Houston Texans (7-1) at Chicago Bears (7-1)
I’ve called Chicago the best team in the NFL on several occasions. It’s close, but they are the team I’d least want to play right now. Atlanta may be undefeated, but they’ve had a very easy schedule and aren’t blowing guys out like the Bears are, winning 5 of 8 by a touchdown or less, including games that should have been blowouts like home for Carolina, Oakland, and Dallas.
Chicago hasn’t had the toughest schedule either, but they are blowing teams out. Of their 7 wins, 5 have come by 10 or more (actually all 5 came by 16 or more). Of the two that didn’t, the outcome of only one was ever in down. They held a shutout against Detroit until 30 seconds left in the game when the Lions got a garbage time touchdown to make it 13-7 and a single digit win, but the outcome was never really in doubt. The Falcons have had at least 4 games where that was the case (Carolina, Dallas, Washington, and Oakland all could have ended in losses for Atlanta, I don’t really count Denver, as Atlanta established a big early lead).
Jay Cutler is now 12-1 in his last 13 games, which would be 12 in a row if you exclude their Thursday Night loss in Green Bay. Obviously, you can’t ignore that game, but it was a while ago, it was on short rest, and it was on the road against a tough opponent, so I don’t put much stock into it. They run the ball well. They play incredible defense, even though you can’t expect them to continue to score defensively at this rate the rest of the way because no one ever has.
However, with guys like Julius Peppers, Henry Melton, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, and Major Wright, they have so many talented defensive players. They’re 2nd in the league in points per game allowed. Offensively, they can run the ball and Jay Cutler is playing well. The Cutler/Marshall combination is deadly. The only issue is the offensive line, but Jay Cutler is historically so hard to sack, so they should be fine.
Of course, with two games against Houston and San Francisco on schedule in the next 2 weeks for the Bears, we’ll definitely have an answer of whether or not this is the Super Bowl favorite pretty soon. In a way, Houston and Chicago have had similar seasons. Both haven’t had the toughest schedule, but both are blowing out the teams they’ve faced. Both have points differentials above +100 (Houston +100, Chicago +113).
Both are defensive oriented teams that can run the ball and both have quarterbacks that may not be on that elite level, but can get it done. They’re not in the Alex Smith game manager category, but they’re not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Both teams have lost to the Packers, though the Bears’ loss to the Packers, as I mentioned earlier, is more excusable. The Texans played them more recently, at home, and lost by more, losing by 18 rather than 13.
The Texans do rank higher in yards per play differential and rate of sustaining drives differential, ranking 5th and 2nd respectively, while Chicago ranks 13th and 4th respectively. As you can imagine, that suggests we are getting a little bit of line value with the Texans. The rate of sustaining drives differential method gives us Chicago -2 and yards per play differential gives us Houston -1 and when you average those out, you get a little bit less than the -1 in favor of Chicago this line currently is at.
That being said, there are 2 things to keep in mind with those numbers. The first is that those numbers treat every game equally. If not for that fluky loss to the Packers week 2, the Bears would rank better than the Texans in at least one of those statistics. Again, I’m not saying to ignore that game completely, but given the circumstances of the game and everything that’s happened since, I don’t think we should put too much stock into that.
The second is that, while neither has had a tough schedule, Chicago does come from the tougher conference. The NFC is 23-13 against the AFC this year. These two teams might be the best two teams in the NFL and they’re almost definitely in the top-3 right now, but I think Chicago is a little bit better right now and that this line should be at least -3 (3 points for home field). At -1, I think we’re getting line value with the Bears.
There aren’t a lot of relevant trends in play here. The Texans are dogs before being favorites, a situation teams are 89-50 ATS in since 2011, including 26-16 ATS before being double digit favorites since 2008 (they host Jacksonville next week). However, when that next game is divisional, like it is for Houston, that record slips to 10-10 ATS since 2002, and 23-27 ATS since 1989. Given, that I’m going to stick with my claim that the Bears are the NFL’s best, take the superior home favorite of less than a field goal, and the Bears to win this game for a significant play.
Public lean: Houston (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Chicago covers)
Sharps lean: HOU 20 CHI 4
Final update: I’m going to disagree with the sharps here, something I’ll do on several occasions this week. I think Chicago is the better team.
Chicago Bears 23 Houston Texans 17
Pick against spread: Chicago -1 (-110) 3 units