Chicago Bears (3-3 SU, 2-4 ATS) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-2 SU, 3-3 ATS)
Sunday October 23rd, 2011. 1:00PM EST, NFL Week 7
Wembley Stadium London, England
By Jay Horne, NFL Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Chi -1/TB +1
Over/Under Total: 44
For the 5th consecutive year, the NFL will travel overseas when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears collide inside Wembley Stadium in London, England. The game will actually mark the 2nd trip overseas for the Buccaneers in the last few years. Back in 2009, the Buccaneers were blown out by the New England Patriots 35-7. This year the Buccaneers attempt to redeem their selves in front of Brits and score their first victory in the International Series in London.
For the Buccaneers, they sit at a surprising 4-2 on the season with an impressive win over New Orleans 26-20 last week. Don’t look now but Tampa Bay also currently sits on top of the NFC South as we vastly approach the midseason point in the NFL. Perhaps even more surprising is the fact that the Buccaneers have not played well on paper despite their surprising start. The defense ranks 27th overall giving up 390 yards per game and relinquishing a dismal 24 points per game. The offense has been mediocre ranking 15th in total offense averaging 350 yards per game and is only averaging a disappointing 18.8 points per game (25th in NFL).
However, the Buccaneers have founds ways to win just like they did last week against the defending Super Bowl Champions. QB Josh Freeman has been the tone setter for the offense. Despite a slow start plagued by turnovers, Freeman bounced back last week against New Orleans with a solid outing completing 23 of 41 passing for 303 yards with 2 scores and 0 picks. For Freeman, it was a step in the right direction after a horrible outing the week prior that resulted in a blowout loss to San Francisco. As Freeman goes so does the offense, therefore it will be interesting to see if he plays well again this Sunday.
On the ground, Tampa Bay suffered a setback prior to last week when tailback LeGarrette Blount was lost for several weeks with a knee injury. Blount was a guy that the Tampa Bay coaching staff was excited about as he was progressing with each passing week and giving a boost to the rushing efforts for the offense. However, backup Earnest Graham took advantage of his opportunity to pick up the slack last week by carrying the ball 17 times for 109 rushing yards. Graham is an experienced back, but he has not carried the ball more than 6 times in 2 years prior to last Sunday’s win over the Saints. Therefore, it will be important that Graham is able to handle the workload as the offense moves forward.
On the other side of the field, the Chicago Bears enter Sunday’s game off an impressive Sunday night victory over Minnesota last week 39-10. Despite a slow start to the season, last week’s big win over the Vikings showed everyone just how good this Bears team can be. With their win over the Vikings, the Bears moved back to the .500 mark on the season and really need another win to ensure the team is headed in the right direction. This Sunday’s test with Tampa Bay just may be the measuring stick the Bears need to indicate if they are still the team capable of a playoff run as they were a season ago.
On the field, the Bears defense has been solid for the most part all season. It is the offense that has struggled severely at times. In the Bears 3 losses this season, the offense has failed to score more than 17 points in any of those contests. The big story has been the Chicago offensive line that has given up 19 sacks this season (2nd most in NFL) making it difficult for QB Jay Cutler to maintain any type of rhythm in the passing game. Despite the constant pressure, Cutler has still been fairly accurate completing 60% passing for 1,476 yards with 8 scores and 4 picks on the year. The Bears offense has the playmakers to be very effective, but simply need to play better up front to maximize their potential and allow Cutler the opportunity to throw the ball.
Speaking of playmakers, the Bears have two homerun threats in running back Matt Forte and WR Devin Hester. Hester is the ultimate return specialist that can change a game in the blink of an eye in the return game. Last week Hester returned a 98 yard kickoff for a touchdown and also pulled in a 48 yard touchdown pass in the game as well. Throw in some other big plays this season returning punts and it is a true mystery why teams still continue to kick to Hester. If Tampa Bay makes that mistake this Sunday, keep your eyes on #23.
Still, the Bears have another playmaker in Forte as well. Forte leads the team in both rushing and receiving with nearly 1,000 all-purpose yards. Forte has racked up 527 yards while averaging 5.3 yards per carry on the ground this season while also adding 381 receiving yards to that total. Forte has proved each week that he will have an impact in the outcome of Chicago’s game and it will be interesting to see if the Tampa Bay defense can come up with a game plan to slow him down this Sunday. Considering the way both defenses have played this season, this game could be decided by the team that makes the big plays. If that is the case, the Bears chances will be good.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I like the Bears in what will likely be a close game. There’s much better value on the board this week. Passing may be the best option here.
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