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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Sunday Night’s TV tussle between the Houston Texans and the Chicago Bears will be one of the most bet games in Las Vegas this NFL season. Sports bettors tend to fall in love with Chicago any time things are going well for the Bears. The fact that this is a potential Super Bowl preview being played on prime time television makes it even better.

Have you decided who YOU are going to bet on?

You’ll see in a moment that many competing factors are in play here. And, that was even before weather forecasts surfaced calling for rain and very strong winds. Who’s best suited to play in THOSE conditions? Let’s run through our indicator data and look for edges the markets may have missed

HOUSTON TEXANS at CHICAGO BEARS (8:20 p.m. on NBC)

Las Vegas Spread: Chicago by 1, total of 40

This is a very interesting set of numbers. On the team side, you now that home field advantage is typically worth three points in the NFL…sometimes more in Chicago if weather is helping the home side. Oddsmakers and sharp money have settled on Chicago by just one point even though the public has expressed monetary love for the Bears this season! That tells you very strongly that oddsmakers to some degree, and sharps to an even stronger degree, believe Houston is the better team by a meaningful margin. This line would be Houston by about two points on a neutral field, or five points down in Texas.

The Over/Under has dropped four points from its opener. Some of that was because it was just a bad opener! These are two of the best defenses in the league by a variety of measures. A total that high on this slow field (tall grass, swirling winds as a standard condition) was nuts. Then, the forecast started calling for very strong winds and a good chance of rain…and sharps bet it down even further. Has the line moved too far at this point? Or, are we looking at conditions that would suggest a 17-16 type game and there’s still at least a touchdown of value.

WON-LOST RECORDS (schedule strength according to USA Today)

Chicago: 7-1 (29th ranked schedule)

Houston: 7-1 (26th ranked schedule)

Those are very important numbers in terms of the Super Bowl races. Both teams are 7-1, and seem like they’re having dominant seasons. Both teams have played VERY weak schedules, which makes it easier to create the illusion of dominance when it’s not really there. There’s a lot to like about both of these teams. Keep in mind that it’s possible BOTH are relative pretenders who have been abusing easy schedules. Playoff caliber, certainly…they’ve been clearly superior to non-playoff teams! Equalizing the schedules might keep each “in the pack” of championship threats rather than being at the head of the pack.

TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL

Chicago: +16

Houston: +8

If you’ve been following pro football this year, you know that Chicago has been getting very rich off opposing turnovers. The defense really does emphasize this. But, when you play a very weak schedule, the cheap points you get off field position can create illusions about overall team quality. How will the Bears perform when NOT enjoying a turnover edge? They’re not playing Jacksonville or Tennessee this week. Of course, neither is Houston! Houston has also exploited this category to a degree against a similarly soft schedule. All of this may cancel out head-to-head, but could matter in the postseason against opponents who have good fundamentals. We will say this…Chicago looks to be better at forcing turnovers…and this game is likely to be played in “turnover weather.”

OFFENSIVE STATS

Chicago: 324.4 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play

Houston: 371.8 yards-per-game on 5.5 yards-per-play

Big edge for Houston here in terms of the basics of moving the ball. Chicago scoreboards have lit up because of defensive and cheap points…but Jay Cutler himself isn’t setting the world on fire at quarterback. Matt Schaub of Houston is doing a much better job of moving the chains and getting the job done when needed. That’s almost 50 yards a game for Houston in their offensive edge against what have graded out to be relatively even schedules.

DEFENSIVE STATS

Chicago: 318.1 yards-per-game on 5.0 yards-per-play

Houston: 286.1 yards-per-game on 4.8 yards-per-play

Had you expected that? Houston has the better defense! This is why the line opened at less than a field goal, and why sharps didn’t bet Chicago at the cheap price. Houston is about 50 yards better per game on offense and about 30 yards better per game on defense. Houston owns the per-play edges on both sides of the ball too. Hey, BOTH of these defenses are elite. Chicago’s numbers are very strong. It’s just that Houston’s are better.

MOST RECENT BOXES

HOUSTON 21, BUFFALO 9

Total Yardage: Buffalo 308, Houston 374

Rushing Yards: Buffalo 78, Houston 118

Passing Stats: Buffalo 25-38-0-230, Houston 19-27-0-256

Turnovers: Buffalo 1, Houston 0

Third Downs: Buffalo 18%, Houston 36%

Vegas Line: Houston by 11, total of 48

Considering the opponent was Buffalo, this wasn’t a particularly impressive performance even if Houston did eke out a cover. The Texans have been workmanlike in many of their wins over bad AFC teams. You get the sense they’re holding something back for the games that matter most. If they’re NOT doing that, then fans will have some things to worry about in January. Tonight will be a great test in that light. Houston did blowout Baltimore a couple of weeks ago…but that was a shorthanded Baltimore team that was limping toward it’s bye week. Sunday Night in Chicago is going to have a true playoff feel to it.

CHICAGO 51, TENNESSEE 20

Total Yardage: Chicago 358, Tennessee 333

Rushing Yards: Chicago 160, Tennessee 159

Passing Stats: Chicago 19-26-0-198, Tennessee 20-35-1-174

Turnovers: Chicago 1, Tennessee 5

Third Downs: Chicago 43%, Tennessee 25%

Vegas Line: Chicago by 5, total of 43

Here’s what we mean about cheap points for the Bears. You don’t normally score 51 points on just 358 yards. This wasn’t a statistical blowout. It was a turnover blowout where a good NFC team embarrassed a bad AFC team. Chicago is likely to keep doing this to bad teams. Can they step up and produce against a league power? You’ll recall how sluggish they looked against Green Bay in another high profile TV game.

BEST EXPECTATION

Things are always dicey when you’re trying to outline a “best expectation” for a team that relies so much on forcing turnovers. Should the Bears exploit the weather and their ballhawking defense to the fullest, then this line is too small and they’re going to win by at least a touchdown. Houston doesn’t play in bad weather much. Chicago may be mad that it’s too WARM! Wind and rain will certainly help the defenses disrupt what the offenses are doing.

But, this may be the night when the nation recognizes what the stats are saying. Houston is the better team on both sides of the ball. Houston has the better quarterback. Chicago is extremely mortal when not forcing turnovers. They almost lost on this field to Carolina a couple of weeks ago. Houston is a lot better than Carolina.

JIM HURLEY has been studying this game very closely all week. He tweaked the simulation software on his computer program when the weather forecast changed. He may step out on either the side or the total for his NFL clients. Make a few clicks to purchase the Sunday slate with your credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for more details on today’s action and seasonal packages.

Back with you Monday with a stat preview of Kansas City-Pittsburgh, as we preview every NFL prime time game on these pages. We hope you visit the NOTEBOOK every day to find out what’s REALLY happening in the world of sports. Then link up daily with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!

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