The Chicago Bears are back on the national radar.
This team had disappeared during the disastrous regimes of Marc Trestman and John Fox, but they have returned to prominence under rookie head coach Matt Nagy.
The Bears (6-3), who have been a last-place team in the NFC North in recent years, are in first place as they approach their Week 11 Sunday night game against the Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1). If they get the best of Mike Zimmer's team, they will be in command of the division. If they lose the game at Soldier Field, the Vikings return to their expected position at the top of the division.
The Bears have put together a powerful defense led by ex-Raider Khalil Mack, and they have also gotten a lift from rookie linebacker Roquan Smith. Mack, who was acquired from Oakland shortly before the start of the season, has 7.0 sacks and four forced fumbles despite missing two games with an ankle sprain. Smith has 63 tackles and 3.0 sacks, and he seems to be getting better every game.
While the defense is better, the big change for the Bears is on offense. Nagy has opened up the playbook, and second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has responded. Trubisky is coming off a 355-yard, three-touchdown performance in Chicago's Week 10 win over the Detroit Lions, and he is throwing for 256.0 yards per game with 19 TDs and seven interceptions.
Trubisky has missed some wide-open throws and accuracy can be an issue at times, but he is also an excellent runner who has gained 320 yards (7.8 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.
The Vikings were expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year, but there were some early-season blips. The most shocking of those was a home loss to the Buffalo Bills, and they have also dropped games to the Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.
However, they are coming off a 10-sack game against the Lions, and quarterback Kirk Cousins has completed 71.3 percent of his passes with a 17-5 TD-interception ratio.
The Vikings also have key contributors in Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs and Latavius Murray, along with a dominant pass-rusher in Danielle Hunter (11.5 sacks).
This should be worthy of the prime-time slot, and look for the favored Bears (-2.5 points, per OddsShark) to win and cover the spread.
Week 11 Odds and Predictions
Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks (-3, 49 O/U): Seahawks and over
Carolina Panthers (-4, 51) at Detroit Lions: Panthers and over
Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens (NL): Ravens
Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons (-3, 48.5): Falcons and under
Houston Texans (-3, 42.5) at Washington Redskins: Redskins and over
Pittsburgh Steelers (-5.5, 47) at Jacksonville Jaguars: Steelers and under
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at New York Giants (-1.5, 52): Giants and over
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-2, 48.5): Titans and under
Denver Broncos at Los Angeles Chargers (-7, 46.5): Chargers and under
Oakland Raiders at Arizona Cardinals (-5, 40.5): Cardinals and under
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints (-8.5, 56): Eagles and over
Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears (-2.5, 45): Bears and over
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams (-3.5, 63): Rams and under
All point spread and total information courtesy of OddsShark.
Tampa Bay Bucs at New York Giants
This is one of those games that New York Giants season-ticket holders may not be counting down with bated breath.
The home team has had a miserable season, and their Monday night victory over the San Francisco 49ers was just their second win of the season.
The Bucs displayed an explosive offense in the early part of the season, but the defense has been brutal, and they have dropped six of their last seven games.
This game represents a chance for New York to put a winning streak together, but there may not be many opportunities for victory from this point forward.
One of the key issues for the Giants has been quarterback Eli Manning's inability to escape the pass rush. The New York offensive line has issues, but Manning has been slow to recognize where the rush is coming from and can't get away from those chasing him.
Even though the Giants have stellar wideout Odell Beckham Jr. and stud running back Saquon Barkley, the team has been below average.
The Bucs got an early lift from journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, but they are coming off a three-point effort against the Redskins. That's not going to get the job done, and the Giants may smell blood in the water.
New York wins and covers the short 1.5-point spread.
Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Rams
This is one of the games of the year, and it is notable for two reasons already. The game was scheduled to be played in Mexico City, but the game was moved from Estadio Azteca to Los Angeles (it was technically a Rams home game) because the field in Mexico was in disastrous shape.
The linemakers have slapped this game with a 63-point total, the highest in NFL history.
The reason for the latter factor is the explosive offense of both teams, as quarterback Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs and Jared Goff of the Rams are two of the best passers in the league.
There have been many QB duels in the league before, but the reason for the huge total is the state of the defenses. The Chiefs have been awful in that area all year, and they rank 30th against the pass and 29th against the run, while the Rams defense has struggled in its last two games against the New Orleans Saints and Seattle Seahawks.
Since the Chiefs may have the best offense in the league, the Rams are likely to have another poor defensive game.
Still, the college-level total scares us. If either team decides to slow down the game with a ground game or there are back-to-back punts at any point, the total could be in jeopardy.
If the game is close, ball control in the fourth quarter will also have a negative impact on the number of points scored.
As a result, we will swallow hard and take the under. Remember, a 32-30 final score will make us a winner, and that's just how this game could finish.
One of the regular-season prop bets concerns players that will find the end zone in a specific game. We are taking a look at the Tampa Bay-New York matchup, previewed earlier in this piece, and we turn to Oddschecker for the payoffs.
We don't like any of the Bucs options based on their three-point effort last week. They may find the end zone in this game, but we don't like the idea of putting money down on receivers like Mike Evans (11-10) or DeSean Jackson (15-8) because they have slowed down from their early season levels.
Saquon Barkley (2-5) and Odell Beckham Jr. (5-6) are both odds-on, and they would not provide much of a payoff. Instead, we like tight end Evan Engram at 2-1 to catch a TD pass from Eli Manning and bring home the money.