NFL Pick: Cutler-Less Chicago Bears Face Resurgent Oakland Raiders
Sunday, November 27, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
Though the Chicago Bears are riding high on a five-game winning streak, they suffered a potentially very damaging loss their most recent time out.
With quarterback Jay Cutler sidelined indefinitely with a broken thumb, lightly-tested backup Caleb Hanie will try to keep the Bears on course for a repeat playoff appearance in the interim. The fourth-year pro's first challenge takes place Sunday at the Oakland Coliseum against a Raiders team that's seeking to maintain a strong run of its own.
Chicago's 31-20 triumph over slumping San Diego last week was marred by Cutler's unfortunate injury, which the strong-armed signal-caller sustained while attempting a tackle on an interception return in the fourth quarter. He underwent surgery on his right hand on Wednesday, with the Bears optimistically hoping he'll be back for the club's regular-season finale on Jan. 1.
An offense that's averaged 32.2 points over Chicago's current surge will now rest in the hands of Hanie, who's never started an NFL game and has attempted only 14 passes in the regular season, for the time being. The undrafted 26- year-old did see extensive action after relieving an injured Cutler in last January's NFC Championship Game, completing 13-of-20 throws for 153 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in the Bears' loss to rival Green Bay.
Although Chicago's chances of capturing a second straight NFC North title are slim due to the prowess of the still-unbeaten Packers, it does enter the stretch run in good position to claim one of the conference's two Wild Card berths. The Bears enter Sunday's tilt with a half-game edge on Detroit for the No. 5 overall seed, with Atlanta and the New York Giants one game back in the race.
The Raiders are presently on track to reach the postseason for the first time since 2002, thanks to two straight victories that has the Silver and Black atop the AFC West, one game ahead of surprising Denver.
Oakland assumed control in the division with a critical 24-17 decision over the Chargers on Nov. 10, then held its advantage by posting a 27-21 win at Minnesota this past Sunday behind a defense that forced five Vikings turnovers and sacked rookie quarterback Christian Ponder five times.
Both of those wins came on the road, however, where the Raiders are 4-1 thus far in 2001. They've lost their last two tests at the Coliseum, falling to fellow division inhabitants Kansas City and Denver with a Week 8 bye in between prior to getting back on track in the San Diego game.
Chicago has prevailed in each of its last two bouts as the visitor, including a 24-18 verdict over Tampa Bay on Oct. 23 in a game held at London's Wembley Stadium.
The all-time series between the Bears and Raiders is knotted at 6-6, with Chicago drawing even by virtue of a 17-6 win at the Coliseum in 2007. The Bears also came out on top by a 24-21 score in a 2003 encounter with Oakland in the Windy City, with the Raiders last besting Chicago via a 24-17 result at home on Sept. 26, 1999.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith won his only prior meeting with the Raiders with that 2007 victory, while Oakland's Hue Jackson will be opposing both Chicago and Smith for the first time in his present position.
Time & Venue:
- 4:05 PM ET, Sunday, November 27, 2011. O.co Coliseum, Oakland, California
Last week's ATS:
- Favourite Chicago Bears (7-3) wins and covers
- Favourite Oakland Raiders (6-4) wins and covers.
NFL Football Odds: Raiders -3, O/U 41.5
- Chicago home to Kansas City, Sunday, December 4
- Oakland at Miami, Sunday, December 4
Chicago has put up at least 30 points in three straight games and is averaging 32.2 during its winning streak. Cutler’s numbers haven’t been eye-popping, but he has been efficient and tossed seven TDs and only three interceptions during the streak. In comes Hanie, who has thrown only 14 career regular-season passes, but acquitted himself fairly well in the NFC title game against Green Bay last season, throwing two TDs and two picks. RBs Matt Forte, who leads the league with 1,391 yards from scrimmage, and Marion Barber should see an increase in their workload in an attempt to ease the pressure on Hanie.
After throwing six interceptions in his first two games, Carson Palmer has been outstanding in wins at San Diego and Minnesota. RB Michael Bush has churned out back-to-back 100-yard games and is averaging 115.3 yards rushing since Darren McFadden went down with a foot sprain. Bush has carried the ball 30 times in each of the last two games, allowing the Raiders to control the clock. That could be key with their WR corps racked by injuries.
The Bears would greatly aid Hanie's cause in his first career start if they're able to establish an effective running game, and doing so would enhance the team's chance of leaving the Coliseum with a victory as well. Oakland has held its opponents under 125 rushing yards six times this year, and won on every occasion. On the other hand, the Raiders have given up a whopping 211 yards on the ground on average in their four 2011 losses. Chicago is 3-1 this season when Forte eclipses 100 rushing yards in a game.
Oakland's tough to beat when it's not beating itself, owning a 6-0 record when finishing either even or on the positive side of the turnover battle this season. Doing so this week may not be easy, however, as the Bears own a plus-11 takeaway-to-giveaway ratio on the year and have been forcing mistakes at a prodigious rate during their winning streak. With a backup quarterback under center, Chicago's going to need its defense to continue to come up with game-changing plays.
Chicago's boast the best return man in the business in the incomparable Devin Hester, who's averaging an astounding 21.2 yards and scored two touchdowns on punt returns this year. The Raiders have not been good in punt coverage, having allowed an average of 14.5 yards per runback and two scores, and it would be in their best interest to kick away and not tempt fate.
Chicago hasn't won six straight games since opening the 2006 Super Bowl season with seven wins in a row.
The Raiders have piled up 11 sacks in the last two games and are tied with Houston for second in the AFC with 28.
Oakland is 0-4-1 ATS in its last 5 games when playing Chicago
Oakland is 1-4-1 ATS in its last 6 games at home
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Oakland's last 7 games
Chicago is 6-3 SU in its last 9 games when playing Oakland
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Chicago's last 5 games on the road
Chicago is 7-3 SU in its last 10 games on the road
Since Hanie is such an unknown quantity, it's difficult to predict how the Bears will fare here. And considering how unpredictable the Raiders have been over the course of the year, particularly in double-digit home losses to seemingly inferior teams in Kansas City and Denver, it's not easy to presume just how they'll perform either.Those two defeats did come with an unprepared Palmer still in the process of learning Jackson's offense, however, and he's been noticeably better in the two weeks since. That should give Oakland an edge at the all-important quarterback position, and its strong pass rush could very well cause some problems for Hanie as well. It probably won't come easy, as Chicago's defense has been playing at a very high level and its special teams are always terrific, but the Raiders' experience under center and getting to play at the Black Hole may be a bit too tough for the Bears to overcome.
NFL Football Pick: Take Raiders.
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