Sunday Night Football odds: Bears slim favorites hosting rival Vikings

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A first-place showdown in the NFC North is a study in contrast twice over, with a young Chicago Bears team trying to buck a long-term betting trend, while the more seasoned Minnesota Vikings try to maintain one.

The Bears, with the rookie head coach / second-year quarterback combo of Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky, are 2.5-point favorites on the Sunday Night Football odds against the Vikings with a 44.5-point total at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The first-place Bears are 5-1-1 against the spread in their last seven home games against teams with winning records, but since 2012 they are 4-6 straight-up and 3-6-1 ATS as a home favorite of 3.0 or fewer points. For what it might be worth, over that same span the Vikings are 8-2 both SU and ATS in 10 games as a road underdog, according to the OddsShark NFL Database.

Minnesota is also on a 6-0-1 SU run over its last seven games against NFC North counterparts.

The Vikings, who are 5-3-1 SU and 4-3-2 ATS, are firmly in the middle of the NFL pack in offensive proficiency after betting big on quarterback Kirk Cousins in free agency. Minnesota has had turnover issues and the fourth-ranked Bears defense, built around outside linebacker Khalil Mack, thrives at takeaways and creating opportunities for points off of turnovers.

Minnesota expects to have both of its top two wide receivers, Stefon Diggs (ribs) and Adam Thielen, healthy, as they try to break down a Bears pass defense whose 6.8 yards per attempt is the third-best in the league.

While a bye in Week 10 might have given Minnesota extra time to work on their ground game with Dalvin Cook and Latavius Murray, they are only 2-6 ATS in their last eight post-bye week games. The Bears lead the league with 3.6 yards per rush allowed, which mean Cousins will likely face his share of obvious passing downs.

The Bears, who are 6-3 SU and ATS on the season, are on roll behind Trubisky, a quarterback in the modern mold who can create havoc for defenses with his arms and legs. Whether the Bears continue a trend of being 8-2 ATS in their last 10 home games against the Vikings, a team they play twice a season, will come down to whether Trubisky will keep his wits about him against a fifth-ranked Vikings defense whose 31 sacks are second in the NFL.

The Bears have the benefit of having a cadre of receivers – Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller out wide; Trey Burton at tight end; and Tarik Cohen coming out of the backfield – whose varying skillsets could force Minnesota into a guessing game.

Bettors will have to decide whether the fact the Vikings allow a full yard per pass, 7.8 yards, more than the Bears speaks more to scheme or health. Defensive stalwarts such as nose tackle Linval Joseph, defensive end Everson Griffen, cornerback Xavier Rhodes, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Andrew Sendejo are all expected to be available after missing games. Despite those injuries, Minnesota played the run well, allowing 3.6 yards per rush, a close fourth in the league rankings.

The total has gone UNDER in eight of the Vikings’ last 10 games at night. The total has gone UNDER in seven of the Vikings’ last nine games against the Bears, with an average combined score of 38.33 points. The total has gone OVER in five of the Bears’ last six games, with an average combined score of 54.33 points.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or Spotify or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

NFL fans apparently don’t want an 18-game regular season

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In the news this week, as the league gets back to business for the 100th season of American professional football:

• The owners and players meet Wednesday in another formal bargaining session for a new CBA. A three-day meeting is scheduled between the NFL’s Management Council and the NFLPA’s Executive Committee (a 10-player unit including president Eric Winston and VPs Richard ShermanBenjamin Watsonand Adam Vinatieri). This will be the fourth bargaining session between owners and players this spring/summer, with the hope being the two sides can reach an agreement on a new bargaining agreement in 2019. (The CBA has two more seasons to run, and expires in the spring of 2021.)

Commissioner Roger Goodell recently told CNBC that it is “certainly our intent” to try to get a new CBA before the start of the season. In a round of calls Saturday, I got some optimism from a team source who felt the chance of making a deal on a new CBA was 50-50 this year if the union would stick with the current economic formula of the game; currently players get about 47 percent of the game’s gross revenue.

But I talked to a source on the player side who wasn’t nearly as hopeful, in part because he felt the players need a bigger cut of the pie to agree to a new deal two seasons out from the end of the current CBA. This person called the first three meetings positive, but baby steps toward a deal. I do know that there have not been any significant discussions on a change in the revenue split yet. Those talks will have to progress for anything to get done.

• The 18-game schedule is nowhere near a reality. I heard that one or two teams are interested in what the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday the NFL has proposed discussing with the players as part of the CBA talks: an 18-game regular-season schedule, with each player eligible to play a maximum of 16 games. This is not a new idea—it’s been thrown around at league meetings as one idea to expand the inventory and enrich the league’s TV deals for years.

“I can’t see it,” one plugged-in club official told me. “Imagine you pay to see Tom Brady and the Patriots, and the Patriots announce that week it’s one of the two games he’ll sitting out this year. Now you’re seeing Brian Hoyer throw to some practice-squad guy. I don’t see any way we could ever do that.”

I’ve always thought in an era when the reduction of head trauma is job one in everything the league does, the only way the NFL could even consider 18 games is with teams playing players a maximum of 16 weeks. But the details make it too hard. How would a team divvy up the starts, say, for the starting offensive line? Would they figure the starting tackles should play every week with the starting quarterback, and thus doom the backup in his two games to a run-for-your-life offensive scheme?

The continued pursuit—or the continuing broaching—of an 18-game schedule is such a short-sighted and greedy thing. The NFL paid each team $275 million out of the league share of total revenue in 2018, and teams paid about $215 million annually in player costs (cap plus benefits). After that, teams can reap major raw profits over what they did in local team revenue.

Someone in the NFL seems determined to kill the most golden of geese by pursuing, even in a passing way, this stupid idea. Greed, in this case, is not good.

• Fans don’t want 18 games either. I put out a Twitter poll Saturday and Sunday, asking if readers preferred a 16 or 18-game schedule. Of 13,533 voters, 79 percent said 16. Great comment from a Vikings fan, Jason Altland: “If I pay out the nose for decent tickets in Baltimore or New York to see my Vikings, I want to see all the healthy stars play. I don’t want to pay and end up with a [Stefon] Diggs or {Adam] Thielen bye game.”

Pro Football Talk also polled its readers over the weekend about the 16/18-game idea, with more options than I offered … and 62 percent said they favored 16 games—with 8 percent saying they favored 18 with a maximum of 16 games per player per season.

Read more from Football Morning in America here

Why Melvin Gordon’s holdout with the Chargers could get ugly

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I think this Melvin Gordon-Chargers impasse could get ugly. The Chargers running back, entering his fifth season, could hold out from training camp into the season if he doesn’t get either a new contract or a significant raise from his $5.6-million salary in 2019. There’s a few reasons the holdout could last a while, starting with the fact that Chargers GM Tom Telesco, who grew up in the Bill Polian front office of the Colts, is not afraid to take a hard line. But mostly, it’s about what happens in recent years when teams have either paid runners or drawn a hard line with them. Examples:

• Le’Veon Bell balked at the Steelers’ offer of $14.5 million on the franchise tag last year. James Conner wasn’t quite as productive as vintage Bell—270 touches, 1,470 yards, 13 touchdowns—but he was close. And Conner, who made $754,572 last year, cost 1/19th of what Bell would have commended. No one in Pittsburgh is bemoaning the loss of Bell, though he’s a great player.

• Todd Gurley is a great back too, and the Rams paid a guaranteed $45 million last year. They’ll say they aren’t regretting what they paid Gurley, but an odd and persistent knee problem last year limited him to 88 carries in the Rams’ last nine games—including a 35-yard rushing performance in the Super Bowl. The Rams picked up C.J. Anderson off the street in December, and in five games, he rushed for 488 yards.

• David Johnson of the Cardinals responded to his new $13-million-a-year deal on the eve of the 2018 season by rushing for 940 yards (3.6 yards per carry).

• Devonta Freeman signed with Atlanta for $22 million guaranteed in 2017. He’s missed 16 of the Falcons’ last 32 regular-season games and averaged 58 yards per game in the 16 he’s played.

In 30 games over his two NFL seasons, Charger understudy Austin Ekeler has proven elusive and reliable, averaging 5.3 yards per rush and 10.3 yards per catch, with just two lost fumbles. I don’t think Telesco will be afraid to take the slings and arrows of a holdout. So if you’re drafting your fantasy team very early, I’d give a long look at Ekeler.

Read more from Football Morning in America here