one a 23-yard chip shot by Matt Prater as time expired to give them another last-play victory. Denvers fifth win in a row moved them into a tie for first place in the AFC West, and at 7-5 put them among the AFC wild-card chase pack as the last four weeks of the season come to an end.
Despite all of the key injuries to Chicago and the Broncos incredible hot streak, the oddsmakers in Las Vegas still only opened the game with Denver as 3.5-point favorites at home. So far the line has yet to move in either direction.
The over/under total for the game also opened at a low 35.5, and even though there are a few sportsbooks in Las Vegas that have since moved up to 36, the large majority of the offshore sportsbooks are still sitting at 35.5 with no line movement in either direction yet.
I suspect the lack of line movement so far is due to the uncertainty of the Bears offense. Chicago tried to get waiver-wire QB Kyle Orton last week, and media outlets have linked veterans Donovan McNabb and Brett Favre to the job of emergency replacement early in the week legit or not, so theres still too many unknowns on the Bears right now to handicap them.
If Caleb Hanie ends up starting again for the Bears this week then we know the Bears offense will struggle. Hanie (48 %, 2 TD, 6 INT, 40.8 QB rating) has looked like hes in over his head in his two starts, although he has been getting knocked around a lot because of the Bears continued problems along the offensive line (11 of the Bears 34sacks allowed have come in Hanies two starts). Marion Barber will likely get a majority of the carries at running back with Forte out.
The weakened Bears offense will have to play against an underrated Broncos defense that, even though most of the winning streak has been attributed to Tebow and his heroics, has truly been the reason they have turned their season around. Denvers defense has allowed nearly a full touchdown less in their wins (17.8 ppg vs. 24.3 ppg season average 24th) during the run, and their 33 sacks on the season (5th in NFL) is one of the reasons they might present some big problems for the Bears this week (although LB Von Miller is listed as questionable).
The total opened at a low number of 35.5 because at least on paper, it appears the Broncos offense will struggle against the Bears defense this week too.
The combo of Tebow and running back Willis McGahee has proven to be a dangerous one in the read-option game, but the Bears are top-10 in the NFL against the run (84 ypg) and linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are veterans and fast enough to make plays versus the option. Young safeties Chris Conte and Major Wright will also be called upon to stop the run this week, which could pull the Bears out of the comfort of the cover-2 shell pass coverage on early downs, but theyll make Tebow beat them throwing it rather than running it.
This is the type of game where returner Devin Hester could play a huge role, like he did the last time these two teams played (back in 2007). Hester ran back a 75-yard punt and an 88-yard kickoff return for touchdowns in the game to spark the Bears to a comeback win in overtime, 37-34. The last time these two played a game in Denver also resulted in a Bears win, a 19-10 win in 2003 back in the Jake Plummer era in Mile High.
Even though the Bears have won two in a row against the Broncos, all told the series is even 3-3 on the field. Chicago holds a small advantage at the betting window, covering three in a row and going 4-1-1 ATS over the series.
With the uncertainty surrounding the Bears offense I wouldnt recommend following betting trends, since were talking an apples-to-oranges comparison. But if you want a few trends to think about, the fact that Denver is 5-0 ATS in their last five games (6-1 ATS w/ Tebow at QB) and the Bears are historically a bad road underdog (5-12-1 in L18 as road dog) could be enough motivation.
Four of the six head-to-head meetings have gone over the total in the series history, but believe it or not the Bears-Broncos game back in 1993 closed with a total of 32.5 and still went under (Denver won 13-3 as 2-point favorites), so there is some historical perspective to compare this weeks game to after all.
Badgers Pick to Cover the Point Spread: What are the Bears going to do on offense, quick kick on third down? I know it sounds ridiculous, but I dont know how this game gets even close to the 35.5 total. I cant will myself to bet on (gasp) Tebows Broncos, so Ill probably make this game a no play personally. But if I do anything, Ill take a flyer on another one of those 13-3 or 14-10 type of games the Broncos are making famous this season. Im taking the under of 35.5.
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