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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Friday, August 24, 2012 at 1:06 PM

Heading into tonight’s nationally televised NFL Preseason game matching the Chicago Bears and the NY Giants on CBS, it’s very odd that virtually NOBODY in the mainstream media is talking about the Bears. One of the media’s past darlings has fallen completely off the radar even though they’re clearly a threat to make a run at the playoffs this year.

It’s true that Chicago finished third in the NFC North last year, and may well again finish third in the NFC North this year. Just don’t forget that:

*The Bears were 7-3 last year when Jay Cutler was lost for the season with an injury.

*That 7-3 start included double digit home victories over Atlanta, Detroit, and San Diego (two playoff teams and an 8-8 finisher); as well as a road win at Philadelphia when Michael Vick was healthy.

*The three losses all came at the hands of playoff teams. Chicago lost to Green Bay (15-1), New Orleans (13-3), and at Detroit (10-6).

*That all adds up to something that is very clearly Wildcard caliber. Chicago may not have measured up to the truly elite NFC teams like Green Bay and New Orleans, but they split with eventual Wildcard Detroit and beat a Philadelphia team that was playoff caliber when Vick was healthy.

What’s changed from last year to this year? NOT MUCH! There are some minor tweaks here and there in terms of true impact personnel. The most important thing right now is that Jay Cutler is healthy again. He’s not a superstar quarterback. But, he did cut down on his interception rate last year…and was finally showing signs that he understood how to manage a game without blowing up his own offense with poor decisions.

Still, the media is in love with the NY Jets even though they haven’t figured out how to score yet…still hyping the likes of Green Bay and New England because fantasy viewers love high scoring teams…and focusing on all the rookie quarterbacks with sizzle instead of veteran quarterbacks who got boring.

It will be interesting to see how Chicago matches up with the defending Super Bowl champion Giants tonight because the teams come at you with similar styles. Both teams value defense first and foremost. Neither of these teams plays like Green Bay, New Orleans, or New England. But, THIS style beat THOSE teams in the postseason last year…with the Giants taking out Green Bay and New England while defensive minded San Francisco beat New Orleans.

Heck, the Giants went the distance last year after going 9-7 in the regular season. Chicago was on pace to be better than 9-7 when Cutler went out. We’re not saying Chicago should be on your short list of potential Super Bowl winners this season. Just remember that things were going well before Cutler got hurt…and not having a legitimate backup quarterback just KILLED the team during their 1-5 finish.

Don’t enter 2012 thinking about that 1-5 finish. Caleb Hanie isn’t even on the roster any more, and Josh McCown is behind newcomer Jason Campbell (by way of Oakland) on the depth chart. Chicago was a 60% cover team last year with Cutler, and it would have been 70% but Carolina scored a garbage time TD for a back door cover with four seconds to go. For years, you couldn’t find betting value on the Bears because they were such a public team. The public has fallen out of love with Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler, which may provide multiple opportunities to take advantage in the coming season.

You definitely have multiple opportunities to take advantage of our VSM handicapping expertise TONIGHT on a busy night of dress rehearsal football. Among the highlights:

*Kelso Sturgeon is releasing his 50-Unit NFL Preseason UPSET OF THE YEAR on the Friday card. You won last week’s 50-Unit play on Carolina over Miami, as the Panthers jumped out to a huge early lead and coasted to the cover. Pay just $35 with your major credit card for tonight’s stunner. Vegas has the wrong team favored!

*Jim Feist is releasing his official NFL Preseason GAME OF THE YEAR tonight, fresh on the heels of last week’s TOTAL OF THE YEAR winner on the Over in Seattle/Denver, and his CFL GAME OF THE YEAR on BC over Saskatchewan. Jim’s biggest play of the postseason is yours for just $25.

*Wayne Root swept the board again last night in exhibition football with winners on Green Bay and Baltimore. Get tonight’s top football and baseball bets for just $25.

*Tony Salinas has another of his patented Shocker of the Week specials in the NFL this evening. He was won last week with Jacksonville over New Orleans. The man has made a fortune fading the public for decades, and he’s going to do it again tonight! Pay just $20 for the play that Tony bet the biggest himself today at his favorite Vegas sportsbook.

Great football action continues Saturday with Indianapolis-Washington in the afternoon on the NFL Network (Luck vs. RGIII) and Houston-New Orleans in prime time on CBS. That means more must-have masterpieces from our Vegas legends!

Be sure you visit the VSM home page every day for big play announcements. Additional information is available on the “Buy Picks” page, including details on full season packages for all of our industry legends. Hot handicappers are always waiting to hear from you!

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