Chicago Bears at New Orleans Saints: 2020 NFC Wild Card Round Pick

Chicago Bears (8-8) at New Orleans Saints (12-4)

Coming into the season, the Saints ranked a clear #1 in my roster rankings and were my pre-season Super Bowl pick (over Baltimore). The Saints weren’t a consistently dominant team this season, but they consistently played well overall, despite missing various key players with injury at different points in the season. They went 12-4 and finished 3rd in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +4.34%, even though quarterback Drew Brees (4 games missed), feature backs Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray (1 game missed each), top wide receiver Michael Thomas (9 games), stud left tackle Terron Armstead (2 games), talented defensive linemen Marcus Davenport (5 games) and David Onyemata (1 game), stud safety Marcus Williams (2 games), and cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Marshon Lattimore, among other minor players, all missed time with injury.

All of the aforementioned players are expected to be available in this one. The Saints aren’t at full strength, but they’re much closer to it than they were for most of the season and they’re closer to it than most teams at this point in the season. They aren’t the #1 team in my roster rankings, but they’re only slightly behind Green Bay, with their most notable absence, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, causing them to fall slightly behind the Packers. They should be considered the favorite to win the Super Bowl of any of the wild card weekend teams, as long as they continue staying reasonably healthy.

Making matters even better for the Saints, they have a relatively easy first round matchup, with the 8-8 Bears coming to town. In schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Bears are about as you’d expect from an 8-8 team, ranking 13th at +0.17%, but, unlike the Saints who are balanced on both sides of the ball, ranking 8th in first down rate over expected and 6th in first down rate allowed over expected, the Bears are heavily reliant on their defense, which ranks 7th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.30%, while their offense ranks just 26th in first down rate over expected at -2.12%

That’s a concern because defensive performance is much less predictive and predictable week-to-week than offensive performance. The Bears also have injury concerns on defense, most notably the potential absence of stud linebacker Roquan Smith, who has been a big part of their defensive success this season. The Bears’ offense has been better in recent weeks with Mitch Trubisky under center, but he’s struggled in their only two games against competent defenses over that stretch, both double digit losses to the Packers, while his other games have come against defenses ranked 26th (Vikings), 29th (Jaguars), 30th (Texans), and 32nd (Lions) in first down rate allowed over expected. 

Trubisky did lead the Bears to 30+ points in each of those 4 games, but he’s yet to prove he’s anything more than an upgrade over Nick Foles, which isn’t saying much. Of all of the playoff qualifiers, I have the Bears ranked last in my roster rankings, coming in about a half point below average overall. I have the Saints with a 9.5 point advantage, which gives us a calculated line of New Orleans -11, with the Saints at least having some fans in advantage for this matchup. Unfortunately, this line is up to New Orleans -10, with the public recognizing how lopsided this matchup is, but the Saints should still be the pick for pick ‘em purposes, even if there isn’t enough value here for the Saints to be worth betting.

New Orleans Saints 27 Chicago Bears 15

Pick against the spread: New Orleans -10

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 17 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (12-3) at Chicago Bears (8-7)

When these two teams met for the first time this season in week 12, it was Mitch Trubisky’s first start of his second stint as the starter, taking over for Nick Foles, who was nursing an injury. The Packers won that game 41-25, but the Bears lost the first down rate battle by just 1.19%, losing primarily because of 3 turnovers, including one returned for a touchdown. Trubisky threw two interceptions, but otherwise led the Bears to 26 first downs on 66 plays (39.39%), which was more than could be said about Foles. Trubisky continued to be an upgrade on Foles and has kept the starting job even with Foles healthy again, leading the Bears to a 3-2 stretch (including the loss to Green Bay) that has them on the cusp of a playoff berth, including 4 straight games of 30 points or more since their first matchup with the Packers.

I’m not sold on this new version of Trubisky though. Not only is it a short 5-game starting stretch for a quarterback who has been inconsistent throughout his career, but he’s faced a very easy schedule, as the Packers are by far the toughest team he’s faced defensively. In fact, Trubisky’s four other starts came against teams that rank 24th (Minnesota), 29th (Jacksonville), 31st (Houston), and 32nd (Detroit) in first down rate allowed over expected and the best of the bunch, Minnesota, was without their best defensive player Eric Kendricks. 

Trubisky has been an upgrade over Foles, even with level of competition factored in, but Foles was playing so badly that being an upgrade isn’t necessarily an accomplishment. Trubisky did move the ball well against the Packers, but his two interceptions against them in the first matchup raises further concerns about how he’ll perform against tougher competition, both this week in the rematch and possibly in the post-season next week, which they would qualify for even with a loss if the Cardinals lose to the Rams.

The Packers aren’t a great defensive team, but they’ve gotten better as the season has gone on, as would be expected from a team whose defense underachieves early in the season, and now they rank 13th in first down rate allowed over expected at +0.16%, complementing an offense that ranks 8th in first down rate over expected at +1.69%. Also one of the most talented teams in the league on paper, I was considering a bet on the Packers as 5.5-point favorites earlier in the week, as my calculated line was about -7. 

Unfortunately, the Packers lost stud left tackle David Bakhtiari for the season with a torn ACL in practice this week and I don’t think this line compensated enough, going down to Green Bay -4, as 5 is not a key number. My calculated line is now Green Bay -5, so I would need this line to go down to at least -3 to be bettable, which doesn’t seem likely. Even if Trubisky is a shaky quarterback option, he is supported by a strong defense and the Bears rank 14th in my roster rankings, so they can be competitive in this one with Aaron Rodgers and the Packers’ offense missing their key blindside protector. The Packers are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes, but I’m not confident in them.

Green Bay Packers 28 Chicago Bears 23

Pick against the spread: Green Bay -4

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2020 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (7-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-13)

Earlier this season, I thought the Bears would regress as the season went on because offensive performance is much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance and the Bears were a middling team with a poor offense and a strong defense. Their defense has regressed somewhat, as was predictable, but their offense has actually improved noticeably in recent weeks since going back to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback. Trubisky has faced an easy schedule, as the Packers, Lions, Texans, and Vikings all have below average defenses, but the Bears’ offense has exceeded expectations in all four games.

Their schedule also doesn’t get any harder this week, as the Jaguars rank 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at +2.85% and are arguably the worst team in the league on that side of the ball because of all of the injuries they have had on that side of the ball. The Jaguars aren’t much better on offense either and, overall, rank just slightly ahead of the Jets in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (-5.71% vs. -5.96%). This line has shifted from favoring the Bears by 4.5 points on the early line last week to 7.5 points this week, but my calculated line is Chicago -7, so we’re not really getting line value with the Jaguars, despite the line movement. 

The Jaguars are in a better spot though, as the Bears have a much tougher game on deck against the Packers. Favorites cover at just a 42.8% rate when their opponents have a winning percentage that is worse than their next opponent’s winning percentage by over 50%. You might think that because this is a must win game that the Bears will rise to the challenge against a team with nothing real to play for, but that’s actually the opposite of what typically happens in this situation, as teams with a 50%-65% winning percentage cover at just a 40.9% rate in weeks 16 and 17 against a team with a sub-.500 record. There isn’t quite enough here for the Jaguars to be worth betting, as they are arguably the worst team in the league and could lay an egg again against a Bears team that has been better since changing quarterbacks, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Chicago Bears 23 Jacksonville Jaguars 17

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville +7.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2020 Week 15 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (6-7) at Minnesota Vikings (6-7)

Typically, I like to go against significant week-to-week line swings, as they tend to be overreactions to a single week of play. This game features one, as the Vikings have gone from being favored by 6 points on the early line last week to 3 points this week. The Vikings lost last week, but they played relatively competitively with a talented Buccaneers team, so that line movement is probably primarily due to the Bears’ big 36-7 win over the Texans last week. The Texans seemed to barely try in that game though, with their season essentially being ended the week before in heartbreaking fashion in a last second loss to the Colts, so I don’t give the Bears too much credit for that one, especially since the Texans are one of the worst teams in the league right now due to several key absent players.

My calculated line is Minnesota -4.5 and my line likely would have been around there regardless of how the Bears played last week, so the line movement from 6 to 3 is a big deal, as I probably would have been on the Bears at +6. Both of these teams are 6-7, but the Vikings have played better than their record, ranking 7th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at +2.37%. The metrics they have struggled in are metrics that are much less predictable week-to-week, like their net -9.36% fourth down conversion rate, their -21.21% net field goal conversion percentage, their 39.39% fumble recovery rate (29th in the NFL), their 3.00% interception rate (28th in the NFL) that is significantly higher than quarterback Kirk Cousins’ average from the past 5 seasons (1.90%), and their -4 return touchdown margin

Even though we’re getting some line value with the Vikings, I wouldn’t recommend a bet because they’re in a couple bad spots. For one, they have a much tougher game on deck in New Orleans, while the Bears have a very easy game against the Jaguars. Favorite cover at just a 45.5% rate when they next face an opponent with a winning percentage 60% better than the team their opponent will face next week. Making matters worse, the Vikings game against the Saints is next Friday, so the Vikings will be on a short week. Favorites cover at just a 43.7% rate all-time before a Thursday or Friday game. I’m still on the Vikings for pick ‘em purposes, but this is a no confidence pick.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Minnesota -3

Confidence: None

Houston Texans at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 14 NFL Pick

Houston Texans (4-8) at Chicago Bears (5-7)

The Bears haven’t been a particularly appealing team to pick this season. They started the season 5-1, but all five of their wins were by one score or less and they’ve since lost six straight games. A lot of their losses have been close on the scoreboard, but some of those results looked better than the Bears played, as they were down 16 points to the Colts, 21 points to the Titans, and 21 points to the Rams before some meaningless late scores, while their 6-point loss to the Vikings came in a game in which the Bears got at least 8 points of benefit from their special teams. 

Including a 41-25 loss to the Packers, that’s five of seven losses that were not competitive, while all of their wins could have been losses. On top of that, the success that the Bears have had this season has been on defense, where they rank 7th in first down rate allowed over expected, while their offense ranks 30th in first down rate over expected, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defensive performance, which makes the Bears an even more unappealing pick going forward.

All that being said, I am going to pick the Bears this week as 1.5-point home underdogs against the Texans. The Texans are a capable team on paper, ranking 19th in my roster rankings, ahead of the 26th ranked Bears, but so much of that is dependent on star quarterback Deshaun Watson playing at an elite level and the Texans have not played up to their overall talent level, ranking 27th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential at -2.30%, with below average play on both sides of the ball, in large part due to poor coaching. 

The Texans could be even worse than that going forward if they don’t stop underachieving, as they lost top wide receiver Will Fuller and top cornerback Bradley Roby for the season with PED suspensions two weeks ago. This also isn’t a good spot for the Texans, as they were effectively eliminated last week with a last second loss to the Colts, a division rival the Texans will get another shot at next week when they play them for the second time in three games. It could be hard for the Texans to be fully focused for a sub-.500 non-conference opponent, while the Bears are somehow still only a game out of the playoffs in the NFC. There isn’t enough here for the Bears’ money line to be worth betting, but I do think they will win and that they should be slightly favored, so the money line at +115 is worth a small play.

Chicago Bears 24 Houston Texans 23 Upset Pick +115

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears: 2020 Week 13 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (4-7) at Chicago Bears (5-6)

The Lions have had a tough season, as they are just 4-7 despite a relatively easy schedule and have just one win by more than a field goal, against a Jaguars team that is one of the worst in the league.  In terms of schedule adjusted first down rate differential, the Lions rank 29th in the NFL at -3.23%, only ahead of the Bengals, Jaguars, and Lions. However, there is reason to believe they can be better going forward, as offense tends to be much more consistent week-to-week than defense and the Lions’ issues have been almost primarily concentrated on the defensive side of the ball. 

While the Lions’ offense ranks a decent 13th in first down rate over expected at +0.63%, their defense ranks dead last in first down rate allowed over expected at +3.86%, which even looks bad compared to the 31st ranked team at +3.00% and the 30th ranked team at +2.76%. Despite that, the Lions’ chances of being somewhat passable defensively going forward are better than you’d think, just due to pure regression to the mean and if they can do that they will find winning games a lot easier, as they already have a solid offense. Firing defensive minded head coach Matt Patricia can’t hurt either, as his defenses consistently underperformed since his arrival in Detroit. 

The Bears, meanwhile, have been almost the opposite, with a strong defense that ranks 6th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.66%, but a horrible offense that ranks 30th in first down rate at -3.66%. I like the Lions’ chances of being better going forward, so we’re getting good value with them as 3-point underdogs in Chicago, where the Bears won’t have any fans in the stands. This line suggests the Bears are about 2-2.5 points better than the Lions on a neutral field, which I think is off by at least a couple points. My calculated line is about even, so getting a full field goal with Detroit is a great value, with 1 in 4 games decided by 3 points or less.

The Lions have a tough game with the Packers on deck and teams are 58-97 ATS since 2014 before being home underdogs of 6 or more, which the Lions almost definitely will be next week, but they should be still focused this week against a divisional rival that already beat them earlier this year. Divisional road underdogs are 75-46 ATS since 2002 in a same season regular season rematch against a team that previously lost to as home favorites. The Lions are pretty depleted due to injury, but the Bears are as well and my roster rankings have these two teams about even, so the Lions are worth a bet. In fact, depending on the status of some questionable players for the Bears (top defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, left tackle Charles Leno, and #1 receiver Allen Robinson), I may increase this bet.

Detroit Lions 23 Chicago Bears 22 Upset Pick +145

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

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