Detroit at Chicago
Sunday, 10 am PT - FOX
CRIS Opener: Chicago -1.5 O/U 46.5
CRIS Current: Chicago -1 O/U 46
The Lions are 5-2 since their 1-7 start. Two of their losses were complete screw jobs. Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary pass to beat them following a tough penalty call on the previous play was brutal. So was their loss at Seattle, with a dubious non-call at the goal line in the final seconds on Monday Night Football. Overall, Detroit is a better team than their record would indicate. That’s not the case for the Bears.
Detroit has gotten much, much better since offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was fired mid-season, replaced by Jim Bob Cooter. It’s surely worth noting that Matthew Stafford has a 16-2 TD-INT ratio and a 108.7 QB rating since Cooter took over, in sharp contrast to his 13-11 TD-INT ratio and his 84.1 QB rating under Lombardi.
The Lions have won on the road at Green Bay and New Orleans; a veteran team capable of taking care of business in hostile environments. And frankly, I’m not convinced that Solider Field is a particularly hostile environment these days. Homefield edge? Not so much! Chicago is 1-6 SU, 1-6 ATS at Soldier Field this year, the lone win coming by two points against Oakland, in the mother of all bad spots for the Raiders.
This is not a new problem for the Bears. My numbers show Chicago with a 8-22-1 ATS mark at home since the start of the 2011 campaign, four consecutive losing seasons ATS on this field. In fact, you’d have to go back to the Bears 2006 Super Bowl team with Rex Grossman and Lovie Smith to find the last time Chicago enjoyed a season with a winning ATS mark at home. This is NOT a team that has any significant homefield edge, yet the markets factor it into the equation anyway.
And there’s another factor that is not reflected in this pointspread – a spread based on season long results and stats -- but is very meaningful in my handicap of this game. John Fox was just hired in Chicago this past offseason; safe and secure in his job (for now, at least). But Jim Caldwell is right on the precipice, a coach who could get a shot at redemption next year or a guy who could get fired next Monday morning. Let’s not forget that Caldwell led a team of perennial losers with one playoff appearance in 13 years to an 11 win season and a playoff berth last year.
And it’s very clear from reading player quotes in the locker room that Caldwell has the respect of his team. To a man, the Lions want him back, and will play their tails off here in an effort to save his job. Star WR and team leader Calvin Johnson: “Love him. Everybody in the locker room would probably say the same thing. He commands respect but he doesn’t have to do much. It’s just his character. Guys gravitate towards [him]. Easily one of my favorite coaches I’ve had come through.”
Johnson gave credit for the team’s second half turnaround to their coach’s ability to keep the team together during tough times earlier. “Guys see that he’s a great person. He’s a great coach and guys are going to fight for that, you know. We didn’t start like we wanted to but we’ve been doing our best to finish the best that we can and it’s just him being him. He doesn’t have to do anything extraordinary. He’s a great coach and just the way he communicates to you, not that he demands respect but he gets respect.”
Chicago snapped a three game skid with a win against the free falling Buccaneers last week, but much of the credit for that victory has to go to Tampa’s litany of mistakes. Chicago was outgained by 2.2 yards per PLAY in that contest, but they were +3 in turnovers; playing a rare turnover free game. Love Smith’s post-game quote: "This is a better football team. Today we didn't play our best ball." In other words, it was more Tampa bad than Chicago good. I’m not expecting Detroit to be ‘bad’ this week!