NFL forecast: Bears, Fox better as underdogs

November 19, 2017 07:07 AM
Chicago coach John Fox is 9-1 against the spread in his 10 past as a home underdog, including a 4-0 mark this season in games against playoff contenders Atlanta, Carolina, Minnesota and Pittsburgh.
© USA Today Sports Images

A week ago, the Chicago Bears’ world was turned upside down, and coach John Fox appeared more disoriented than usual on the sideline.

Not only was Chicago a favorite for the first time all season, it was favored over Green Bay for the first time since 2008. Fox went into the game winless as a favorite at Soldier Field. The role reversal spelled bad news for the Bears, so the loss to the Packers was a predictable result.

Now, however, the Bears are back in their comfort zone. It will be a cold and windy Sunday on the lakefront. Fox is a ‘dog. The game figures to be won with defense and by running the ball, two things the Bears do better than the Detroit Lions.

Fox is 9-1 against the spread in his 10 past as a home underdog, including a 4-0 mark this season in games against playoff contenders Atlanta, Carolina, Minnesota and Pittsburgh. Matthew Stafford and the Lions are 2-6 ATS in their past eight as road favorites.

Trends aside, the matchup works for Chicago, which ranks No. 9 in the NFL in total defense and No. 8 in rushing offense. By comparison, Detroit ranks 22nd in total defense and 29th in rushing offense. If Stafford’s passing accuracy suffers because of the Bears’ pressure and the weather, the Lions cannot lean on their ground game.

Jordan Howard, fifth in the league with 716 yards rushing, and rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky can move the sticks against a Detroit defense that is without star end Ziggy Ansah. Trubisky just had his most productive passing performance, completing 21 of 35 for 297 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions against Green Bay.

Stafford, who’s having a Pro Bowl-type season, is the wild card and the primary reason the Lions are favored by a field goal. But it’s still a mediocre Detroit team that flirted with a potentially disastrous and embarrassing loss against Cleveland a week ago. And it’s not as if Fox is badly outmatched against Jim Caldwell, a coach who always appears ready for an afternoon nap.

The past four Fox-Caldwell clashes were decided by 3, 3, 4 and 3 points. Each of the past five Lions-Bears meetings in Chicago stayed under the total. This is a play on the Bears as 3-point underdogs — if the public pounds the favorite, the line could hit 3½ before kickoff — and consider looking under the total of 41 in what should be a low-scoring game.

Three of my favorite plays early in the week are tough to bet now that the good numbers are gone. Philadelphia was playable as a 3- or 3½-point favorite at Dallas, but the line has ballooned to 6. New England was an obviously better play as a 6- or 6½-point favorite over Oakland, but the line has moved to 7 and 7½. The Patriots-Raiders shootout in Mexico City opened with a total of 50½, but it’s now 54½.

Four more picks for Week 11 (home team in CAPS):

* PACKERS (plus-2) over Ravens: Green Bay is 0-2 as a home ‘dog since Aaron Rodgers went down, and I’m 1-2 betting on Brett Hundley. Still, Hundley was improved against the Bears last week, when he completed 18 of 25 passes without a pick. The Packers are missing top running backs Aaron Jones and Ty Montgomery, yet Jamaal Williams is a capable No. 3 runner. The bottom line is Baltimore with a lackluster Joe Flacco looks no more appealing than Green Bay with Hundley. The Ravens are 1-6-1 ATS in their past eight as road favorites. The Packers should be a decent bet to avoid their third straight Lambeau Field loss.

* VIKINGS (-2) over Rams: Sean McVay, who at 31 is the youngest head coach in modern NFL history, has transformed the L.A. Rams into a success story. Jared Goff suddenly is a competent quarterback, and Todd Gurley is running with a purpose. The Rams are 7-2 with a plus-134 point differential that ranks No. 1 in the league. Minnesota continues to win with Rams castoff Case Keenum at quarterback. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s defense ranks No. 5 overall (294.6 yards per game) and No. 5 in scoring (18.3). That defense should get to Goff and rattle him on the road. With a strong home-field advantage, a slight edge goes to Minnesota.

* Redskins (plus-9) over SAINTS: The injury report for Washington is ugly, especially on the offensive side, yet Kirk Cousins tends to find ways to produce points, and he’s the best quarterback the New Orleans defense has faced in the past month. Cousins and Drew Brees should combine for a high-scoring game, but these Saints run the ball a lot better. This play does not make a lot of sense. New Orleans is hot, and Washington is not. But making unpopular plays is a big part of NFL handicapping success. Plus, Cousins and the Redskins are a better bet on the road, going 11-4 ATS in their past 15, including a win at Seattle two weeks ago.

* BRONCOS (-2½) over Bengals: Admittedly, it’s tough to lay more than a point with Denver, which is on a five-game skid with all of the losses by double digits. Brock Osweiler is not the answer at quarterback, and Vance Joseph is a first-year coach who deserves the criticism he’s getting. But this might be the time to back the Broncos with their backs to the wall. It’s also an anti-Cincinnati play. The Bengals are playing their third consecutive road game, after losing the first two, and their only win since mid-October was by one point over Indianapolis.

Last week: 4-1 against the spread

Season: 27-20-3

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