With the Chicago Bears and Jacksonville Jaguars we have two teams going in opposite directions. Yet, the Bears are traveling on a short week. Are they due for a letdown, or will they take care of business against an opponent they should beat?
Unlike a lot of point spreads on the board each week, this isn't a game with many mysteries attached to it. I expected the Jaguars to be much better than they've shown in September, in large part due to their defense. In the offseason, the line on this game was only -3. Yet, I don't think there was enough of an adjustment in this line after the first few weeks of the season.
Leading up to the Bears/Cowboys game, I asked the question on Twitter why the Bears were only -4 favorites in the look-ahead line. I guess Chicago's performance against Dallas answered that question because the line re-opened -5.5 on Tuesday (odds from SBRforum). I still don't think that's enough.
The Jaguars Are Good at ________?
MJD aside, does this team have anything to hang it's hat on? I think Marcedes Lewis is good and he's caught everything thrown his way this year, but he's only been targeted nine times! Justin Blackmon could be a star, but he has too much pressure on him with Laurent Robinson out with another concussion. Blaine Gabbert is better than last year, but that's not saying much and he's stuck behind a bleak offensive line.
I like the addition of Andre Branch to the D-line, but he's a rookie and a bit too inconsistent right now. Paul Posluszny is a fantastic individual talent, but he's missing Daryl Smith—the QB of the defense. The secondary was supposed to be much improved after returning from an injury-riddled year, but they've been mediocre at best.
Every potential bright spot on this team is followed with a "but." Statistically, they rank below average in 16 of the 19 categories I look at. They can run the ball, do a decent defensive job in the red zone, and don't take a ton of offensive penalties (which is surprising given their O-line/QB situation).
I don't care who your opponents have been, that kind of production is flat-out unacceptable.
Pure Unadulterated Exploitation
This is a really bad X's and O's match-up for Jacksonville. To have any chance at winning this year, they'll need to get MJD more than the 13 touches he got last week. Blaine Gabbert is not going to take over a game anytime soon. The Bears are going to suffocate this offense and force them into an efficient, ball-control approach. With Lovie Smith's cover 2, the down-field plays are just not going to be there, especially if MJD is held in check.
Don't be surprised if Marcedes Lewis gets more involved this week because controlling the middle will be vital for success. That could work if they target Brian Urlacher's dip in coverage abilities, but Lance Briggs is still at the top of his game and Julius Peppers is still coming off the edge. Tim Jennings leads the league in interceptions, which helps lead one of the best pass defenses in the NFL (so far).
I don't mean to be so hard on the Jags, but this is an offense that couldn't get even moderate success last week against a very depleted Bengals defense. Cincy had a 'B' team secondary held together by scotch-tape, but Gabbert made them look like pro-bowlers.
The one saving grace that Jacksonville have is the Bears are traveling on the road on a short week. Monday Night Football was a quasi-statement game for Chicago as they shut-up a lot of naysayers. Playing against the nondescript Jags is nowhere near the same as getting up for a prime-time affair with America's Team.
However, I'm not going to put too much into the potential "letdown" factor for the simple reason that Jacksonville have probably one of the worst home field advantages in the league. They don't deserve the traditional 2.5/3 points in the spread, and even 1-2 points might be granting too much!
I bought into the Bears offense much too early this year when I took them as road dogs vs the Packers this season. I shouldn't be too surprised because this is an offense that has been downright pathetic for more years than I can remember.
At the same time, you have to think that Chicago can put up enough points here even by accident. Brandon Marshall is going to be a tough match-up for whoever gets that duty. A.J. Green killed man coverage the week before, so it'll be interesting to see what Jacksonville's plan will be this week.
Matt Forte is still hobbled by a high-ankle sprain, but I don't think he needs to be dynamic to make this offense go.
In fact, most of my optimism comes from the fact that the Jaguars only have two sacks on the season. That is atrocious! Pass protection is the one area that needs to be exploited when facing Chicago, but Jacksonville can't even generate hurries or knockdowns, let alone sacks.
It all adds up to one big ugly mess for the Jaguars. It's not impossible to turn the season around and begin to build on some of the pieces they have, but they rely too much on MJD to win games right now.
Forget about the Bears, the biggest opponent right now for the Jaguars is themselves. Fade until further notice.
NFL Pick: CHI -5.5.