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John J. Raspanti
In a battle of first place teams, the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears square off at Soldier Field in Chicago. The Texans are undefeated on the road this year. The Bears lone loss was to the Packers in game two.
"Each game as you continue to win, the stakes go up a little," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We realize that and we're going to embrace it."
The Texans feature a balanced offense and strong defense. The Bears have lived off their veteran defense. Many experts pegged the unit as washed up. But, lead by a hard charging Lance Briggs, inspirational Brian Urlacher, and ball punching Charles Tillman, Chicago is second in the NFL in scoring defense at 15.0 points per game. Their 28 forced turnovers lead the league. It's been reported that Tillman could miss the game due to the impending birth of his fourth child.
"The Bears are very well-built in what they do and they've been together for a long time, "said Houston coach Gary Kubiak. "What they're doing speaks for itself."
Houston also has a potential game changer on its squad. Defensive end J.J. Watt has blossomed into a MVP contender with 10 1/2 sacks and 10 passes deflected. The Bears offensive line has given up 28 sacks this year.
Finding a way to keep Watt off quarterback Jay Cutler's back is paramount. Cutler has completed 59 percent of his passes. Seven of his twelve touchdown passes have gone to wide receiver Brandon Marshall. Running back Matt Forte is averaging five yards per carry. If the Texans key on Marshall this week, Forte (20 catches) and Earl Bennett (16) could see more passes.
Quarterback Matt Schaub and running back Arian Foster are the Texans one--two punch. Schaub has completed 64 percent of his passes. The Bears ball-hawking defense might find it difficult to force Schaub to make an errant pass. The nine-year veteran has thrown only four interceptions. Foster has rushed for 770 yards and scored 10 touchdowns. Wide receiver Andre Johnson has caught 42 balls for 562 yards.
The Bears usually play very well at home. The key will likely be turnovers. The last time the Texans played an NFC team (the Packers) they were embarrassed 42-24. Chicago's offense has to show-up if they hope to win.
Could this be a Super Bowl preview? It's certainly possible, but several other teams will have something to say about that. But this is clearly the NFL game of the week and one NFL fans shouldn't miss. From a betting standpoint, it couldn't get any closer. Our model predicts a 1 point Bears win, just like the oddsmakers and their current posted line of Chicago -1. When we run our model using only the last 5 games, it comes up as a 6 point Bears win, thanks in part to their offensive outburst last week.
It's doubtful you'll see one team dominate another here. It will no doubt come down to turnovers, where both teams rank well. The Bears are +16 in turnover differential while the Texans are +8. We're going to side with the Bears -1 here, playing at home but it's just a lean. We'd also suggest that teaser players take a good look at the Texans. A 6 point teaser would bring the Texans up to the key number of +7 and we think this game will be close enough to get the cover there, with the Texans winning straight up a real possibilty.
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