Chicago Bears (7-2) at San Francisco 49ers (6-2)
I can’t make a final pick on this one because there are too many unknowns with injuries and with the line in general (it’s not yet posted). However, I can do a reasonable preview based on what we do know. Here’s what we know. We know Jay Cutler has been ruled out and will not play for the Bears. Instead, Jason Campbell will start in his absence. We know Alex Smith has been cleared to practice and is expected to be cleared to play before Monday Night so he’s expected to start for the 49ers.
We know if all things were normal, this line would be around San Francisco -5 because that’s what it was at last week and both teams have had disappointing games since. Given all that, assuming Cutler doesn’t play, Smith plays, and the line moves the appropriate amount to compensate, I like the Bears. I would have taken them in normal circumstances at -5. I can’t understand Chicago, who leads the league in points differential, being more than 3 point road dogs against anyone while fully healthy. Even with Cutler out, this should be a close game and we can expect the line to be somewhere around -7 at least, so the points are very tempting.
Campbell is a decent quarterback and one of the better backups in the league. He led the Raiders to an 11-7 record in games he played over a 2 year stretch. In the games he missed, the Raiders went 5-9, even though Carson Palmer made 9 of those starts. This year, they are 3-6 without him and with Palmer. He didn’t look great against Houston, but then again neither did Cutler. Houston has an incredible defense. San Francisco does too, so he’s hardly going to put up big points, but he will at least have a week of starters reps under his belt and he won’t need to put up big points to cover.
The Bears run the ball, play great defense, and have great special teams and even with Alex Smith healthy, the 49ers won’t be doing a whole lot of scoring either. Smith is obviously a better quarterback than Campbell, but it’s not such a lopsided comparison that the 49ers warrant being possibly touchdown favorites or more in a game where everything else seems really even. Good teams tend to cover without their starting quarterback, especially in their first game without him because they’re overlooked, undervalued, and angry. The Bears were unable to do that last year, going 1-5 without Cutler, but this year will be different for several reasons.
One, when Cutler went down last year, it was known almost immediately to be season ending. The Bears pretty much quit after he went down. This time, he’ll probably only miss this game, so they will have more of a “holding down the fort for Cutler” mentality rather than “Cutler’s out, we’re fucked” mentality. Two, Jason Campbell is so much more competent than Caleb Hanie and eventually Josh McCown, the two starting quarterbacks who combined to make those 6 starts last year. Three, their supporting cast is better. They’ve added Brandon Marshall. They have returned Matt Forte (remember, he got hurt at the same time Cutler did last year). They’re also allowing about a touchdown less per game defensively than last year.
Both teams are in good spots this week after disappointing performances last week. Lovie Smith, since taking over as Bears’ Head Coach, is 6-3 ATS as dogs before being favorites. Dogs before being favorites are 95-50 ATS since 2011 and Chicago hosts Minnesota next week, a game they’ll be favored in even if Cutler can’t return for that one.
The 49ers, meanwhile, had a tie game last week, which makes things a little tougher. However, teams are 13-6 ATS off of overtime as double digit favorites, regardless of the outcome. Almost losing, or in the 49ers’ case, not winning, seems to send the same sort of wake up call to a team as actually losing. Further illustrating that, teams are 32-24 ATS off a win of 3 or fewer as double digit favorites and 27-18 ATS off a loss as double digit favorites.
Lose or barely win, it’s a wakeup call. Jim Harbaugh, like all great coaches, is excellent off a loss, going 5-1 ATS. In fact, off a mere ATS loss, he’s 6-1 ATS. It is worth noting that teams are 3-7 ATS off a tie, though it is a small sample size. The 49ers may be tired after playing 75 minutes last week, but this one is on Monday Night, so maybe not.
At the end of the day though, I like the Bears for a significant play as long as Cutler doesn’t play and this line is 6 or higher (6 is a key number). Even without Cutler, the Bears should be able to keep this close. They have a great supporting cast and will give 110% to hold down the fort in Cutler’s absence. I also think they have a good chance to win if history is any indication.
Every year, one team goes from out of the playoffs to a first round bye. Chicago is the only one who is even close right now and they pretty much need this win to do so given that Atlanta is 8-1 and has a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way. In a game that could decide the #2 seed in the NFC, I like the Bears to win, but I’m more confident they’ll cover, as long as the spread is where I think it will be. Minus 6-7 will be 3 units and anything above 7 will be 4 or 5 units. I’ll post a final pick once the line is posted.
Public lean: Chicago (50% range)
Sharps lean: SF 15 CHI 4
Final update: The sharps like San Francisco, but keep in mind, the LV Hilton line is -4. It’s at -7 in the few online sportsbooks its up at. I’ll make this pick assuming -7 just to get it out of the way and make any changes tonight if I need to. It’s going to be 3 units on the Bears. 7 is way too many points. The Bears will play 110% to compensate for Cutler and make this a grind it out game. I have a tough time seeing either team win by more than 7 barring several defensive/special teams touchdowns.
Final update Part 2: Alex Smith was surprising ruled out Monday Morning and even though this line opened on Sunday at -7 expecting Smith to play, it plummeted down to -3.5 today. I’m very glad I was able to get Chicago +7 now, but if you couldn’t, I still like Chicago +3.5, but only for 2 units. There’s no way Smith is worth 3.5 points. I obviously still like the money line, even though it’s smaller now.
Chicago Bears 16 San Francisco 49ers 13 Upset Pick +240
Pick against spread: Chicago +7 (-110) 3 units