Wednesday, September 11, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 2: Vikings vs Bears

Minnesota Vikings vs Chicago Bears: CHI -6 (Bodog)

Market Watch

The look-ahead line for this game was -6 and it re-opened at -6.5/-6 after Sunday's action. Since then, it's hovered around these numbers, even dipping to -5.5 for a few minutes before being bet back up. Unless late money comes pouring in, I don't see this hitting a full touchdown. If anything, there might be some dog support the other way.  75% of Week 1 games were decided by 7 or fewer points, so if you're going to lay chalk with a bigger favorite, you better have some good reasons for it.

62% of bets are currently on the home team.

When the Vikings have the ball

If this were last year I'd stay far away from this game, but two things from Week 1 stood out to me. First of all, is the question marks surrounding Christian Ponder. His struggles are well-documented, but the alarming stat that leaps off the page is all three of Ponder's interceptions came under pressure.  Two of the three interceptions came when he was facing an eight man box. Four times he had 3rd and 1 and three of those plays resulted in an incompletion, a sack, and an interception.

These kind of numbers are just not going to get it done in the NFL - especially for a third year player.

Of course it's only one game, but the Bears defense is going to pose a bigger problem for him than the Lions.  He already has problems throwing the deep ball, the I don't expect much success in this area against a cover-2 scheme. The Vikings are geared towards winning now though. Will they push his development and ask him to do more, or will they continue with the short-area, bootleg, dump-off stuff?

They are so supposed to be good up front, but Matt Kalil  and John Sullivan had really poor games. According to PFF, it was the worst pass-protecting game of Kalil's career so far.

Adding Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson is supposed to open up the passing game, but Patterson only saw five snaps and most of the production went to Jerome Simpson.  AP only gained 15 yards on 17 carries after his big opening run. Leslie Frazier said he wants to get Patterson more snaps this week, but based on his tepid introduction to game action in Week 1, I'd be surprised if he was much of a factor.

They still have lots of time to start clicking, but I don't see it all coming together against this Bears defense.

The secondary consists of Tillman, Jennings, Conte, and Wright. This group of playmakers allows them to do so much with the front seven. Peppers, McClellin, Wootton, Paea, and Melton are all disruptive. Behind them, Briggs and Williams are solid in support. It's going to be all hands on deck around the line of scrimmage, and I'd be shocked if Ponder suddenly breaks out.

When the Bears have the ball

The other thing that stood out to me in Week 1 was the play of the Bears offensive line. On paper, you would've thought that the Bengals ferocious defensive line was primed for a big day. Yet, the rookies on the right side held their own and Cutler wasn't even sacked once. This doesn't mean that everything is fixed in Chi-town, but it's a really great sign that they accomplished this against one of the best DL's in the league.

With better protection, Cutler had his third best performance since joining the Bears. On deep balls beyond 20 yards he was 3 for 3, and passes over 10 yards resulted in 9 for 12. He was under control and accurate.

The jury is still out, but this could turn out to be a nice offense with Marshall, Jeffery, M Bennett, and Forte. Last year, Cutler didn't have a reliable pass-catching tight end, or a number two receiver to count on.

The good news for the Vikings is they should get back Kevin Williams. His presence in the middle is going to bounce Forte outside a lot more. They also have Allen, Robinson, Griffen, and Floyd to rotate up front. If Minnesota want to keep this game close, this is the group that needs to have a big game.

Unfortunately, there are problems behind them. Greenway had big problems against the Lions, and there were some questions about him heading into the season. Erin Hernderson also had a bad game, and he might lose his job at middle linebacker if he continues to make mistakes. Forte and Bennett could do some damage in this area of the field.

First rounder Xavier Rhodes had a pretty good start to his rookie season. He didn't do anything special, but he didn't make any big mistakes either. Chris Cook and Josh Robinson round out a pretty good set of cornerbacks.  It should be a good matchup as they try to figure out how to defend Marshall, and also account for Jeffery's vertical game. Jeffery will face favorable coverage all year, and he had a career high 5 catches in Week 1, including 8 targets.

Bottom Line

The last time the Vikings won at Soldier Field was 2007, and it took 224 yards on the ground from AP. Granted, most of those games are irrelevant, but Ponder fared no better last year when they lost 28-10.

For this game, the two obvious keys to the game will be the Vikings DL vs the Bears OL, and Christian Ponder vs an All-Pro Bears secondary. AP will get his yards, but at the end of the day they need Ponder to step up. I have serious doubts whether or not Ponder is ready for that next step in his development, and Week 1 wasn't a good start.

Meanwhile, the Bears OL might be on the verge of the improvement.  I'm cautiously optimistic about this Cutler-Trestman combination, and I'm willing to roll the dice on a Week 2 win and cover. At worst, I expect the Bears defense to dominate the day.

NFL Pick: CHI -6.