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.

Why Texans need to trade for Redskins’ Trent Williams now

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Three Things I Think

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Three quick thoughts:

1. I think my everlasting memory of this trip will be watching J.J. Watt steam in from Aaron Rodgers’ left side on a live pass-rush drill (well, full-speed, but no hitting the quarterback in a camp practice) in the Texans-Packers joint practices. He jousted with left tackle David Bakhtiari, dipped to the outside, got half a step on the left tackle, and sprinted at Rodgers. Watt meant it. As did Rodgers, who sprinted up the right side and evaded Watt. First time Watt ever stepped foot in Wisconsin to play pro football (though a practice), and he got emotional about it, and it meant a lot to him. Two Hall of Fame players going at it on a Monday morning in northeast Wisconsin. Loved it.

2. I think the Texans need to trade for Washington left tackle Trent Williams, who is unhappy in Washington and threatening to not play this year. Houston’s time is now. Watt turns 30 this year. So much of this team is in its prime. They could get three or four more years out of Williams, who turns 31 next Monday, and he’d strengthen the only true weak point of this team.

3. I think I marvel at DeAndre Hopkins and found it compelling to just watch him practice in Green Bay. He even dropped a pass over the middle. Consider that last year he became the first receiver since drop stats were kept—at least 13 years—to catch at least 110 balls without a drop. “Why do you think people don’t really know that?” he asked me after practice, a bit annoyed. I don’t know, but I do know Hopkins is the best wideout in football by almost any measure. “There are games, like against Philly last year, when he gets his jersey ripped off,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “Teams are so physical with him. What makes him special is so many plays are contested. People are draped on him, and he comes down with it.” With wideout injuries last year, Houston saw a weird three-man coverage at times on Hopkins, “cut coverage,” O’Brien called it, with a linebacker undercutting him near the line of scrimmage before he would get out in the open field and face two cover guys. I asked Hopkins how he worked on his hands as a kid. Jerry Rice tossed and caught bricks with his dad, a mason. Hopkins: “This is something I haven’t told many people, because it’s embarrassing,” he said. “We always used to catch flies with our hands. I was the only one who could catch ‘em. One-handed, two-handed. I actually studied flies. I’d watch ‘em. How do you catch flies? They fly up. If I can catch that, I can catch anything.”

Why Antonio Brown is crazy to fight NFL over helmet issue

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Regarding the Mike Silver/Adam Schefter-reported stories Friday about the melodrama surrounding the Oakland receiver—or, I should say, the receiver employed by Oakland who is not currently playing for Oakland—the overriding thought I have is a simple one. The NFL and the NFLPA have teamed up to research helmet safety and helmet technology through exhaustive, independent studies since 2016. All players were told in 2017 they’d have to wear new helmets—league and union-approved—by 2018, with a one-year grandfather period pushing the absolute deadline to don correct helmets to 2019. I did a podcast about the helmet in May, and over the previous seven months talked to 14 players about the helmet issue. Several of the players weren’t crazy about making the change, including 49ers tackle Joe Staley, who’d worn the same model of helmet for 15 years (though it had been updated at least once) and admitted to me he would not have changed unless forced.

“It’s something that needs to be done,” Staley told me last fall, “and I think I’m a perfect case study of why it needs to be done. I wouldn’t have changed my helmet unless they made these rules changes.”

For Brown to be fighting this is just crazy. According to Schefter, Brown had a two-hour grievance hearing Friday with an independent arbitrator, arguing that he should be able to wear a helmet he has been wearing for more than 10 years. (That, in itself, makes the helmet illegal; the NFL mandates that helmets worn for at least 10 years be replaced, regardless of their condition.)

There isn’t much the league and players union agree on without reservation, but the current helmet protocol, the outgrowth of a $60-million investment by NFL owners in 2016 to improve helmet technology and reduce head trauma in players, is one of those things. If Brown wins, he would be the lone player out of 2,016 active and practice-squad players in the NFL this season who would be wearing a helmet—the Schutt Air Advantage, in his case—not approved for use by NFL and NFLPA testers. And this helmet is so old that it’s not even been tested by the league and the union. I’m told unquestionably it would fail any test for helmet safety, as would virtually any helmet not made in the last four or five years.

A few other thoughts on this nutty story:

• Brown has to grow up, or he’s got to get some help. Someone in his life, if anyone has a scintilla of influence over him (and that is in doubt), needs to say to him: The Raiders could void your contract for this behavior, and you’d be out $30.1 million in guaranteed money, and what team would pay you even a fraction of that after? You walked out on the Steelers and then turned into a child on the Raiders and boycotted them too—in the span of nine months!

• The Steelers have to be the happiest team in the league right now. They don’t have a great player, but they do have a sane, undivided training camp.

Jon Gruden has to defend Brown, which he did Saturday night after the Raiders’ preseason win over the Rams. But anyone who knows Gruden knows he’s got to be frustrated over his best offensive weapon being disabled because of the freaky frostbite injury and fuming at Brown being AWOL because the NFL is trying to make football safer for him.

• To be a fly on GM Mike Mayock’s wall. He’s a football purist, and his first season piloting a storied franchise might be sent over a cliff by the weirdest controversy in years that has incredibly little to do with real football.

• Mike Silver’s 20-tweet thread detailing the Brown story Friday was exquisite. Best football thread I’ve seen, full of rich detail and information about the dysfunctional Brown/Raiders/helmet thing. What was great about Silver’s long social screed: It was essentially an 800-word news story, broken in real time on Twitter instead of being broken on NFL.com with a Twitter link to the story. Whatever the reason for doing it that way (NFL.com I’m sure now regrets the loss of traffic on a heavily read story), I found it easy to digest just by scrolling up on my phone. Silver had the helmet stuff solid, and this piece of information that can’t go on in team meetings: “Brown, according to witnesses, typically glances at the screens of several tablets and his smart phone during meetings, distracting himself by engaging in activities which include perusing his bank accounts and ‘liking’ photos on Instagram.” Social media is still the Wild West, but Silver showed you can break news with a story broken into 20 easy bites.

• “Hard Knocks” is either going to show a slice of this Brown story this week, with some real video and team reaction, or it’s Pravda. And I know Ken Rodgers of NFL Films, the curator of this show. He will want to show the real story, very much.

I’ve been around a lot of crazy stories in the NFL in my 35 years covering the league. But the last nine months in the life of Antonio Brown is right up there.


One more thing from Kearse: “The NFL changed the rules to prevent more head injuries and more head contact. But at the end of the day it’s a full-contact sport and guys are kind of making quick decisions, and you want to be able to have a product that’s going to be able to protect you. I think the NFL wants this league to last. They’re going to have to continue to keep digging deeper to improve. It’s an uncontrolled environment where things can happen and for me personally, I want to have the best protecting me out there.”

Someone’s got to get to Brown, and fast.