(Forte & Cutler can combine to sting Falcons)
In the NFC the top two seeds from their side of the playoffs meet as the Atlanta Falcons travel to Chicago to face the Bears at Soldier Field. Both teams are credible championship contenders with the Falcons having some great offensive weapons in receiver Roddy White & running back Michael Turner backed up by decent quarterback Matt Ryan, however on defense they don't appear to have the players available to make game changing plays. The Bears have traditionally been all about the running game & this season should be no different with a defense that is awesome at stopping it & ason offense rushing means keeping the ball out of Jay Cutler's meaning he throws fewer interceptions (most in NFL since he started). Matt Forte is developing into an elite runing back & his ability to catch as well as run means he gets plenty of chances to score (3 receiving TDs last year) & he should get some plays against the Falcons who gave up 4.6 yards per run attempt last year. The Bears are unsettled with key players not being able to agree terms on extended contracts but it's amazing what a big win can do for morale & we think they can shut down the Falcons running game, forcing them to pass where the Bears secondary can show their worth & the Bears should be bet at 11/10 with Forte to score the 1st touchdown at 8/1 (Bet365).
In the AFC North the fiercest, most physical rivalry in the NFL kicks off again with the Baltimore Ravens hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that could be key, even at this stage of the season in deciding the divisional winners. The Steelers have recent advantage winning 5 of the last 7 matchups but there have been close games with both last years regular season games decided by 3 points, with both sides difficult to run against (ranked 1st & 5th against the run in 2010). Pittsburgh are outright phenomenal against the run conceding over 400 less yards last year than any other team, that is in part because teams give up the rush against them & just pass & they are certainly vulnerable to elite passing units, however the Ravens are not elite by any means. Boldin & new receiver Lee Evans are both 30 & Joe Flacco, whilst a good quarterback, has a career passer rating against the Steelers of a very poor 59.2. Roethelisberger can continue his fine record against the Ravens by keeping the ball away from interception machine Ed Reed by using his full quota of wide receivers & that could mean young Antonio Brown is value at 25/1 with Skybet to be 1st TD scorer. The Steelers should also be backed at 21/20 to mantain their advantage over the Ravens.
Elsewhere we think the best bets lie with the Titans to beat the woeful Jacksonville Jaguars, who cut their starting quarterback David Garrard at the start of this week, & our Super Bowl fancies the Houston Texans to cover the -9 point spread with their high powered offense against the 'Peyton Manning-less' Colts. The Colts running backs Joseph Addai & Donald Brown are very ordinary & without Manning they'll struggle through the air, Manning's injury will show just how foolish it is to build a team around one player.
Chicago Bears to beat Atlanta Falcons at 11/10 (general) + Forte to score 1st Touchdown at 8/1 (Bet365)
Pittsburgh Steelers to beat Baltimore Ravens at 21/20 (Ladbrokes & Skybet) + Antonio Brown to score 1st Touchdown at 25/1 (Skybet)
Tennessee Titans to beat Jacksonville Jaguars at Evens (general)
Houston Texans to beat Indianapolis Colts on handicap with -9 points at 10/11 (general)