Khalil Mack might be coming back at the perfect moment.
The Bears’ pass-rushing outside linebacker, who landed in Chicago on the eve of the season, immediately emerged as a semi-viable MVP candidate with five sacks, four forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, an interception, and a touchdown in his first four games before picking up an ankle injury that seriously hobbled him over the next two games and forced him to miss the past two games. Now, with the Bears at 5-3, just ahead of the Vikings in the NFC North, fighting for their first playoff berth since 2010, and ready to host the 3-5 Lions on Sunday, Mack appears to be on the verge of a return.
That’s not a guarantee Mack will be out there on the field come Sunday, but if he does, oh what a wonderful time it’ll be for him to return. Not just because the Bears need their best player during a playoff push. But because of who they’re playing. On Sunday, the Bears will face a Lions team that just allowed Matthew Stafford to get sacked 10 times against the Vikings a week ago.
With the first of my five weekly best bets, I’m taking the Bears -6.5 against the Lions.
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It’s not just Mack against the Lions up front. It’s also the fact that the entire Bears’ defense is ranked fifth in yards allowed per game, fourth in points allowed per game, second in takeaways, seventh in sacks, and first in DVOA, and that the Lions just traded away their best receiver in Golden Tate and have scored 23 total points over their past two games. I’m expecting the Bears’ defense — with or without Mack — to stymie the Lions’ average-at-best offense.
Basically, the Bears’ defense is the only defense that has separated itself from the rest of the pack in a good way.
The Lions’ defense, on the other hand, has separated itself from the middle of the pack in a bad way.
So, on the other side of the ball, I’m expecting Mitchell Trubisky to continue his development. While Trubisky’s been maddeningly inconsistent this season, there’s no denying that he continues to improve each week.
For all of the criticism he’s gotten, Trubisky is still on pace to throw for 3,898 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions. That’s a testament to Matt Nagy’s scheme and play-calling. Even though Trubisky has missed a ton of open targets, he’s still putting up gaudy numbers because those open targets have been available repeatedly. Trubisky shouldn’t have trouble against a Lions defense that — despite being led by Matt Patricia — ranks 29th in DVOA. Point blank: They’re just not any good.
The Lions are bad on both sides of the ball. The Bears are great in one area and improving in another, and they’re at home. I’ll take them to win comfortably with the first of my five best bets.
Last week: 3-2 (again, sigh)
This year: 28-16-1
All odds via SportsLine
Bears -6.5 vs. Lions
If you’ve been following my best bets this season, you might’ve noticed that I pick the Bears a ton. That’s not because I’m a not-so-secret fan of the Bears. It’s because the method I use to find my five best bets each week is pretty simple: I try to pick teams that rank high in DVOA that are facing the teams that rank low in DVOA. In other words, I try to pick the good teams playing against the bad teams with DVOA as my unit of measurement.
This game fits the criteria — just like the Bears-Bills matchup a week ago. The Bears are fourth in DVOA. The Lions are 29th. Give me the good football team to win comfortably at home against the bad football team.
Chiefs -16.5 vs. Cardinals
I also tend to pick the Chiefs a ton. And it’s been working. The Chiefs are 8-1 against the spread this season. This week’s monstrous spread won’t make me go away from them all of a sudden. That’s how much of a disadvantage the Cardinals will be at on Sunday.
The Chiefs are the league’s best team by DVOA. The Cardinals are second to last with both of their wins coming against the Jimmy Garoppolo-less 49ers. The Chiefs just beat the Browns — a far better team than the Cardinals — by 16 points in Cleveland. This game will be played in Kansas City.
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I just can’t figure out a way the Cardinals, who are averaging 13.8 points per game, will be able to keep up with the Chiefs, who are averaging 36.3 points per game. It’s not like the Chiefs are susceptible to turnover-heavy games. They’ve turned the ball over eight times this season and their only turnover last week against the league’s best turnover-creating team came on a Hail Mary. I could go on, but it ultimately comes down to the Chiefs being the best team in football and the Cardinals being one of the worst teams in football.
Bills at Jets (under 36.5)
With Sam Darnold and Josh Allen hurt, this will likely be a game between Josh McCown and Derek Anderson (who I’m hoping will clear the concussion protocol this week). Both of these defenses are also pretty dang good, with the Bills ranking second in DVOA and the Jets slotting in at seventh. So, in short, we’ve got two backup quarterbacks going against two top-10 defenses, which seems like a recipe for a low-scoring affair.
Really, the only way I see the over hitting is if there are a couple defensive scores. The good news is that Darnold, who leads the league with 14 picks, isn’t expected to play. Now, we just need to hope that Peterman (9.2 career interception rate) isn’t forced to play again if Anderson doesn’t clear the concussion protocol.
I’ll take the under and hope pick-sixes are avoided. But if Peterman plays, I might be screwed.
Panthers +4 at Steelers
Thursday Night Football delivers with one of the best matchups of the week. I can see either team winning, but I can’t see either team winning by more than a field goal. So, I’ll take the Panthers as four-point road underdogs.
The Panthers are on an absolute tear right now, having won three straight games to push their record to 6-2. I wrote last week that the Panthers were the best team that nobody was talking about. Well, they’re definitely being noticed now. What’s been especially noteworthy is how well their offense is playing — especially Cam Newton, who is completing 67.3 percent of his passes, throwing an interception on only 1.5 percent of his passes, and has scored 19 total touchdowns. Give new offensive coordinator Norv Turner a ton of credit.
The Steelers are also hot, of course. They’re 5-2-1 thanks to a four-game winning streak.
Expect a good, close game between two playoff-caliber teams.
Seahawks +10 at Rams
Long before the Saints ended the Rams’ unbeaten season on Sunday, the Seahawks nearly handed the Rams their first loss. Back in Week 5, the Seahawks lost to the Rams in Seattle by only two points in large part because Sean McVay went for a late fourth down in a situation that most coaches would’ve punted.
I’m not expecting the Seahawks to beat the Rams in Los Angeles, but I am expecting a close game. It’s not like the Rams have some sort of home-field advantage. Plus, with the way the Rams’ secondary is playing, Russell Wilson should be able to put up points to keep the Seahawks in the game. The Rams are allowing 7.8 yards per pass, which ranks 25th. The Seahawks can exploit that. Through eight games, Wilson is on pace to throw for 3,582 yards, 36 touchdowns, and 10 picks.
Expect the Rams to hold off the Seahawks and effectively clinch the NFC West, but also expect the Seahawks to keep it interesting again. They’re good enough to hang around if their offensive line continues to play well and gives Wilson the time he needs to pick apart a shaky secondary.
The Seahawks, despite being 4-4, are actually ninth by DVOA. With the Rams slotting in behind only the Chiefs, this is one of the best games of the week between two top-10 teams. Expect a close one.
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