Minnesota Vikings (6-4) at Chicago Bears (7-3)
Jay Cutler might be the most undervalued player in the NFL. In the last 2 seasons, when he starts, the Bears are 14-5 and score 26.8 points per game. When he doesn’t, they are 1-6 and average just 13.1 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.
I thought they’d survive without him against the 49ers because Jason Campbell is much better than Hanie and because Forte was healthy and because they added Brandon Marshall and because it was a one game absence rather than a morale crushing season ending injury and because the defense was allowing a touchdown fewer per game than last season, but I was totally wrong. Jason Campbell, believe it or not, is actually an experienced backup with some success in the NFL and he looked as bad as Hanie did last year on this offense.
Excluding the Houston game in which he got hurt before halftime, Cutler is now 12-1 in his last 13 starts, with the one loss coming on short rest on the road in Green Bay way back in week 2, which is very excusable. Before Cutler got hurt, this team led the NFL in points differential. One team every year goes from out of the playoffs to a first round bye and the Bears are by far the most likely team to do so. They’ll have to win out, but with Cutler healthy, I don’t doubt that’s possible. Their biggest test the rest of the way is home for Green Bay, in a huge revenge game that could be the difference between them being the 2nd seed and the 5th seed in the NFC.
Given how good they were before Cutler got hurt, I find it kind of strange that people are doubting them. I don’t think you can really hold their last 2 games against them too much. It’s a shame because Houston and San Francisco would have provided huge benchmark games for them if he was healthy, but now I don’t think we learned a ton about them in the past 2 weeks.
However, people seem to think we have. This line was Chicago -6.5 a week ago and now it’s expected to open at -4.5, according the LV Hilton line. Using the rate of sustaining drives differential method, this line should be Chicago -7 and using the yards per play differential method, this line should be Chicago -1.5, which averages out right around -4.5, but those numbers also take into account 1 ½ games that the Bears played without Cutler and a fluky loss in Green Bay. We’re getting line value with them. I think the Bears are an underrated bunch right now.
Those lines also fail to take into account that Percy Harvin will be out for the Vikings. Harvin missed their game against Detroit before the bye and they were still able to win and put up yards through the air and points, but that was against Detroit’s crappy secondary. Christian Ponder is still a young and inconsistent quarterback who could really, really struggle against the Bears’ elite secondary missing really his only weapon in the passing game. This line should really be around the -6.5 it was at last week.
Normally teams struggle after a Monday Night blowout loss. Teams are 12-22 ATS since 2002 off a MNF loss of 21 or more, excluding teams coming off a bye. However, the Bears’ blowout loss was a little fluky because they were missing such a big part of their team and now I think they’re actually underrated because of how poorly they’ve played in the past 2 weeks.
With Cutler back, I like them to get a statement win against the Harvin-less Vikings and win by double digits for the league leading 6th time this season (Houston, New England, and Denver all entered this week at 5, New England went up to 6 and Denver has yet to play). Fun fact: Since 1989, 16 teams have started 7-1 or better and then lost 2 straight, including now these Bears. Excluding meaningless week 17 games, teams are 10-2 ATS after losing 2 straight, including 9-1 ATS as favorites. It’s a small play on the Bears. If the line opens as 4 or less (unlikely) it’s 3 units, anything from 4 to 5.5 is 2, and anything from 6 up is one unit.
Public lean: ?
Sharps lean: MIN 5 CHI 1
Final update: This is unsurprisingly tied for the least picked game of the week on LV Hilton. Why would anyone want to make a pick on this game without knowing if Cutler would start (LV Hilton picks are due Saturday Morning)?
Final update part 2: This line opened at -6 Sunday Morning so there’s pretty much been no line movement or overreaction from last week, which costs us all line value. I still think the Bears bounce back in a big way, but it’s 1 unit.
Chicago Bears 27 Minnesota Vikings 13
Pick against spread: Chicago -6 (-110) 1 unit