Vikings-Lions, Bears-Texans in Big Week for NFC North
The big bad NFC North returns to action this weekend with a pair of games that could have huge implications as we enter the second half of the season.
First, Detroit travels to Minnesota in a game that could theoretically eliminate either side from playoff contention. Then, in the biggest game of the week, the Bears host the AFC’s hottest commodity, the Houston Texans.
Detroit Lions (4-4) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4)
Sunday 1 PM ET
Detroit (4-4, 2-3 road) visits Minnesota (5-4, 4-1 home) this Sunday looking to avenge a loss to the Vikings earlier in the season.
Following the 20-13 defeat on September 30, the Lions’ fortunes have improved and now the team arrives in Minneapolis having won three of the last four games. Minnesota’s fortunes meanwhile have taken a turn for the worse. The Vikings enter this game having lost three of the last four.
Despite leading the league in passing yards (307.2 YPG), the Lions will look to once again take advantage of the running game, which combined for 149 yards last week in Jacksonville. A big part of the reason the Lions have such lofty passing numbers is because the running game has been largely ineffective leaving the team to chase leads, but last week’s performance could spell a change in the tide.
Minnesota too will be looking to exploit the running game. Averaging 145.4 YPG on the ground – 106.3 of which belong to Adrian Peterson, the current league leader in yards gained – the Vikings’ running game makes up for a lackluster passing game that is ranked No. 30 in the league with just 188.6 YPG.
Oddsmakers have Minnesota as favorites (-2½) at home. The Vikings have lost just one game at home this season, but that was the last game at home (against Tampa Bay). Detroit’s 2-3 road record may not be awe-inspiring, but the Lions have won their last two road games. This has the potential to be an upset win for the Lions.
Neither Detroit (4-4 ATS) nor Minnesota (4-4-1 ATS) has definitively handled the spread this season. Tellingly, Detroit has covered the spread in every game since losing to Minnesota, giving the Lions the advantage here.
The over/under is 47. The two teams are averaging a combined 46.7 PPG and conceding a combined 45.4 PPG so this could be close. The total has gone over in six Lions games this season, and seven of the last 10 all told. Minnesota has seen the total go over just four times this season. Last season, both meetings between the sides exceeded 47 points, but the six meetings prior to that did not. Bettors may be advised to take the under this week.
Houston Texans (7-1) at Chicago Bears (7-1)
Sunday 8:20 PM ET
Sunday Night Football features a huge clash between AFC-leading Houston (7-1, 3-0 road) and Chicago (7-1, 4-0 home), currently looking to keep within striking distance of the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons.
Both teams have come under a certain amount of criticism thanks to light schedules. Chicago has beaten just one team with a winning record (Indianapolis) while Houston has beaten two (Denver, Baltimore). Both sides fell to the Green Bay Packers, considered the best yardstick to compare the sides against.
Such criticism will end for at least one of these teams on Sunday night.
In many ways the Texans and Bears reflect each other. Both have built their offense around running the football and serving up tough defense. Houston has a slight advantage when it comes to passing the football however, but the Bears’ rampant defense – which has returned a record seven interceptions for touchdowns in the past eight games – is an offensive threat in its own right.
Betting opened with the two sides being considered even. A marginal preference (-1) now sides with the home team Bears. Historically speaking, the two sides have only met twice (2004, 2008), both encounters of which were won by Chicago. Heading into this one, there really is little to separate the sides.
Houston (6-2 ATS) has a slight advantage over Chicago (5-3 ATS) in terms of the spread however, but that’s hardly enough to be considered decisive.
The over/under is 43. Consider this: Houston and Chicago have the second and third highest scoring offenses in the league respectively (behind New England) so the total surely has to go over. The total has indeed gone over in four Texans and five Bears games this season. That being said, the two sides are also ranked in the top five for opponents’ points, which means defense could get the better of this game.
Green Bay Takes a Week Off
Whilst Minnesota and Detroit beat each other up, and as the Bears face a tough game against the Texans, the Green Bay Packers (6-3) will take a bye week to prepare for the second half of the season.
After a shaky 2-3 start to the season, Green Bay has gone on to win four straight and are beginning to look like the Packers we expected to see this season.
Mike McCarthy, Aaron Rodgers, and Co. will be confident returning to the field next weekend in the knowledge that five of the remaining seven games on the Pack schedule are against divisional opponents, starting with a trip to the Detroit Lions on November 18. Green Bay still has the chance to win the NFC North, although Chicago is still favored (2/3) to do so. A win then for Houston this weekend wouldn’t go amiss, as far as the Packers are concerned.