NFL viewers are probably a little sick of seeing the Chicago Bears in prime time this season. However, those that have been betting against Chicago may be licking their chops at the thought of fading the Bears one more time. The Bears own the worst record against the spread at 3-9, and that’s part of the reason why they are home underdogs despite having the same 6-6 record as the Dallas Cowboys.
The last time we saw these two teams was on Thanksgiving. Despite souring Thanksgiving dinner for bettors, the Cowboys are once again favored by a key number this Thursday. The Bears were able to get past Detroit by four points, beating the opening line of pick’em, but failing to cover the closing line of -6. The biggest takeaway from that game was Mitch Trubisky doing his best to prove doubters wrong with a 90-yard game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
It’s not hard to see why Dallas is favored on the road when taking a look at DVOA. The advanced stat provided by Football Outsiders ranks the Cowboys at #5 overall and #8 per weighted DVOA, which places more of an emphasis on recent games. The Bears rank 20th overall, and 19th by weighted DVOA. So, whichever way you slice it, the Bears should be outmatched at Soldier Field on Thursday night.
Cowboys Offense vs. Bears Defense
The marquee matchup in this game will be the Cowboys and their elite offense against the Bears and their somewhat elite defense. The Bears were the clear #1 defense in 2018, and though they returned most of their players, a new defensive coordinator and less takeaway luck has led to a ranking of #8 in 2019. Chicago is also missing a key cog in the middle of their defensive line as Akiem Hicks will be out for one more game before his expected return at Green Bay.
The Bears had a top 10 rush defense before Hicks went down, and they have slid to #12 in his absence. This is an area the Cowboys should be able to exploit with their elite offensive line blocking for Ezekiel Elliot. But that was also supposed to be the case last week against Buffalo’s bottom 10 rush-D. Instead, Zeke ran the ball just 12 times for 71 yards.
Against the pass, the Bears rank 8th but will likely be without their #2 cornerback Prince Amukamara. Their top corner Kyle Fuller has played well this season and should be matched up against Amari Cooper, but that may leave Michael Gallup open to do damage against the Bears backups. The Bears are also without inside linebacker Danny Trevaithan. While his replacement Nick Kwiatkowski has played well, his weakness is in pass coverage, which could open up room for tight end Jason Witten to get free.
Dak Prescott filled up the stat sheet against the Bills, but his QBR was a below-average 43.6. Overall though, Prescott is #3 in the NFL with a QBR of 72.9. If he has time to throw, he’ll likely be able to pick apart the banged-up Bears defense. Chicago has not impressed with their pass rush in 2019, ranking 23rd in adjusted sack rate. Conversely, the Cowboys offensive line ranks #1 in adjusted sack rate.
Bears Offense vs. Cowboys Defense
The Bears are going to need to put up points on offense to keep this game close and have any chance of covering the spread. That may be difficult with the 21st ranked passing offense and the 31st ranking rushing offense. While both the passing game and the run game were impressive on Thanksgiving, it was against a putrid Detroit defense. The Cowboys defense, though, isn’t much better.
Dallas ranks 23rd against the pass and 17th against the run. Their poor pass defense allowed Josh Allen to go 19-24 last week for 231 yards and 1 TD, good for a QBR of 77.7 and a passer rating of 120.7. While the thought of Mitch Trubisky duplicating those numbers may be humorous, he is coming off his best game of the season, completing 29-38 for 338 yards and 3 TD to 1 INT. That stat line was good for a passer rating of 118.1 and a season-high QBR of 63.7.
The Bears offensive line has been an issue all season long and ranks 27th in adjusted line yards, failing to open many holes for talented rookie running back David Montgomery. The Bears offensive line is marginally better at protecting Trubisky, ranking 18th in adjusted sack rate. On the other side of the line, the Cowboys rank 14th in adjusted sack rate.
For the Bears to compete in this game, their offense will need to be better than they have been all season long. While the Cowboys don’t present a great challenge on defense, Chicago must have a near-perfect offensive performance in order to put up enough points.
The Spread and Total
The look-ahead line on this game was Dallas -3.5 but after the Cowboys Thanksgiving Day performance, the number opened at -3 across the board. Some shops have moved it down to -2.5 while others are holding on to -3 with juice on the home dog. The line move is surprising given that the majority of the bets and the money are on the Cowboys. Dallas is currently garnering 79% of the bets and 81% of the money wagered.
The total on this game opened at 44 and has been bet down across the board. The range of available numbers now goes from 42.5 up to 43.5 depending on where you look. If the Bears figured something out on offense a week ago, there may be value on the over if this number continues to trickle down. Dallas is likely to get their points, and the Bears should at least be able to put up close to 20. With that said, it’s understandable that early bettors are fading the Bears and Trubisky.
By Kyle Johansen