Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2019 Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-8) at Minnesota Vikings (10-5)

I’m going to do the rest of my picks this weekend as normal, but I want to get a couple quick ones out of the way. There are four games this week where a team is expected to rest starters with their seeding locked in or all but locked in. Two of those games (Baltimore/Pittsburgh and Houston/Tennessee) have one team playing for their playoff lives, so at least one side will be highly motivated in those matchups. In the other two games, the other side is eliminated from the post-season and might not care much about a game against an opponent who is playing a lot of backups. 

This game falls into the latter category (Buffalo/NY Jets is the other). With the Vikings getting eliminated from division contention after their Monday night loss to the Packers, they are now locked into the 6th seed in the NFC and will rest key players for all or most of the game to keep them fresh for the wild card round. The Bears may play hard for pride, but I’m skeptical that they’ll take the Vikings’ backups seriously, with the off-season right around the corner. 

If neither of these teams are going to put much effort into this game, I’m not going to put much effort into this write-up. I would have this line calculated at Minnesota -9 under normal circumstances, so this line at Minnesota -1 is a pretty big difference. The Vikings won’t be able to rest everyone and the Bears might not care about this game at all, so I’m taking the Vikings for pick ‘em purposes, but I have no desire to wager anything of significance on this game. I am going to lock in one line I do like early (CIN +3) before the line shifts. I will consider that for Pick of the Week and will have a full write-up this weekend as usual. 

Update: For some reason, even though it was assumed all week that the Vikings would rest starters in this game, this line swung all the way to Chicago -3 when the Vikings announced they would be resting starters. Again, the Vikings can’t rest everyone and the Bears likely won’t put in much effort for a meaningless game against the Vikings’ backups, so I still like the Vikings for pick ’em purposes, but I have no desire to bet on this meaningless game.

Chicago Bears 17 Minnesota Vikings 16

Pick against the spread: Minnesota +3

Confidence: None

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 16 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (10-4) at Chicago Bears (7-7)

The now 7-7 Bears were officially eliminated from playoff contention with their loss to the Packers in Green Bay last week, a big disappointment for a team that went 12-4 a year ago. The Bears’ disappointing season isn’t a huge surprise though. They had the easiest schedule in the NFL last season and lost a pair of key defenders in free agency (safety Adrian Amos and cornerback Bryce Callahan) and their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to the Broncos, a big blow to a defense that led the NFL in first down rate allowed by more than 2% last season. Their defense has still been strong, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.64%, but they’ve been more than 2% worse than last year’s dominant unit, while their offense has fallen to 27th in first down rate at 31.86%, struggling mightily against a tougher slate of defenses than last season.

That being said, I think we are getting some line value with the Bears as 6-point home underdogs against the Chiefs. This line suggests the Bears would be 11-point underdogs in Kansas City, but the Bears were just 4-point underdogs in Green Bay last week and held their own, with a chance to tie the game on the final drive. Their offense is a major problem, but their defense is still one of the best in the NFL, especially with stud defensive end Akiem Hicks back healthy. I have this line calculated at Chicago +3, so we’re getting good line value with them at +6. I wouldn’t recommend betting on the Bears because they could be flat after being eliminated from the post-season last week, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Final Update: Hicks was ruled out on Saturday despite getting a full practice in on Friday. This line has moved to a full touchdown to compensate, but I’m dropping this down to a no confidence pick. Hicks didn’t suffer a setback in his return against the Packers last week and would almost definitely be playing if the Bears hadn’t been eliminated, but the Bears are understandably being cautious with him. That could effect the psyche of this whole team in a meaningless game and cause some players to give less than 100%, even in a nationally televised game. That more than the actual football impact of Hicks not being on the field is why I’m dropping this to a no confidence pick.

Kansas City Chiefs 26 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2019 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-6) at Green Bay Packers (10-3)

The Packers are 10-3, but there are reasons to be concerned, especially after an underwhelming home performance against the last place Redskins last week. That 20-15 victory was the Packers’ sixth win by a touchdown or less this season and, with two of their losses coming by more than 15 points, the Packers have a point differential of just +39, 11th in the NFL. That’s despite benefitting from a +11 turnover margin and turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they’re not necessarily going to continue winning the turnover battle going forward. In terms of of first down rate differential, they rank just 16th in the NFL at +0.43% and they’ve been even worse since a hot start, ranking 20th at -0.77% since week 7.

The Packers are also in a terrible spot, facing a divisional opponent they’ve already beaten with a much bigger divisional game on deck in Minnesota next week. Since 2002, divisional home favorites are just 53-79 ATS against a team they previously beat as road underdogs. On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 30-65 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs and the Packers are currently 4.5 point road underdogs in Minnesota on the early line. They could overlook the Bears a little bit with a bigger game on deck.

Given all of that, I was expecting to be betting on the Bears in this one this week, but unfortunately this line has shifted all the way from a touchdown last week on the early line down to 4 points this week, likely as a result of heavy sharp action on the Packers, with the sharps recognizing the Packers are overrated and in a bad spot. With this line now at 4, I actually think I’m going to take the Packers, at least for pick ‘em purposes.

Even though the Packers aren’t quite as good as their record, I still have this line calculated at Green Bay -5.5, as the Bears have been a middling team at best this season. Facing a much tougher schedule than last season with a less dominant defense, the Bears rank just 19th in first down rate differential at -0.59%. Their defense will get a boost this week with defensive end Akiem Hicks set to return from injury (9 games missed), but I still have the Packers slightly higher in my roster rankings and the Packers have been very tough to beat in Lambeau with Aaron Rodgers, going 42-22 ATS since 2011 in games Rodgers starts and finishes. This is a no confidence pick, but with this line moving to where it has the Packers make sense this week.

Green Bay Packers 24 Chicago Bears 19

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: None

Dallas Cowboys at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 14 NFL Pick

Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Chicago Bears (6-6)

Much has been made of the Cowboys’ 0-5 record against teams that currently have a winning record, but I don’t think that is that big of a deal. The Cowboys actually won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 5 losses, including last week’s loss to the Bills in which they picked up 32 first downs and got into Buffalo territory on 8 of 10 drives, only to score just 15 points due to two missed field goals, two failed fourth down conversions, and a pair of giveaways. Overall, the Cowboys won the first down rate battle by 7.54% in that game. On the season, they rank 4th in first down rate differential at +5.57%, 7th in DVOA, and 6th in point differential at +74.

The common narrative is that the Cowboys have played an easy schedule, but their opponent’s winning percentage of 48% isn’t bad and is actually tougher than the Bears’ schedule thus far, as the Bears’ opponents have combined for just a 45% winning percentage. Despite that, the Bears rank significantly behind the Cowboys across the board. They’re just 19th in DVOA, 19th in first down rate differential at -1.33%, have just a +4 point differential, and are 19 spots behind the Cowboys in my roster rankings, in part due to new key absences like right tackle Bobby Massie and cornerback Prince Amukamara. 

Despite that, the Cowboys are just 3-point road favorites in this matchup, likely as a result of the fact that these two teams have the same record. My calculated line is Dallas -7, so I like the Cowboys a good amount this week. I haven’t done well picking Thursday games this year, but both of these teams played last Thanksgiving, so both teams are on normal rest, which should lead to a more predictable result. Given that, I’m not worried about betting heavily on a Cowboys team that should at least be able to manage a push in this matchup against a significantly inferior opponent. 

Dallas Cowboys 27 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Dallas -3

Confidence: High

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2019 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (5-6) at Detroit Lions (3-7-1)

Last week, the Lions were inexplicably favored by 3.5 points in Washington (the line got up to 5 in some places before game time), despite starting one of the worst backup quarterbacks in the league in Jeff Driskel and missing several starters at other positions. The Lions predictably lost that game straight up and never really came close to covering. This week, the line has swung the other way, with the Lions going from being favored by a point at home over the Bears on the early line last week to being 6 point underdogs this week.

That’s in part due to the Lions having to turn to third string quarterback David Blough, with Driskel unable to go on a short week after injuring his hamstring. This line opened with the Lions as 3.5 point home underdogs, but that went up to 6 points when Blough was announced as the starter. I haven’t seen much of Blough, an undrafted rookie who didn’t show much in the pre-season with the Browns, but it’s likely he won’t be much of a downgrade from Driskel, who is barely an NFL caliber quarterback, so Driskel’s absence is not that significant. 

On the other hand, the Lions getting back defensive end Trey Flowers, center Frank Ragnow, and possibly defensive end Da’Shawn Hand and safety Tracy Walker are significant, as is the absence of right tackle Bobby Massie for the Bears. Even if this line was still at 3.5, we’d be getting some line value with the Lions, who I have calculated as 1-point underdogs in this game. The Bears are also in a tough spot, with a much tougher game on deck next week against the Cowboys on Thursday Night Football. Road favorites are just 25-55 ATS since 2012 before being home underdogs, which the Bears almost definitely will be next week. They could easily overlook the Lions this week. I wouldn’t go crazy betting on a David Blough quarterbacked team, but there’s enough value at +6 for the Lions to be worth a small bet.

Chicago Bears 16 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit +6

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 12 NFL Pick

New York Giants (2-8) at Chicago Bears (4-6)

The Giants are just 2-8 coming out of their bye, but they could be better than people expect in the second half of the season. Turnover margin has been a big part of their problem, as they have the second worst turnover margin in the league at -12, but turnover margin is unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In first down rate differential, they rank 20th at -2.18%, which obviously isn’t great, but it’s better than their record suggests. They’re also relatively healthy compared to the rest of the league and compared earlier this season, when they had six offensive starters all miss time with injury or suspension. Only tight end Evan Engram remains sidelined and he’s their only notable injury on either side of the ball right now, which is pretty good for this late in the season.

The Bears, meanwhile, have had an incredibly disappointing year, starting 4-6 after going 12-4 a season ago, but it’s not all that surprising. The Bears record last year was primarily the result of a defense that was the best in the NFL by a wide margin and a schedule that was the easiest in the NFL. This off-season, they lost a pair of starters on defense (Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos) and, most importantly, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, who got career years out of players like Eddie Jackson and Kyle Fuller who have regressed mightily in 2019. They’re also without defensive end Akiem Hicks and middle linebacker Danny Trevathan due to injury. As a result, the Bears rank “just” 7th in first down rate allowed at 33.64%. Combine that with an offense that has regressed in Matt Nagy’s second season, ranking just 29th in first down rate at 30.74%, and the Bears rank just 23rd in first down rate differential at -2.90%, actually slightly behind the Giants.

I have these two teams ranked about even, so we’re getting significant line value with the visiting Giants, who are 6-point underdogs. This is also a bad spot for the Bears, who have to play on a short week next week (44% cover spot all-time for favorites) and who are also coming off of a tough and potentially season ending loss in Los Angeles last week. They might not bring their best effort for a 2-8 Giants team and the Giants could easily catch them off guard. This is only a medium confidence pick because the Giants are in a tough spot as well, with a tough home game against the Packers on deck (teams are 40-71 ATS since 2016 before being home underdogs of 4.5 or more), but the Giants are still worth betting as 6-point underdogs.

Chicago Bears 20 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +6

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Los Angeles Rams: 2019 Week 11 NFL Pick

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

A year ago, this was a marquee matchup in the NFC, with both teams going on to win 12+ games. This season, however, both teams are having disappointing seasons. The Bears actually led the NFL in first down rate differential in 2018 at +6.64%, but they faced one of the easiest schedules in the league and this season, against a much tougher schedule, they’re without several key contributors on defense, including free agent losses Bryce Callahan and Adrian Amos, departed defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and in season injuries Akiem Hicks and Danny Trevathan, the latter of whom just went down last week. As a result of that and some regression on offense in the second year of the Matt Nagy/Mitch Trubisky era, the Bears have fallen all the way down to 21st in first down rate differential at -2.42% and already have more losses at 4-5 than they did all last season when they went 12-4.

The Rams have also exceeded their loss total from last season, starting 5-4 after going 13-3 a year ago. By far the biggest reason why is their offensive line. After starting the same five offensive linemen in every game in 2018, the Rams lost a pair of starters this off-season (left guard Rodger Saffold and center John Sullivan) and have since lost their replacements (Joe Noteboom and Brian Allen) to injury, as well as right tackle Rob Havenstein. Allen and Havenstein just went down last week, but both were struggling even before going down. Their only two remaining offensive linemen from 2018 are left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right guard Austin Blythe, both of whom are having down years compared to a year ago. Their offensive line issues have hurt their offense as a whole, dropping them from 3rd in first down rate at 43.02% in 2018 to 18th at 35.63% in 2019. In terms of first down rate differential, they’ve fallen from 3rd at +5.00% to 9th to +2.30%, despite an improved defense.

The Rams are the better team and I have this line calculated at Rams -7, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with them as 6-point favorites, but that’s barely any line value and the Bears are also in a much better spot. While the Rams have a tough matchup against the Ravens on deck, the Bears get one of the easiest games of their season, hosting the Giants in Chicago. Underdogs of 6+ are 49-37 ATS since 2008 before being favorites of 6+ and the Bears are currently favored by 7 points on the early line next week. There’s not enough to take either side confidently, but the Bears should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 10 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (3-4-1) at Chicago Bears (3-5)

This line is currently off the board because of the uncertainty of Matt Stafford’s status, as Stafford is expected to be truly a gametime decision, playing through hip and back injuries that some have advised him to sit out and rest so he doesn’t make them worse. Stafford, whose 136 consecutive starts streak is the 2nd longest active in the NFL, is as tough as they come and will play if he can, but that is far from a certainty and even if he does play he could be limited and subject to in-game setbacks. Stafford would be replaced by ex-Bengals backup Jeff Driskel, who showed little in 5 starts in place of an injured Andy Dalton last season, and he would undoubtedly be a significant downgrade for this offense. With a banged up Stafford in the lineup, I have this line calculated at Chicago -1. Without him, I have the Bears favored by 5.5.

Regardless of Stafford’s status and the eventual line, I don’t envision myself making anything other than a no confidence pick on this game. Before news broke that Stafford was legitimately questionable, this line was Chicago -2.5, so weren’t getting significant line value either way with my calculated line being Chicago -1. The Lions have other injuries, missing defensive linemen Da’Shawn Hand and Romeo Okwara, safety Tracy Walker, and possibly defensive tackle Mike Daniels and left guard Joe Dahl, but if Stafford can suit up, even at less than 100%, they should be the slightly better of these two teams. The Bears have been every bit as bad as their 3-5 record would suggest, ranking 24th in first down rate differential at -3.01%, a year after they went 12-4 across a much easier schedule with a defense that was playing much better before losing a pair of starters and their coordinator this off-season. Without a line, I can’t make a pick on this game, but I will undoubtedly have an update on this game when inactives are released.

Update: Of course, right when I hit submit on this article, Stafford was ruled out. I will have an update when we have a new line. I expect the new line to be somewhere around my calculated line of 5.5, so this will almost definitely remain a no confidence pick regardless of who I end up choosing.

Final Update: This line has been re-posted at Chicago -6.5. We’re getting a tiny bit of line value with the Lions, as the Bears may still be a little bit overrated because of what they did a year ago, but I have no desire to risk anything on the Lions with Driskel under center. Not only is Driskel an underwhelming backup, but he also didn’t spend the off-season with the Lions (he actually spent some time at receiver in camp with the Bengals) and likely barely got any first team reps this week with Stafford presumed playing for most of the week. On the road against a tough defense, I expect a pretty rough game from him. Of course, even at home against an easier defense with an offense he is familiar with, I still don’t expect much out of Mitch Trubisky, so the Lions are the pick for pick ’em purposes in what should almost definitely be a low scoring game.

Chicago Bears 19 Detroit Lions 13

Pick against the spread: Detroit +6.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles: 2019 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)

The Bears seemed to have a statement win week 4 over the division rival Vikings, but they’ve lost three straight games since then and now have matched their loss total from all of last season. It’s not exactly a surprise the Bears have regressed this season, after facing one of the easiest schedules in the league last season and losing a pair of valuable defensive backs (Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan) and their defensive coordinator Vic Fangio (now head coach of the Broncos) this off-season. 

Also missing stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks for the year with injury, the Bears have fallen from their dominant 2018 unit, ranking 8th in first down rate allowed. Their offense, meanwhile, has gotten worse play from both their quarterback Mitch Trubisky and their offensive line and none of their skill position players aside from Allen Robinson have done much this season. Overall, they rank just 23rd in first down rate differential and 22nd in my roster rankings, suggesting their record is not a fluke. 

The Eagles have also disappointed this season, sitting at 4-4, but they’re getting healthier. Cornerbacks Ronald Darby, Jalen Mills, and Avonte Maddox will all be active for the first time this season, while defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and wide receiver DeSean Jackson look likely to join them. They’re still without left tackle Jason Peters and outside linebacker Nigel Bradham, but the former has been replaced by first round pick Andre Dillard, while the latter was off to a poor start to the season before his injury. The Eagles, who are coming off of their best game of the season in Buffalo last week, have a significant talent edge in this game and should be favored by more than 4 points at home. I have this line calculated at Philadelphia -7.5, so we’re getting enough line value to bet the Eagles confidently.

Philadelphia Eagles 26 Chicago Bears 19

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -4

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Chargers at Chicago Bears: 2019 Week 8 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (2-5) at Chicago Bears (3-3)

I’ve picked against the Chargers every week this season except their blowout win against the hapless Dolphins because I’ve thought the Chargers, who won 12 games last season, were overrated by a public that didn’t understand the value of the players this team has been missing with injury, including stud safety Derwin James, their top-2 offensive linemen Russell Okung and Mike Pouncey, and talented starting edge defender Melvin Ingram. So far, it’s been a good strategy because I am 7-0 ATS picking Chargers games this season, but I think we’re now getting value with the Chargers. 

Now 2-5 a year after going 12-4, the Chargers have been better than their record has suggested, as their five losses have all come by seven points or fewer. They’ve also had bad turnover luck, with a league worst 23.81% fumble recovery rate leading to a -4 turnover margin that is the 5th worst in the NFL. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis and in terms of first down rate differential the Chargers actually rank 11th at +2.21%. They’re also getting back some of the aforementioned injured players, as both Melvin Ingram and Russell Okung are expected to play, though the latter is expected to be on a snap count in his season debut. 

Despite that, the Chargers are the biggest underdogs they’ve been all season this week and it comes against a Bears team that also hasn’t been nearly as good as they were a year ago when they went 12-4. The public might not have fully caught on because the Bears’ 3-3 record isn’t horrible, but a year removed from finishing 1st in first down rate differential at +6.64%, the Bears rank just 26th at -3.51% this season. 

Their defense is still strong, ranking 9th in first down rate allowed, but without free agent losses Adrian Amos and Bryce Callahan, departed ex-defensive coordinator Vic Fangio, and injured defensive end Akiem Hicks, they are merely good defensively this year, as opposed to last year’s dominant unit. On offense, they rank 28th in first down rate, as Mitch Trubisky has seemingly regressed behind an offensive line that has definitely regressed and none of their skill position players outside of Allen Robinson can get anything going. Add in a tougher schedule after playing one of the easiest in the league last season and it’s not a surprise that the Bears have been underwhelming this season. 

Earlier this week I locked in this line at Chargers +4.5 because I thought it would continue to fall, after being +6 on the early line last week and opening at +5 this week. It did fall slightly to +4, but the Chargers had top wide receiver Keenan Allen suffer an injury during the week and he’s expected to be on a snap count if he plays at all. That doesn’t scare me off from taking the Chargers at +4.5 or +4, as I still have the Chargers slightly higher than the Bears in my roster rankings, but I’m no longer considering this as my Pick of the Week. If this game were in Los Angeles, I’d probably pick the Bears because the Chargers have no homefield advantage there (6-12-1 ATS since moving in 2017), but they are 13-6-2 ATS on the road over that time period. Even if the Chargers are unable to pull off the upset in Chicago, this should be another close game for a Chargers team that has been competitive in every game this season. 

Chicago Bears 20 Los Angeles Chargers 19

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +4.5

Confidence: Medium