One could argue that the Chicago Bears have an unfair advantage over the other 31 NFL teams and that the Tampa Bay Bucs are at a disadvantage compared to the rest of the league. Why? This Sunday’s game between the Bears and Bucs is the NFL’s annual matchup in London, and I can guarantee you that the crowd will be pro-Bears because they are simply a more recognizable name across the pond and their fans certainly travel much better than those of the Bucs.
So in a way the Bears will have nine home games this year and the Bucs just seven as they had to relinquish one at Raymond James Stadium, but they will be the “official” home team on Sunday.
Bears vs. Bucs Betting Storylines
Both teams enter this game coming off impressive home wins.
Despite missing their starting running back in LeGarrette Blount and one of their best defensive players in tackle Gerald McCoy, the Bucs slowed Drew Brees and the Saints in a 26-20 victory that put the Bucs back in first in the NFC South.
Brees threw for 383 yards, but the Bucs played a bend-don’t-break defense as usual and also picked him off three times. Tampa Bay shut down New Orleans’ rushing attack (just 70 yards) and forced four turnovers overall.
Some questioned if the Saints’ struggles were the result of an injury suffered by Head Coach Sean Payton, who calls the offensive plays but couldn't stand on the sideline after hurting his leg.
Earnest Graham was terrific in place of Blount, rushing for 109 yards and 17 carries and is expected to start again with Blount likely out a few more weeks. McCoy is questionable again this week.
Chicago played easily its best game of the season, beating the Vikings, 39-10, in the Sunday night game. Devin Hester scored his fifth career kickoff return touchdown (first since 2007) and 17th career return touchdown overall, which is two shy of Deion Sanders’ NFL record.
But by far the key was the protection of QB Jay Cutler. The Bears moved Lance Louis to right tackle in place of a benched Frank Omiyale and Chris Spencer took over at right guard and the unit played very well.
It also helped that Mike Martz almost always had a tight end and or running back help in pass protection and limited Cutler to short, quick drops. Cutler was remarkable, going 21-for-31 for 267 yards with two touchdowns and no picks. He still has never lost a game in his career with a rating better than 100. The Chicago defense held usual tormentor Adrian Peterson to only 39 yards.
Bears star defensive end Julius Peppers was doubtful at one point vs. the Vikings with a knee injury, but he had two sacks and will be fine for this one. The Bears’ five sacks against the Vikings were one more than they had in the previous four games combined. Hester left that game with a chest injury, but he also is expected to be fine.
The two teams are taking very different itineraries to London for this game. The Bucs have been there since Monday. Chicago won’t get there until early Friday morning London time. The Bucs wanted players to have plenty of time to get acclimated to the five-hour time difference. The Bears, however, are taking a similar approach to what the Bucs did in 2009, when they arrived in London late in the week and lost to the New England Patriots 35-7.
The weather has often been a factor in the previous five International Series games, but it looks to be quite nice Sunday evening local time (game still kicks at 1 p.m. Eastern).
These two teams haven’t met since 2008.
Bears vs. Bucs Betting Odds and Trends
Chicago is currently a one-point favorite with the total at 44, according to NFL odds. The Bears are 2-4 ATS this season and 0-2 away. Tampa Bay is 3-3 ATS and 1-1 on road (I know it is technically home, but the road number seems more apt). The ‘over’ is 4-2 this year for the Bucs (2-0 on road), 3-3 for Bears (0-2 on road).
The Bears have covered just once in their past 10 road games as a favorite of a field goal or less. The Bucs are 7-2 in past nine as a dog. The ‘over’ is 6-0 in Bears’ past six as a favorite. It is 5-0 in Bucs’ past five as a dog of a field goal or less.
NFL Picks: Bears vs. Bucs Betting Predictions
I think there’s little doubt that turnovers will play a big role here considering both Bucs QB Josh Freeman (six picks, as many as all of last season) and Cutler (four picks, three fumbles) both have shown a tendency to make mistakes under pressure.
Tampa Bay didn't commit a turnover in the Saints win and is 24-4 since 2002 when they don’t commit one. No team has created more takeaways than the Bears since 2004, but they didn't have one last week. And in three of their other five games they only have one. The minimum goal each week is two. Last season on the way to the NFC title game, the Bears had three or more takeaways in eight games and two takeaways in three others.
Chicago catches a big break with Blount’s injury—Graham is a fine role player but certainly not the playmaker like Blount. If the Bucs kick to Hester, they better fire their special teams coach. I think the Bears might actually be onto something with their new conservative offensive approach—when they switched to that last year they took off.
Take Chicago but also the "under" because both teams probably will be a bit sluggish because of the time difference. Plus if Hester is not kicked to and Blount is out as expected, arguably the two top offensive playmakers in the game won’t have much of an impact (Hester did catch a 48-yard score last week).
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.