Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (6-10) at Minnesota Vikings (7-9)

The Vikings’ suffered their first loss of the season by more than eight points last week and it came on the road in Green Bay in a game in which backup quarterback Sean Mannion started. However, the Vikings have also only won once by more than eight points, while two of their close defeats required the Vikings to get a pick six to make the final score closer than it would have been (Arizona and Baltimore) and they lost both the first down rate and yards per play battle by a wide margin in both of those games, which is more predictive than the final score.

Kirk Cousins returns this week, but he doesn’t solve the problems with the Vikings’ defense, which ranks 26th in schedule adjusted efficiency on the season, dragging the Vikings down to 25th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency on the season. Having Kirk Cousins back does help, but he only missed one game and he’ll be remain without one of his top wide receivers Adam Thielen, while this defense figures to have major problems without a trio of key defensive linemen, Michael Pierce, Everson Griffen, and Danielle Hunter, whose consistent absences in recent weeks have contributed significantly to the Vikings’ defensive struggles.

The Vikings face a Bears team that is just 6-10, but the Bears’ biggest problem has been the turnover margin, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL at -11, which is not predictive week-to-week. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Bears rank 25th, 11th, 7th, and 20th on offense, defense, special teams, and in overall mixed efficiency respectively. When these two teams met a few weeks ago, the Vikings won by eight, but the Bears won the yards per play and first down rate battle by 12.88% and 2.12 yards per play respectively, losing because they lost the turnover battle by two and went just 2/12 on third down and 2/5 on fourth down, which also isn’t predictive week-to-week. 

I wish Akiem Hicks was playing for the Bears this week, as his presence the last time these two teams met contributed significantly to the Vikings’ offensive struggles, but he has missed most of the season, so his absence is nothing new for the Bears, while the Bears’ offense is as healthy as it’s been at running back, on the offensive line, and in the receiving corps, most notably getting back top offensive lineman Jason Peters and starting wide receiver Allen Robinson, who both missed the last matchup, in a game in which the Vikings had Michael Pierce active. Andy Dalton will start at quarterback with Justin Fields out this week and he is an uninspiring option long-term, he’s still probably the Bears best quarterback in the short-term, given how much Justin Fields has struggled as a passer in his rookie season. 

I would probably need this line to move up to Minnesota -6 for the Bears to be worth betting (my calculated line is Minnesota -3), but that could happen tomorrow when the Vikings are expected to get left tackle Christian Darrisaw, right guard Ezra Cleveland, linebacker Eric Kendricks, and safety Camryn Bynum back from COVID protocols and, if any of those players unexpectedly can’t play in this game, that would make the Bears a possibly attractive bet even at +5.5. This is a low confidence pick for now, but could be updated before gametime.

Update: The Vikings got Darrisaw and Cleveland back as expected, but not Kendricks and Bynum. Kendricks’ absence in particular will be a big loss for a Vikings defense already missing a trio of talented defensive linemen, in a meaningless game a week after being eliminated from the playoff chase. The Bears, meanwhile, will be motivated to get revenge against a team they could have beaten in the first matchup if not for a couple turnovers and failed fourth down conversions, despite the fact that Minnesota was much healthier in that game and the Bears were missing key personnel who will be available in this matchup. This line has dropped to 4.5 or 4 in some places, but my calculated line is Minnesota -1, will these two teams about equal in my roster rankings and the Bears possessing a motivational edge. The Bears are worth a bet.

Minnesota Vikings 24 Chicago Bears 23

Pick against the spread: Chicago +4.5

Confidence: Medium

New York Giants at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

New York Giants (4-11) at Chicago Bears (5-10)

The Bears are just 5-10, but their biggest problem has been the turnover margin, as they rank 3rd worst in the NFL at -13. Turnover margin is not predictive week-to-week though and in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on more predictive metrics, yards per play and first down rate, the Bears rank 25th, 14th, 10th, and 19th on offense, defense, special teams, and in overall mixed efficiency respectively. 

The Bears are also getting healthier, most notably left tackle Jason Peters and interior defender Akiem Hicks, who are among their most important players. The Bears were leading the Packers in Green Bay a few weeks ago when Peters got hurt, while their defense held the Vikings to a 20.00% first down rate and 3.16 yards per play in Hicks’ last game a couple weeks ago, so with both expected back this week, the Bears are suddenly a somewhat decent team.

The same can’t be true for the Giants, who are 4-11 and probably even worse than their record suggests, given all of the absences they have. Their defense is expecting to get top cornerback Adoree Jackson back, but he returns at the same time that talented interior defender Dexter Lawrence is expected out, joining safety Jabrill Peppers and linebacker Blake Martinez, who have been out for weeks, while their offense continues to miss three of their top-4 wide receivers, a pair of starting offensive linemen, and starting quarterback Daniel Jones, whose backup quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Jake Fromm have struggled mightily in his absence. 

The Bears aren’t a team that scores a lot of points and they have just two wins by multiple scores, so this line favoring them by six might seem high, but this is also one of their easiest games and there is a big enough talent gap between these two teams that I think the Bears should be favored by at least a touchdown. There isn’t enough here for the Bears to be bettable, but they should be the pick for pick ‘em purposes as long as this line stays below a touchdown.

Chicago Bears 17 New York Giants 9

Pick against the spread: Chicago -6

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Seattle Seahawks: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-10) at Seattle Seahawks (5-9)

The Bears lost to the Vikings last week, but they won the first down rate battle by 2.12 and the yards per play battle by 12.88%, losing because they lost the turnover battle by two and went just 2/12 on third down and 2/5 on fourth down, which aren’t as predictive of metrics week-to-week as first down rate and yards per play. The Bears’ offense still had a poor game though, as it was their defense that dominated, holding the Vikings to just 3.16 yards per play and a 20.00% first down rate.

The Bears’ defense has been solid most of the season, but last week was easily their best performance of the year and it’s not a surprise that it coincided with the return of stud defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who had previously missed four straight games and six total games on the season. However, Hicks is expected to be out again this week, having been placed on the COVID list, meaning the Bears will once again be without both Hicks and Khalil Mack, a massive blow for this defense, which is highly unlikely to be as good this week as they were last week.

The Bears’ offense, meanwhile, figures to continue struggling. They continue to be without left tackle Jason Peters, arguably their most important offensive player, who has been out for the past game and a half, which has been a big blow to an already mediocre offense. On top of that, the Bears will be forced to turn to third string quarterback Nick Foles, with their top-two quarterbacks Justin Fields and Andy Dalton out. Foles is more qualified than most third string quarterbacks, but he figures to be a downgrade even from Fields and Dalton, who have not played all that well this season.

Given all of the players the Bears are missing, I don’t expect them to be able to keep this game close with the Seahawks. The Seahawks are just 5-9, but their even point differential suggests they have been better than their record and that is despite the fact that starting quarterback Russell Wilson missed three and a half games with injury and then was not himself for about three games upon his return. The Seahawks’ defense (22nd in schedule adjusted efficiency) and special teams (3rd) are complementary units, so if this offense can play well, the Seahawks are a lot more dangerous of an opponent than their record would suggest.

The Seahawks did not have a strong offensive performance last week, but that was on the road in Los Angeles against a good Rams defense and the Seahawks were without talented starting wide receiver Tyler Lockett, starting running back Alex Collins, and starting right tackle Brandon Shell. This week, the Seahawks return home to face a lesser defense and will get at least Lockett and Collins back, with Shell remaining a possibility to play as well. Given the talent gap between these two teams right now, my calculated line favors the Seahawks by 9, so we’re getting good line value with them as 6.5-point favorites. I want to wait until gameday to place this bet because of COVID uncertainty, but I will very likely be bumping this up from a low confidence pick before gametime. 

Update: Hicks is still out, so I want to lock this in before the line increases.

Seattle Seahawks 23 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Seattle -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Chicago Bears (4-9)

The Vikings have drawn a lot of attention for keeping all of their losses close, not losing by more than 8 points all season, but two of their losses required pick sixes to make the margin of defeat smaller than it otherwise would have and most of their wins have been close as well, with just one win by multiple scores. They could easily have a couple more wins, which tends to be well-known with this team, but they also easily could have a couple more losses, which tends to get left out of the analysis. Overall, they are a slightly below average team, despite the fact that they haven’t been blown out, ranking 15th, 28th, 6th, and 21st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency.

The Vikings’ tendency to play close games is especially relevant considering the Vikings are 6-point road favorites in this game, with just three of their margins of victory being enough to cover this number, including just one on the road, a 7-point win in Los Angeles against the Chargers. That being said, it’s hard to be confident in the Bears too, as they are a well below average team that is dealing with a significant amount of absent players. On the season, the Bears rank 27th, 20th, 3rd, and 25th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which is only about a couple points behind the Vikings, but the Bears are in much worse shape than that right now. 

Already without their top defensive player for the year, with stud edge defender Khalil Mack injured, the Bears will also be without one of their most important offensive players, talented left tackle Jason Peters, while starting wide receiver Allen Robinson headlines a group of 11 players added to the COVID list this week, a list that could keep growing. My calculated line right now has the Vikings as 4.5-point favorites, so we’re getting some line value with the Bears at +6, but I can’t take them with any confidence right now. If they can avoid more COVID cases, I may increase the confidence on this pick, but that’s a big if at this point.

Minnesota Vikings 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (9-3)

I was hoping the Packers would be a lot healthier this week, coming out of their bye week, particularly the trio of left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, who are all among the best players in the league at their respective positions. The Packers are 9-3, but they have not played as well as last year’s 13-3 team and are not beating teams in convincing fashion, while ranking just 14th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 10th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, in large part due to the absence of those aforementioned three players. 

Had the Packers gotten a couple of those players back this week, they would have been a very intriguing bet in this game against the Bears in Green Bay, where the Packers have been a great bet in games in front of games where Aaron Rodgers starts and finishes the games, going 49-22 ATS. Unfortunately, only Alexander has a shot to suit up for this game and even that isn’t a given. On top of that, the Packers will be down a reliable receiver, with Randall Cobb now out indefinitely. 

Despite that, the Packers are still favored by 12.5 points in this game. The Packers would have covered this number in three of their five home games so far this season, but a closer look at those games shows the Packers to not have been as impressive as the final score, as they were down to the Lions at halftime, got outgained on a per play basis by Washington, and shut out a Seahawks team that was starting a much less than 100% Russell Wilson. Those three games are the Packers’ biggest margins of victory of the season, which shows how unimpressive many of their wins have been.

My calculated line actually has the Packers favored by just 9.5 points in this game and, while that doesn’t factor in the Packers’ extra homefield advantage with Aaron Rodgers, it’s hard to get up to this 12.5 point number. The Packers could also be in a bit of a bad spot, as they have a much tougher game against the Ravens on deck and favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.6% rate before facing a team with a winning percentage over 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage. 

This is still a big divisional rivalry game, so it’s very possible the Packers still bring a big effort despite a tougher game on deck, but it’s another reason not to be confident in the Packers this week. I’m taking the Bears for pick ‘em purposes for now, but I would probably switch to the Packers if it was determined that Jaire Alexander will be active and playing something close to his normal snap count. In either scenario, I don’t see myself taking either side confidently.

Green Bay Packers 28 Chicago Bears 16

Pick against the spread: Chicago +12.5

Confidence: None

Arizona Cardinals at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (9-2) at Chicago Bears (4-7)

Yet again, a point spread has been posted for a Cardinals game even though we don’t have anything definitive on the status of Kyler Murray and DeAndre Hopkins. In each of the past three games, the oddsmakers have posted a spread that has expected both to play and in all three games, both players missed the game, causing the oddsmakers to drastically change the line, in some cases the morning of the game. 

In two of the games, it didn’t really matter, as the Cardinals won once as underdogs and lost once as favorites, but in their last game the Cardinals spent most of the week as favorites and then became underdogs before gametime, meaning if you had bet against them as money line favorites early in the week, you could have then bet on them as money line underdogs later in the week and guaranteeing you would win money regardless. The oddsmakers aren’t taking as big of a chance this week, but it’s odd to see them so confidently posting lines despite major injuries.

Murray and Hopkins seem likelier to play this week than they have in the past, coming off of a bye week and practicing more this week than they had in recent weeks before the bye week, but the Cardinals could continue being cautious with one or both against a losing team, with a much tougher game against the Rams on deck. I also think we are getting good line value with the Bears even if Murray and Hopkins do play, as both could be limited and their return does not solve all of the Cardinals problems.

The Cardinals went 2-1 without Murray and Hopkins, but they had just an even point differential across an underwhelming schedule, despite winning the turnover battle by three, which is not a predictive metric. Their offense actually held up pretty well without Murray and Hopkins and obviously getting both back, even at less than 100%, will be a boost for this unit, but they are unlikely to be as good as they were at the beginning of the season, not only because Murray and Hopkins could be limited, but also because they are still missing running back Chase Edmonds and starting left guard Justin Pugh. 

Meanwhile, the Cardinals’ defense has not been as good in the past few weeks since losing key interior defender JJ Watt and they could be even more short-handed this week, after top cornerback Byron Murphy got hurt in Friday’s practice. The Bears aren’t a tough opponent, but the Cardinals just aren’t as good as they played earlier in the season or as good as their record, even if Murray and Hopkins play, and we’re getting line value with the Bears at +7.5, as my calculated line has the Cardinals favored by 5, with Murray and Hopkins playing, but not at 100%. 

If one or both of Hopkins and Murray end up not playing, we will obviously be getting even more value with the Bears, so I like locking this one in right now. Big road favorites typically do well after a bye week, covering at a 64.2% rate all-time as favorites of 3.5 or more, but that could be somewhat cancelled out by the Cardinals having a much tougher game next week. This isn’t a big play, but there is enough value here with the Bears to lock in a bet before the line potentially moves down.

Update: Both Murray and Hopkins are active and this line has stayed put at 7.5, but Hopkins at least sounds like he will be limited, while Murray could be rusty in his first game back and he won’t have one of his top blockers with Justin Pugh out. Byron Murphy will be active on defense, but this defense still has not been the same since losing JJ Watt. The Cardinals should still win this game, but it’s a lot to ask them to go on the road and cover a spread of more than a touchdown against anyone other than the worst teams in the league. The Bears are not one of the worst teams in the league and, in fact, are getting healthy on the offensive line and have probably their best quarterback under center, with Andy Dalton playing over raw rookie Justin Fields.

Arizona Cardinals 24 Chicago Bears 20

Pick against the spread: Chicago +7.5

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-7) at Detroit Lions (0-9-1)

Both of these teams are dealing with injuries to their expected starting quarterback. The Bears’ situation is less concerning, with experienced veteran Andy Dalton being the backup. Dalton obviously lacks the upside or athleticism of rookie starting quarterback Justin Fields, but he is probably an upgrade as a passer and might not be a downgrade overall. The Lions’ situation is more concerning because, as bad as Jared Goff has been as a starter this season, backup Tim Boyle is still a big downgrade, struggling mightily in his debut last week after previously throwing just four passes in four seasons in the league after going undrafted in 2018. 

The good news for the Lions, however, is that, unlike Fields, who has been ruled out, Goff is questionable and seems like he is on the right side of questionable and likely to start after a one-game absence. This team still has a lot of problems even if Goff plays, but they are not as bad as their record suggests, as many of their losses have been close. Their -113 point differential is certainly not good, but it’s better than the point differential of the Texans (-121) and Jets (-142), who have probably had worse seasons than the Lions, despite managing to win a couple games each.

That point differential shows they are being outscored by an average of 11.3 points per game, but even that suggests they are getting blown out more often than they are, with just three of their ten games resulting in losses by more than 10 points, including a game against the Packers in which they led at halftime in Green Bay. By contrast, four of their ten games have been decided by three points or fewer, relevant given that they are 3-point underdogs in this game. That’s all despite the fact that the Lions have faced an above average schedule and, in fact, this home game against the Bears is arguably the easiest game of their season. 

The Bears are 3-7 and have been as bad as their record suggests, with the 6th worst point differential in the league at -77 and rankings of 29th, 12th, and 22nd in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively. This once dominant defense is not what it was, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks, arguably their two best defensive players, whose absence makes their defense even worse than their efficiency rank. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, regardless of who they have started at quarterback. 

The Lions rank 27th, 27th, and 4th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency respectively, which is very underwhelming, but still doesn’t make them the worst team in the league and it makes them a decent value as 3-point home underdogs, assuming Goff can play. Winless teams also tend to be a good bet this late in the season, covering the spread at a 63.3% rate in week 9 or later. I still wouldn’t bet them in that scenario, but if Goff plays and this line stays put, they are the better side for pick ‘em purposes. If Goff is out, I will likely be on the Bears for no confidence as a pure fade of Tim Boyle. I am leaving this as a no confidence pick on the Lions, but I will likely have an update based on Goff’s status and any potential line movement.

Update: It sounds like Goff is playing, so I’m bumping this up to low confidence before the line drops below a field goal, which it could on Thursday morning.

Chicago Bears 24 Detroit Lions 23

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Low

Baltimore Ravens at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Baltimore Ravens (6-3) at Chicago Bears (3-6)

This is one of the toughest calls of the week. The Ravens are 6-3, but have just a +14 point differential and are not blowing teams out, winning just twice by more than six points, which is very relevant, considering they are 6.5 point favorites here in Chicago. On the other hand, the Bears might be bad enough to justify this line being that high, even with the Ravens not blowing teams out. The Bears are just 3-6 and rank just 26th in point differential at -74, while ranking 28th, 18th, 13th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency.

Things are only getting even worse on defense too, with both Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks now out for an extended period of time. This once dominant defense is a shell of its former self, due to several key off-season departures in recent years and now some in-season injuries, most impactfully the ones suffered by Mack and Hicks. Meanwhile, their offense has struggled as much as it has in recent years, led by rookie quarterback Justin Fields and a subpar offensive line and skill position group. My calculated line has the Bears as 5-point favorites, so we are getting a little bit of line value with Chicago, but I don’t have much confidence in them.

Update: There have been several injury updates that will effect this game significantly. Previously listed as questionable, #1 wide receiver Marquise Brown was ruled out on Saturday, despite getting a limited practice in on Sunday. The Ravens will be without a pair of cornerbacks in Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith, who were both also questionable. More importantly, quarterback Lamar Jackson has been ruled out with an illness, despite returning to practice on Friday as well. Without two those on the Ravens’ offense, I have these two teams about even in my roster rankings, so it’s surprising to see the Ravens still favored by 1.5 points on the road. Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley is not a bad option, but he’s an obvious downgrade from Jackson and will be without his top receiver. I wouldn’t bet on the spread, but the money line is worth a bet higher than +100. You may need to lock this in quickly as news spreads of Jackson being inactive and spread bets bet push this line.

Chicago Bears 19 Baltimore Ravens 17 Upset Pick +105

Pick against the spread: Chicago +1.5

Confidence: Low

Chicago Bears at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2021 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (3-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3)

The Steelers have moved up above .500, but they’re still an underwhelming team overall. Their total margin of victory across their four wins is still less than their total margin of defeat across their three losses, giving them a point differential of -10. In efficiency ratings, they rank 23rd, 11th, and 18th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively. They were a 12-4 team a year ago, but their offense struggled and their wins were primarily because of their defense carrying them to mostly close victories against a relatively weak schedule. This year, their offense has been about the same, while their defense has fallen noticeably from last year’s dominant performance, even if they are still an above average unit.

That being said, I don’t have any desire to bet on the Bears, who are an even more underwhelming team. Their offense has remained stagnant like the Steelers’ offense and like the Bears’ offense has been for years, while their once dominant defense has declined significantly in recent years due to off-season losses and is significantly worse than Pittsburgh’s, especially with edge defender Khalil Mack and safety Eddie Jackson both likely out for this game. We are still getting some line value with the Bears at +6.5 because my calculated line is at Pittsburgh -5, but this is a pick for pick ’em purposes only, as even against an overrated Steelers team, it’s hard to be confident in the Bears covering the spread.

Pittsburgh Steelers 17 Chicago Bears 13

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6.5

Confidence: Low

San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 8 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (2-4) at Chicago Bears (3-4)

I expected the 49ers to make a big leap in win total this season, after finishing 6-10 a year ago. I expected that because they were likely to have better injury luck and a better turnover margin, after finishing worst in adjusted games lost and 2nd worst in turnover margin (-11). However, the 49ers still have the league’s 4th worst turnover margin at -7 and, while their injury situation isn’t as bad as a year ago, they are still one of the more banged up teams in the league. 

In total, they are missing stud tight end George Kittle, starting running back Raheem Mostert, top cornerback Jason Verrett, rotational interior defenders Javon Kinlaw and Maurice Hurst, starting linebacker Dre Greenlaw, and possibly stud left tackle Trent Williams, who is questionable to return from a one-game absence after barely practicing this week. Turnover margin is a very unpredictable stat on a week-to-week basis, so I don’t expect this team to continue struggling in the turnover margin, but their upside is capped by the amount of talent they are missing. 

Still, the 49ers are better than their 2-4 record, especially since they have faced an above average schedule, with all but one of their games decided by a single score. Meanwhile, the Bears are not as good as even their mediocre 3-4 record suggests, as all four of their losses have come by at least 10 points, giving them a point differential overall of -61, which ranks just 27th in the NFL, with the five teams behind them combining for just five wins total.

The Bears’ offense continues to struggle even with Justin Fields in the lineup because he is a raw rookie and his supporting cast is mediocre at best, while their defense is not nearly the same as it once was, due to a combination of off-season losses over the past few years and players missing due to injury. The Bears should get Akiem Hicks back in the lineup this week, but they will also lose edge defender Khalil Mack, who is their most important defender. If the 49ers had Trent Williams in the lineup this week, we would be getting some line value with them, even as 4-point road favorites.

That being said, I am not planning on betting on the 49ers. Aside from the uncertainty around Williams’ status, the Bears are also in a good spot because they are coming off of a blowout loss, and should be fully focused to try to redeem themselves. Overall, teams cover at 58.0% rate the following week after a 35+ point loss all-time and this could easily be one of the Bears’ best efforts of the season. Because of that, I would only recommend the 49ers as a bet for pick ‘em purposes and if Williams is out, I would probably drop all confidence.

San Francisco 49ers 23 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: San Francisco -4

Confidence: Low