Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-3)

The Packers lost in overtime in Indianapolis last week, but the Colts are a solid team and the Packers outplayed them for most of the game, winning the first down rate battle by a pretty substantial 5.76% and only losing because they lost the turnover battle by 2. Turnovers are highly unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so any team that has a turnover margin of -2 in a game can be expected to be improved in that metric the following week, but that’s especially true for the Packers, who have one of the most careful quarterbacks in the league in Aaron Rodgers.

I would expect better focus this week out of a Packers team that is arguably the best in the NFL when relatively healthy, which they are right now, with key players like wide receiver Davante Adams (2 games missed), running back Aaron Jones (2 games missed), left tackle David Bakhtiari (3 games missed), defensive tackle Kenny Clark (3 games missed), cornerback Jaire Alexander (1 game missed), and safety Darnell Savage (1 game missed) all having returned from injury. The Packers have typically bounced back pretty well off of a loss (38-21 ATS) in the Aaron Rodgers era anyway, as is the case with most teams with high level quarterbacks. 

This line is pretty high, favoring the Packers by 8.5 points, but it’s arguably not high enough, given how bad their opponents are. Everyone knows the Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final play and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks, but what’s not mentioned enough is that in three of their five losses, they were down by 16 points, 21 points, and 21 points in the 4th quarter before some meaningless late scores, against the Colts, Titans, and Rams, while their 6-point loss to the Vikings came in a game in which the Bears got 8 points of benefit from their special teams. The Packers are as good or better than all of those teams, so it’s going to be very tough for the Bears to be competitive.

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Bears rank 23rd at -1.02% and there is reason to believe they’ll be worse than that going forward. They’ve been very reliant on a defense that ranks 6th in first down rate allowed over expected to cover for an offense that ranks 31st in first down rate over expected, which is a problem because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. If their defense doesn’t play well every week, this team doesn’t have much of a shot to win games and even talented defenses can be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

The Bears are also pretty banged up, missing a pair of offensive linemen in left guard James Daniels and right tackle Bobby Massie and possibly a third with left tackle Charles Leno not practicing all week, while their defense could be without key defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who also didn’t practice. The Bears will also be forced to go back to Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback with Nick Foles out, though with Foles playing like he has, I’m not sure how much that matters. Even with this big line, the Packers are worth a bet. Coming off of a loss, with only another easy game against the Eagles on deck (favorites of 6 or more are 87-55 ATS since 2016 before being favorites of 6 or more again), the Packers should be fully focused to blow out an inferior opponent. If Leno and Hicks are ruled out, I may increase this bet.

Update: Leno will play for the Bears, but Akiem Hicks will be out. Despite that, this line has dropped to 7.5 in most places. My calculated line is Green Bay -10 and that doesn’t even take into account that Aaron Rodgers and company should be fully focused off of a loss. I don’t see this one being close, so I’m upping this bet.

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 12

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -7.5

Confidence: High

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (3-5) at Chicago Bears (5-4)

A couple weeks ago, coming out of their week 7 bye, I compared the Vikings to the 2019 Atlanta Falcons, who went 1-7 before their bye week before going 6-2 in their final 8 games. The Falcons had a first down rate differential of +1.33% in their first 8 games, but had a turnover margin of -11 that was the 2nd worst in the league at the time, which made winning any games very difficult, leading to the 1-7 record. Likewise, the Vikings had a schedule adjusted +2.73% first down rate differential, but struggled to win games for other reasons and went just 1-5 in their first 6 games.

Fortunately for the Vikings (and last year’s Falcons), per play success stats like first down rate tend to be much more consistent and predictive in the long run than stats like turnover margin that only tell what happened on a small percentage of a team’s snaps. The Falcons weren’t drastically better in first down rate differential over their 6-2 stretch at +2.02%, but their turnover margin improved to +6, making it much easier for the Falcons to win games. 

The Vikings weren’t killed by the turnover margin quite as much as last year’s Falcons, but they still ranked 3rd worst in the league at -7 through week 7, as they recovered just 35.71% of fumbles, while quarterback Kirk Cousins threw interceptions at a rate 2.5 times higher than his career average and over 3 times higher than his previous 3 seasons. Both of those things were unlikely to continue. Also unlikely to continue was the Vikings allowing 19 of 19 field goals against and having -31.8% 4th down conversion rate disparity. 

It wasn’t hard to see how that had led to the Vikings losing otherwise winnable games, as they were a failed 4th down conversation away from clinching the game in Seattle and lost by 1 to the Titans in a game in which the Titans made 6 of 6 field goals, including a trio from 50+ and a 55-yard game winner. The Vikings could have easily been 3-3 over their first 6 games, despite a relatively tough schedule, and that doesn’t even take into account that the Vikings fared much better on a per play basis than the final score suggests in losses in Green Bay and Atlanta, or that the Vikings were missing top offensive player Dalvin Cook in that Atlanta loss.

Seeing the Vikings as very underrated, I bet them my Pick of the Week in back-to-back weeks and they rewarded me both times, pulling an upset by 6 points as 7-point underdogs in Green Bay and then beating the Lions by 14 points as 3.5-point favorites. Unfortunately, the public and the oddsmakers are starting to catch up, as evidenced by this line shifting from Chicago -1.5 on the early line last week to Minnesota -3 this week, but we’re still getting good line value with the Vikings, who remain at least somewhat underrated.

Despite their tough schedule, they could easily be 5-3 right now and they still have several significant stats that should improve going forward, including their league leading 95.45% opponent’s field goal percentage, Kirk Cousins’ 4.78% interception rate, which is still double his career average, and a 30th ranked 37.50% fumble recovery rate. In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Vikings rank 7th and, while they might not be quite that good, they also rank 12th in my roster rankings, so they should continue playing at a high level going forward.

This line value is also in part due to the Bears being overrated. Everyone knows the Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final play and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks, but what’s not mentioned enough is that in three of their four losses, they were down by 16 points, 21 points, and 21 points in the 4th quarter before some meaningless late scores, against the Colts, Titans, and Rams, comparable caliber teams to the Vikings.

In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Bears rank 22nd at -0.67% and there is reason to believe they’ll be worse than that going forward. They’ve been very reliant on a defense that ranks 7th in first down rate allowed over expected to cover for an offense that ranks 31st in first down rate over expected, which is a problem because defensive performance is much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. 

Their offense also may even be worse than their rank suggests, as they will be without a trio of starting offensive linemen, left guard Mike Daniels, center Cody Whitehair, and right tackle Bobby Massie, as well as feature back David Montgomery. If their defense doesn’t play well every week, this team doesn’t have much of a shot to win games and even talented defenses can be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. 

Even with this line moving to -3, I still think this line is off significantly, as I have the Vikings calculated at -6. The Bears have next to no homefield advantage in Chicago without fans and the disparity between those two teams’ is massive (Minnesota ranking 5th and Chicago 31st) on offense, which is by far the more predictive side of the ball. The Vikings should be able to win by at least a field goal pretty easily, so I’m rolling with Minnesota as my Pick of the Week for the third straight week. They’re not as underrated as they’ve been, but the Bears are overrated and there isn’t another great Pick of the Week option this week.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: Pick of the Week

Chicago Bears at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-3) at Tennessee Titans (5-2)

Both of these teams have impressive records that get less impressive when you look at the box scores. The Bears’ five wins have all come by one score, including four games that all came down to the final score and a pair of nearly impossible comebacks. The Titans, meanwhile, have not faced a tough schedule, but have still had to walk the tightrope this season, winning their first 3 games by a combined 6 points and winning a fourth game in overtime.

However, there is plenty of reason to expect the Titans to be the significantly better team going forward. One is simply that, even though the Titans have been unimpressive in the box scores, they’ve still significantly outplayed the Bears overall this season. They won the first down rate battle by 6.99% in their week 5 blowout victory over the Bills, by far more impressive than any of the Bears’ games this season, and last week they won the first down rate battle by 5.87% even in a loss to the Bengals, losing that game primarily because they lost the turnover battle and allowed a ridiculous 11 of 16 on 3rd and 4th down, two things that are very inconsistent week-to-week. The Bears, meanwhile, were down 21 and 16 in the 4th quarter of two of their losses and rank just 26th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -1.95%, while the Titans rank 15th at +0.53%. 

On top of that, the Titans are in much better shape going forward because they’re an offensive led team, while the Bears are a defensive led team. Offense is by far the more predictable side of the ball and the Titans rank 6th in first down rate over expected at +2.43%, while the Bears rank 30th at -3.67% and are arguably even worse than that suggests, missing a trio of starting offensive linemen in James Daniels (4th game missed), Cody Whitehair (2nd game missed), and Bobby Massie (1st game missed). 

The Titans have to play another game in 4 days after this one, facing the Colts on Thursday Night Football, and favorites cover at just a 43.8% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football, which limits the amount I like Tennessee as 6.5 point favorites, but the Bears will need to continue being significantly better on defense for this game to be close and that’s far from a given. 

That becomes more likely if the Titans are missing key personnel on defense in this game and edge defense Jadeveon Clowney is a gametime decision after not practicing all week, but even if he doesn’t play, the Titans could offset his absence by getting top cornerback Adoree Jackson back for the first time all season. If one of those two play and this line doesn’t increase, I will bet the Titans and if both play, this could be a big Tennessee bet. For now this is a low confidence pick, but I will likely have an update this weekend, probably after Saturday afternoon, when Jackson’s status will need to be decided.

Tennessee Titans 26 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Tennessee -6.5

Confidence: Low

New Orleans Saints at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (4-2) at Chicago Bears (5-2)

The Bears are 5-2, but they’re about as bad as a 5-2 team can be. While their five wins have remarkably all come by one score or less, including a pair of wins that both required nearly impossible 4th quarter comebacks, the Bears haven’t been competitive in either of their losses. They needed a last second garbage time touchdown to cut their margin of defeat against the Colts from 16 to 8 and they needed a meaningless defensive touchdown late against the Rams to cut their margin of defeat from 21 to 14. Their average lead ranks just 24th in the league and in terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, they rank 25th at -1.91%.

As bad as that is, there are reasons to believe it will get worse going forward. For one, the Bears have been reliant on their defense so far, ranking 28th in first down rate over expected and 10th in first down rate allowed over expected, and defensive performance tends to be much more inconsistent on a week-to-week basis than offensive performance. If the Bears’ defense happens to have an off game, the Bears don’t really have much of a shot of beating anyone outside of the worst teams in the league. The Bears are also starting to lose key players to injury, particularly on offense, where they will be without a pair of key offensive linemen in James Daniels and Cody Whitehair. Their defense also has a significant injury concern with edge defender Khalil Mack playing at less than 100% recently.

Making matters even worse for the Bears, they have a tough matchup with the Saints this week and are in a tough spot, on a short week, coming off of an ugly performance. Teams are 39-54 ATS since 2002 after a Monday Night Football loss by 17 or more points and, though the Bears technically lost by 14, it would have been 21 if not for that meaningless defensive touchdown. With little time to adjust from last week’s loss, the Bears could easily be blown out again this week, especially since they won’t have the benefit of any fans in the stadium in Chicago this week.

A lot of attention has been given to the Saints’ absences in the receiving corps without their top-2 wide receivers in Michael Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders, but the Saints haven’t had Thomas healthy and have had to shuffle things in the receiving corps all year and they still rank 7th in first down rate over expected at +2.59%. The Bears are also missing much about as much on offense as the Saints, which is a big problem because they’ve struggled even when relatively healthy, while the Saints’ defense should be better than their 15th ranked schedule adjusted first down rate allowed, now that key players like Marcus Davenport, Janoris Jenkins, and Marshon Lattimore have returned to the lineup. 

Given that the Saints are healthy defensively now, it’s not a stretch to say these two teams are comparable on the defensive side of the ball, with the Saints also having the massive edge on offense. This line is too low at New Orleans -4, as my calculated line is New Orleans -7.5, so the Saints are worth a bet this week. They should win this one with relative ease against a Bears team that is not nearly as good as their record and that is missing key offensive players.

New Orleans Saints 24 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -4

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-1) at Los Angeles Rams (4-2)

Both of these teams have impressive records, but neither team has been as good as its record suggests. The Rams have faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and have only beaten teams from the NFC East, getting lucky enough to face that whole division over the course of the first 4 weeks of the season, while their losses have come against the Bills and 49ers. The Bears, meanwhile, have faced a slightly tougher schedule, but all five of their wins have come by one score or fewer, including a few that easily could have gone the other way, while their loss in Indianapolis was a 19-3 game before a garbage time touchdown technically cut it to one score.

The Bears don’t seem to be getting much respect for their record though, while the Rams seem to be, as they are favored by 6 points over the Bears, despite not having any fans in the stadium at home. That suggests the Rams are about five points better than the Rams, but I have about 3-3.5 points difference between these two teams, so we’re getting decent line value with the visitors. It’s not enough for me to bet on the Rams and this might be a no confidence pick at 5.5, but the Bears should be the right side.

Los Angeles Rams 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Carolina Panthers: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-1) at Carolina Panthers (3-2)

The Bears have started the season 4-1, but they aren’t nearly as good as their record, as they could have easily lost any of their four wins, with all coming down to the final play and the Bears managing to win all 4 by a combined 13 points. The general public seems to recognize the Bears aren’t as good as their record though. What they may not realize is that the Bears’ opponents this week, the Carolina Panthers, are also not as good as their 3-2 record suggests. This line favors the Panthers at home by 1.5 with limited homefield advantage, suggesting these two teams are about even, but the Bears hold an edge in both first down rate differential (+0.94% vs. -1.18%) and a clearer edge in my roster rankings. 

The Panthers haven’t been terrible on either side of the ball this season, but their talent level on defense, especially without injured defensive tackle Kawaan Short, suggests they’ve overachieved on that side of the ball so far and could regress going forward. Overall, I have the Bears 3.5 points better than the Panthers, suggesting this line should be 1.5 the other way, giving the Panthers two points for having limited fan attendance. Games decided by 1 point aren’t overly common (4.1% of games), so we’re not getting great line value with the Bears, but I at least think the money line is worth betting at +105, as the Bears are slightly better than 50/50 to win this game straight up.

Chicago Bears 23 Carolina Panthers 20 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1) at Chicago Bears (3-1)

I’ve been on the Buccaneers in a big way for the past three weeks, because I’ve felt their defense was being very underrated, and they’ve covered in all three instances, but unfortunately it seems the line has caught up, as the Buccaneers have gone from being 3-point favorites in this game in Chicago on the early line last week to 5.5-point favorites this week. That takes away all line value, as that is my exact calculated line. I’m still taking the Buccaneers, but it’s purely because it’s a short week and the better team tends to be at even more of an advantage on a short week. 

Non-divisional favorites of a field goal or more typically cover at about a 61.6% rate on Thursday nights, and, though that drops to 55.6% for road favorites, I wonder how much that will matter without normal crowds. We haven’t seen a big road favorite on Thursday yet, so there are no data points to look at, but it makes sense that the Buccaneers would have a better chance than the typical Thursday road favorites of covering. That’s not enough to bet on the Buccaneers and this would likely be a no confidence pick if this was a normal week, but on a short week, I think it’s more likely we get a strong performance from the Buccaneers than the Bears, so I’d recommend them for pick ‘em purposes.

Update: This line has surprisingly dropped to 3.5 in most places, due to heavy sharp action. I don’t know why the sharps are on the Bears and 4 and 5 aren’t key numbers, but I may consider betting Tampa Bay, especially if this line goes all the way down to 3. Stay tuned.

Update #2: While we’re waiting for this line to hopefully drop to 3, I want to lock in Minnesota +7 for this weekend. I’ll still have a full writeup this weekend as normal, but I was planning on being on the Vikings heavily if Jamal Adams doesn’t play for the Seahawks and he was ruled out early. I don’t want to risk that line dropping from a touchdown, so I’m locking it in now.

Final Update: I’ve been going back and forth on this one, but I think a bet is justified. With the Buccaneers having Leonard Fournette surprisingly active and Mike Evans confirmed active despite missing practice all week on a short week, I have this line calculated at Tampa Bay -6 and they are in a good spot as well. As much as I’d much rather this line be 3, the Buccaneers should win by at least 6-7 points.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -3.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (2-1) at Chicago Bears (3-0)

The Colts surprisingly lost week one in Jacksonville, but that was a close game that swung on the Colts -2 turnover margin, which is not a predictable metric on a week-to-week basis. In two games since, the Colts have dominated the Vikings and Jets, winning by a combined 46 points, and now lead the league in first down rate differential (+8.81%), and DVOA as well. They haven’t faced a tough schedule, but I had them as a top-5 team entering the season and I don’t see any reason to change that, especially if they continue to avoid the major injuries that have plagued much of the league. The Colts aren’t fully 100%, but they still rank 2nd overall in my roster rankings right now.

The Bears have also gotten off to a good start at 3-0, but they haven’t won any of their games convincingly, with their biggest margin of victory being 4 points and two of their three wins coming in improbable last second comebacks. They actually have a negative first down rate differential at -0.49%%, despite their record, and they rank middle of the pack in my roster rankings as well, even without major injuries. I have this line calculated at Indianapolis -4.5, so I like the value we’re getting with them at -2.5 a lot, as it crosses the key number of three and the lesser key number of 4. The Colts should win this game with relative ease, especially with the Bears lacking normal homefield advantage, so they’re a good bet if you can get them as favorites of less than a field goal.

Indianapolis Colts 23 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -2.5

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Atlanta Falcons: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (2-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-2)

I wasn’t high on the Bears coming into the season because their defense wasn’t what it once was and their offense didn’t appear to be noticeably approved. It’s early and they’ve had a relatively easy schedule, but their quarterback play and offensive line play have both been better than expected and, perhaps most importantly, they’re one of the few teams in the league that haven’t had significant injury problems yet and they enter this game as close to full strength as anyone. As a result of that, they have shot up to 14th in my roster rankings.

That’s a few spots higher than the Falcons, who are dealing with injuries to several players, as wide receiver Julio Jones, right tackle Kaleb McGary, linebacker Foyesade Oluokun, and edge defenders Dante Fowler and Takkarist McKinley are all highly questionable after either barely practicing or not practicing this week. It’s tough to make a pick without knowing the status of all of those players, but I’m tentatively on the Bears and may even wager on them depending on how many Falcons are out.

Update: The injury report is not good for the Falcons, with Jones, McGary, Oluokun, and McKinley all out, along with cornerback AJ Terrell, who is on the COVID list. Unfortunately, this line moved down to 2.5 to compensate. An Atlanta win by a field goal at home is still a likely possibility, so I don’t love this play against the spread, but I think the Bears have a slightly better chance of winning this game overall than the Falcons (my calculated line is Chicago -1.5), so I like the value getting them +115 to win straight up.

Final Update: Some +3s have started showing up again, with higher vig. Field goal games are so common that I think it’s worth betting that line even if you have to pay a higher vig.

Chicago Bears 26 Atlanta Falcons 24 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Chicago +3

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

New York Giants (0-1) at Chicago Bears (1-0)

The Bears pulled out the win in Detroit last week, but it’s hard to ignore that they couldn’t generate any offense until the Lions lost cornerbacks Desmond Trufant and Justin Coleman, leaving the Lions down their top-3 cornerbacks, with Jeff Okudah ruled out before the game. Once that happened, the Bears strung together three straight touchdown drives to win the game, but that’s a lot less impressive against bottom of the roster cornerbacks. 

The Bears are more or less at full health with free acquisition edge defender Robert Quinn making his debut after missing the opener with injury, but I still expect them to be a mediocre team this season, with their offensive issues still remaining and their defense not being what it was due to player departures. I expect the Giants to be mediocre as well but I have them less than a point behind the Bears in my roster rankings. 

The Bears won’t have full homefield advantage, so it’s hard to understand them being favored by more than a field goal. There isn’t enough here for the Giants to be worth betting at +5, but that may change if Golden Tate is able to go (listed questionable after missing the opener and being limited in practice all week) and/or if the line creeps up to 6. About 1 in 6 games are decided by a field goal exactly and the most likely outcome of this game is the Bears winning by that exact amount, but I’d probably want protection from a 6-point Bears win if I was going to bet this one.

Update: Tate is playing, but with this line still at 5, I’m going to keep this one as a low confidence pick.

Chicago Bears 20 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +5

Confidence: Low