Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears: 2018 NFC Wild Card Pick

Philadelphia Eagles (9-7) at Chicago Bears (12-4)

The Bears went 12-4 this season and were arguably even better than their record suggests. Those 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, with two of them coming in overtime, and they won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 4 games. In fact, the last time they didn’t win the first down rate battle was way back in the season opener in Green Bay, a 1-point loss. On the season, they finished first in the league in first down rate differential at +6.64%.

The schedule gets a lot harder for them in the playoffs though, as they finished with the 2nd easiest schedule in terms of opponents DVOA and played just 3 eventual playoff teams all season (2-1), which is tied for fewest among playoff qualifiers. Their opponents this week, the Philadelphia Eagles, finished the season 8th in first down rate differential at 2.99%, which ranks only behind the Rams among the Bears’ 2018 opponents.

I know the Eagles lost starting quarterback Carson Wentz to injury and have other key players on injured reserve, but this team has actually been playing better since Wentz went down, winning 3 straight games after their week 14 loss. Wentz wasn’t playing at 100% even when on the field and backup Nick Foles is an experienced starter who has been in this position before. They’ve especially been better defensively, with stud linebacker Jordan Hicks back from injury and their young injury plagued secondary playing much better in recent weeks.

The Eagles also seem to play harder with their backs up against the wall with a backup quarterback in the lineup, pulling the upset victory in all 4 games in which they’ve been an underdog with Foles under center over the past 2 seasons. The Eagles might not win straight up this week, but I like the Eagles’ chances of keeping this one close as 6.5-point underdogs. Their 9-7 record is worst among playoff qualifiers, but they’ve played a lot of close games, with just 2 of those losses coming by more than 6 points (relevant considering this line is 6.5). One of those losses by more than 6 points was a 7-point loss to the Cowboys and the other came in New Orleans, against arguably the best team in the league.

The Bears are also in a tough spot with a first time starting quarterback under center. Quarterbacks tend not to cover in their first career post-season start, especially at home, where they are 6-18 ATS since 2002 unless they’re playing another first time starter, which is not the case this week with Nick Foles making his 5th career playoff start. The Eagles are worth a bet at either +6 and +6.5 and are worth a bigger play if this line happens to move up to a full touchdown before gametime (unlikely). I’ll also consider bumping this up if Bears safety Eddie Jackson ends up not returning from a 2-game absence, after being limited in practice all week. He’s currently considered a game-time decision.

Chicago Bears 23 Philadelphia Eagles 20

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia +6.5

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (11-4) at Minnesota Vikings (8-6-1)

Vikings came into the season with high expectations, but now are fighting for their playoff lives against a team that had the kind of year they were expected to have, the 11-4 Bears, who have clinched the NFC North. The Vikings have been better recently though and have started resembling the team they were supposed to be. Their offensive line remains a problem, but they’ve taken a more balanced approach on offense since changing offensive coordinators, leaning on Latavius Murray and a finally healthy Dalvin Cook, which has benefitted both the offensive line and inconsistent quarterback Kirk Cousins.

Their defense has also played a lot better since getting defensive end Everson Griffen back in the middle of the season and they rank 2nd in first down rate allowed since week 9 at 30.96%, only behind their week 17 opponent. The Vikings are playing their best football at the right time and, with the Bears missing stud safety Eddie Jackson due to injury right now, these two teams are about even right now, with the Vikings actually ranking slightly higher in my roster rankings.

Unfortunately, this is one of several games I’m staying away from this week because of motivational uncertainty. This line favors the Vikings by 5 points at home, suggesting the books think the Bears are not going to bring their best effort, needing an improbable Rams loss at home to the 49ers to change their seeding, against a Vikings team they might be facing again in the first round. That may be the case, but I’m not totally convinced.

The Bears may sit injured #1 receiver Allen Robinson for cautionary reasons, but I don’t expect them to completely mail it in with a first round bye on the line (especially with key injured players who could use a week off) and I think they may also want to eliminate a division rival and face a banged up Eagles squad in the first round if they have to play next weekend. This is a no confidence pick and I may update this at some point, but the Bears should be able to keep it within the points if they treat this like a real game.

Minnesota Vikings 20 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers: 2018 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (10-4) at San Francisco 49ers (4-10)

The Bears have been better than their record all season. Even at 10-4 with the 3rd best record in the NFC, the Bears are better than that suggests, as their 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, including one game with a backup quarterback. Despite starting a backup quarterback for two games, the Bears still rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.57% and 2nd in NFL in point differential at +119. Because of that, I’ve picked them against the spread in every game but two this season and they are 10-2 ATS in those 12 games.

That being said, I’m not going to be taking the Bears this week because the 49ers are also better than their record suggests. They are only 4-10, but they are 3-3 since turning to 3rd string quarterback Nick Mullens, who has played pretty well. They have moved the chains at a 38.16% rate in those 6 games, as opposed to 35.17% in CJ Beathard’s 5 starts. More important, Mullens has committed just 6 turnovers in 6 games, while Beathard committed 10 in 5 games.

Making the 49ers’ recent record more even more impressive is the fact they haven’t gotten a single takeaway over that 6-game stretch. In fact, they are -9 in turnover margin over that time frame, including -2 in their 3 wins. Turnover margins tend to be inconsistent and unpredictable on a week-to-week basis and this defense has played well enough (36.88% in first down rate allowed at 18th) that they should be able to get more takeaways going forward. This is a quietly capable team with Mullens under center.

We’ve lost line value with the 49ers due to their recent upset wins over Denver and Seattle, as this line has dropped to Chicago -4 from Chicago -6 on the early line last week, but the Bears have also lost stud safety Eddie Jackson to an ankle injury in the past week, so that line movement is more than justified. An All-Pro caliber player, Jackson’s absence is worth at least 2-3 points. We’re not getting enough line value with the 49ers to take them with any confidence, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Chicago Bears 23 San Francisco 49ers 20

Pick against the spread: San Francisco +4

Confidence: None

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) at Chicago Bears (9-4)

The Packers played arguably their best game of the season last week in their first game without long-time head coach Mike McCarthy, but the injuries have really started adding up for this team. Already without starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga, starting left guard Lane Taylor, dominant defensive lineman Mike Daniels, starting outside linebacker Nick Perry, and starting cornerback Kevin King, the Packers are likely also going to be without their other dominant defensive lineman Kenny Clark and replacement starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland, both of whom missed practice all week. The Clark injury in particular is a huge loss, but Breeland had been playing well too, in the absence of Kevin King, and they’ve lost a lot of depth in the secondary over the course of the season.

Despite those injuries and the Bears’ impressive victory over the Rams, this line shifted in Green Bay’s favor this week, going from Chicago -6 to Chicago -5.5. Casual bettors may think Green Bay’s issues are solved with McCarthy gone, but I’m not so sure about that and I don’t think casual bettors realize how banged up the Packers are right now, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. Given the state of the Packers’ roster right now, I have this line calculated at Chicago -7.5, so we’re getting good line value with the hosts.

The Bears might also still be a little underrated, even after last week’s big win, as that win was no fluke. Their 9-4 record is impressive, but they’re even better than that suggests, as their 4 losses came by a combined 14 points, including one game with a backup quarterback. Despite starting a backup quarterback for two games, the Bears still rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential at +6.49%, while the Packers are middle of the pack at +0.70%. At full strength, they’re much more talented than that suggests, but they’re far from that this week, so the Bears are worth a bet at -5.5.

Sunday Update: Bashaud Breeland and Lane Taylor will play for the Packers this week, but Kenny Clark is inactive, which is a huge loss. Without him and Mike Daniels on that defensive line, the Bears shouldn’t have much trouble moving the ball at home. I’m leaving this as a medium confidence pick.

Chicago Bears 27 Green Bay Packers 19

Pick against the spread: Chicago -5.5

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Chicago Bears: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (11-1) at Chicago Bears (8-4)

The Bears lost last week in New York to the Giants, but I don’t really hold that against them that much. The Giants have been playing better football over the past month and the Bears were starting a backup quarterback in a terrible spot, with this huge home game against the Rams on deck. They were nowhere near 100% last week, but they still won the first down rate battle by 4.35%, taking the game to overtime, despite losing the turnover battle by 2. Because of that, the Bears remain #1 in first down rate differential on the season at +6.73%, despite playing with a backup quarterback for two games. Their 8-4 record is good, but they’ve been even better than that suggests, as all 4 of their losses came by less than a touchdown (by a combined 14 points) and they won the first down rate battle in 3 of those 4 losses.

Bears starting quarterback Mitch Trubisky is not even listed on the injury report this week, after practicing in full all week, and I expect a much better effort from the Bears in a much bigger game. The Rams are obviously a tough opponent and they’re better defensively with Aqib Talib back, but I don’t think they deserve to be favored by a full field goal here in Chicago. The strength of schedule difference between these two teams worries me, as the Bears have had the easiest schedule by DVOA, while the Rams have had the 9th toughest, but even with that taken into account I have this line calculated about even. Chicago isn’t worth a huge bet, but I think they have a good chance to win straight up and I like getting field goal protection at +3.

Chicago Bears 24 Los Angeles Rams 23 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Chicago +3

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at New York Giants: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (8-3) at New York Giants (3-8)

I’ve picked the Bears in all but one of their games this season and have bet on them 5 times, going 5-0 ATS. They’ve been underrated for weeks, as their 3 losses have come by a combined 11 points. Winners of 5 straight, the Bears are now at 8-3 and statistically have been as good as any team in the league, ranking 4th in point differential at +106 and 1st in first down rate differential at -7.03%. That being said, I’m not taking them this week because they are in a terrible spot and I’m not just referring to the absence of quarterback Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky hasn’t been bad, but he’s not the reason this team has been winning and backup Chase Daniel is one of the better backups in the league.

The bigger issue is that the Bears have to turn around and host the Rams next week, a game that could easily be as a huge distraction to the Bears. Road favorites are just 39-64 ATS since 2008 before being home underdogs, which the Bears almost certainly will be next week (early line is Rams -3.5). The Giants are just 3-8, but they’ve been competitive in most of their games, losing just 2 games by more than a touchdown, with 3 losses coming by 3 points or fewer. They could easily catch the Bears off guard and make this a game or even potentially win it straight up. We’re not getting any line value with the Giants at +3.5, as the Bears still have a distinct talent advantage, so this is a no confidence pick, but this has trap game written all over it for the Bears.

Chicago Bears 19 New York Giants 17

Pick against the spread: NY Giants +3.5

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-3) at Detroit Lions (4-6)

The rule of thumb with the Lions in the Matt Stafford era is to bet against them when facing good teams. They are 20-38-2 ATS and 20-40 straight up against teams with winning records since Matt Stafford’s first full season as starter in 2011. Most recently, they went 1-11 against eventual playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. I know the Lions have wins against the Patriots, Packers, and Panthers this season, but the Packers and Panthers would have both won if not for several missed kicks and the Patriots have also lost on the road in Tennessee and Jacksonville this season.

That win against the Panthers came last week, but the Lions had a -5.98% first down rate differential in that game, pushing them down to 25th at -3.78% on the season. Their defense has gotten better in recent weeks with top edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah returning from injury, but their offense has taken major hits, trading away slot receiver Golden Tate, and losing wide receiver Marvin Jones, running back Kerryon Johnson, and right guard TJ Lang with injury. The Bears, on the other hand, rank 1st in first down rate differential at 7.00%, as they’ve been even better than their 7-3 record suggests, losing those 3 games by a combined 11 points and winning the first down rate battle in two of them.

Under ordinary circumstances, I would bet on the Bears in this one, but these are not ordinary circumstances. Not only are the Bears in a bad spot playing in an early game on Thursday Night Football against a last place team that they already beat two weeks ago after getting their biggest win of the season on Sunday Night Football last week against the Vikings, but they’re also missing quarterback Mitch Trubisky with injury.

Trubisky is not the primary reason why the Bears are winning games and the line compensated for his absence, shifting from Chicago -4.5 to Chicago -3, but Chase Daniel is a bit of a mystery as an injury replacement. Despite pocketing over 28 million over a 10-year NFL career, Daniel has thrown just 78 passes in his career and has made just 2 starts. Obviously he’s doing something right behind the scenes to keep getting jobs, but I don’t know how much I trust him on a short week on the road favored by a field goal, especially if the rest of the team is flat on a short week after last week’s big win. The Bears are my choice, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Chicago Bears 20 Detroit Lions 16

Pick against the spread: Chicago -3

Confidence: Low