As much as I tried to avoid it, it is clearly time to address the Tim Tebow phenomenon in the NFL, so the Sunday preview this week is Tebow’s surging Broncos hosting the sliding Chicago Bears in a game that could set back passing in the league for years.
Actually, last week’s Chiefs vs. Bears “aerial shootout” between Tyler Palko and Caleb Hanie already may have accomplished that in terms of setting back passing. In one of the ugliest games of the season, Kansas City sent Chicago (7-5) to its second straight loss without Jay Cutler, 10-3, thanks to a Hail Mary TD pass at the end of the first half.
Denver (7-5), meanwhile, won its fifth straight to take over first place in the AFC West thanks to a tiebreaker advantage over co-leading Oakland. Tebow improved to 6-1 as a starter with his best passing game of the season, going 10-for-15 for a season-high 202 yards, two TDs and rating of 149.3 (career high) in a 35-32 come-from-behind win at Minnesota.
Perhaps most surprising was that Denver, the NFL’s leading rushing team, ran Tebow only four times. He carried the ball a record 22 times for a quarterback the week before at San Diego.
Bears at Broncos Betting Storylines
Chicago has been inept since Cutler’s injury, as Hanie has back-to-back games with at least three picks—he was 11-for-24 for 133 yards and no TDs for a QB rating of 23.8 last week. The Bears were 0-for-11 on third-down conversions.
Chicago coach Lovie Smith continues to say the team is behind Hanie because, really, what choice does he have? In fairness to Hanie, WR Roy Williams dropped what would have been a game-tying score that turned into an interception with about four minutes left vs. KC.
The Chicago offense took another huge blow on Sunday, losing RB Matt Forte in the first quarter to a sprained MCL. He’s out anywhere from two-to-six weeks, meaning Chicago might have to finish the regular season without both Forte and Cutler.
Forte led the NFL in yards from scrimmage, had accounted for 1,487 of the Bears’ 3,910 total yards (38 percent) and is three yards from his third 1,000-yard rushing season. Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell will split the snaps in Forte’s spot, with Bell more filling the role of receiver out of the backfield.
Denver’s big injury concern is likely Defensive Rookie of the Year Von Miller. He missed last week’s Vikings game after surgery early last week to repair ligament damage in his right thumb. Miller leads all rookies with 10.5 sacks this season and did practice in a limited manner last week with a cast on, so he could return.
As for Tebow, his legend continues to grow, with some saying he deserves NFL MVP consideration (obviously, that’s ridiculous and is a lock to go to Aaron Rodgers). Perhaps being back in Denver isn’t a good thing, as Tebow has led the Broncos to five straight road wins for the first time since John Elway in 1998.
Tebow’s two lowest-rated games as a passer since taking over this season have been at home, a close win over the Jets on a short week and a blowout loss to the Lions.
One thing you can say about Tebow is he clearly is a tremendous leader and he protects the ball, having thrown only one pick. He has improved his completion percentage in each of his last three starts, hitting on 66.7 percent vs. the Vikings, which was the first game in which he completed more than half of his passes.
Sunday was the Broncos’ third straight win in the closing seconds of the game and the fourth in Tebow’s seven starts.
Chicago and Denver haven’t met since 2007, when it was Rex Grossman vs. Cutler.
Bears at Broncos Betting Odds and Trends
Denver opened as a 3.5-point favorite with the total at 35.5 on NFL odds. Chicago is 6-6 ATS this season (0-2 w/out Cutler) and 2-3 ATS on road. Denver is 7-5 ATS and 1-4 ATS at home. Over/under records: CHI 7-5 (1-1 w/out Cutler), DEN 7-5.
The Bears are 6-1 ATS in past seven after allowing 15 points or less in previous game. Chicago is 1-4 ATS in past five as a dog. The Broncos are 4-0 ATS in past four following a win. But they are 3-7 ATS in past 10 after allowing 30 points or more in previous game.
The "over" is 5-1 in Bears’ past six December games. The "over" is 10-1 in Denver’s past 11 as a favorite.
NFL Predictions: Bears at Broncos Betting Preview
I’m still not a huge believer in Tebow or the Broncos. The only two teams they have beaten with a current winning record with Tebow starting are the Jets and Raiders, and neither may make the playoffs.
I would definitely say that the Bears will be the best defensive team Tebow has seen thus far and they have the type of speedy, sideline-to-sideline linebackers in Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs to stifle that Denver option offense.
And you can’t overstate how important Miller is to that Denver defense, as it allowed 489 yards to a bad Minnesota team starting a rookie QB and without Adrian Peterson.
With all that said, I just can’t take the Bears sans Cutler and Forte. Unless Devin Hester scores once on a return and the defense brings one back, how can Chicago reach 17 points? But that total is simply too low.
I’m taking Denver minus the points and the "over" (albeit not by much).
Doc Moseman is the owner of Doc’s Sports football picks Web site.