New England Patriots at Chicago Bears
Sunday, December 12th, 2010; 4:15 p.m. EST
Line: New England -3
After knocking off the Jets in spectacular fashion last week, the Patriots have won nine of their last 10 games. They are widely considered to be the best team in the AFC and are gunning for another Super Bowl. Though linebacker Brandon Spikes tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, the Patriots are unlikely to see too big of a setback, as they have proven time and time again that their success doesn’t stem from any individual (with the exception of Tom Brady, of course.)
They will take on the 9-3 Bears, who are currently in sole possession of first place in their division as well. The Bears got off to a fantastic start and were temporarily shaken before bouncing back to win their last five games in a row. The offense is back and the Bears seem to have a team that can compete on both sides of the ball once again.
Keys to the Game
- Tom Brady could make a case for being the MVP of the NFL even if he was hurt on the first play of the game this week and didn’t return the rest of the season. He hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 6. In that span, he has amassed 19 touchdowns. Brady is playing the best football in his life and has posted back-to-back games with four touchdowns and over 325 yards passing, with one of those games coming against the Jets’ defense.
- This week, he faces what could quite possibly be a bigger challenge. The Bears pride themselves on being an elite run-stopping defense, but they could give Tom Brady problems. Julius Peppers is impossible to block one-on-one. He has had five sacks in his last three games and continues to free up guys like Israel Idonije to make plays. Brady isn’t going to be able to enjoy his life in the pocket with No. 90 constantly on the prowl.
- The emmergence of BenJarvus Green-Ellis is making the entire Patriots offense run more smoothly. The Law Firm enjoyed a multiple touchdown day last week, giving him five in the last three weeks. The Bears are a great run defense, but with Brady under center it is easy to see how a team could see Green-Ellis as an afterthought.
- The Bears defense was never shaken, even when they were struggling. The resurrection of the offense—Jay Cutler in particular—has led to the dominance they have seen since the bye week. Cutler is being given more time and seems to get the ball out of his hands quicker. The offense is competing again and if Cutler can continue his solid play and limit costly turnovers, the Bears have a solid shot at this one.
Who covers on Sunday?
Deion Branch vs. Bears Secondary
- Deion Branch is not Randy Moss, but he has become a reliable outlet for Tom Brady. Wes Welker is most dangerous when there is a dominant presence on the outside. While Branch might not be dominant, he plays a critical role in the Patriots defense. Green-Ellis gives them a solid running game and allows Branch to stretch the field. They have a complete offense and if Branch can continue his recent production, the Patriots could run away with this one.
- The Bears aren’t vulnerable in the passing game, but it is where the Patriots have the best chance of attacking the Bears. Branch is going to be instrumental in dissecting the the Bears secondary and if he gets going, the rest of the receiving corps, including tight end Aaron Hernandez, will follow suite.
The Patriots might be the best team in the NFL. They are also undefeated at home this season. Unfortunately for the Pats, they aren’t playing at home. They are playing in Chicago, where the Bears and their fans are looking to lock up the NFC North and head into the playoffs. I’m taking the Bears in this one. They are getting three points, which makes it even better, but I’m picking them on the money line.
Free NFL Pick: Chicago +3