St Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
We start off with what may be an uninspiring contest to watch but a decent betting opportunity between two teams that have been struggling to put points on the board recently but are tough to beat on the other side of the ball. The 49ers scored just 40 points in their 3 games before the bye week & the Rams bagged just 41 points in their 3 games, including the 45-7 loss to the Patriots at Wembley.
(Daryl Richardson is becoming a big part of the Rams' offense)
The sides rank 24th (St Louis) & 28th (San Francisco) in passing yards & instead tend to rely on their running game (both rank in bottom 6 teams for passing attempts per game). That reliance on the run means that the clock keeps running more often (incomplete passes stop the clock) & that tends to lead to lower scoring games with less plays & that is reflected with 5 of the 49ers' games going under today's set points total & half of the Rams' games have gone under 39 points too. There's good reason to think it even more likely today as the 49ers have conceded the fewest points per game in the league with a dominant defense that harasses the quarterback & is rock solid against the running game, Aldon Smith is a particular star but the whole unit is outright scary.
The Rams' defensive record would look better if it wasn't for that blowout against the Patriots & the week before they ran into the high powered Green Bay offense & gave up 30 points there (not disrespectable against them), when they faced some of the lesser lights on offense they've limited those teams pretty well: Seahawks 13 points; Cardinals 3 points; Dolphins 17 points. On the offensive side of the ball the Rams have really missed Danny Amendola at receiver after his shoulder injury, he was really emerging as a big threat & there is a possibility he could return in this one but they are still a little light in passing weapons even with Chris Givens recently coming through as a legitimate deep threat with catches of 50+ yards in each of his last 3 games. Both teams will lean heavily on their tailbacks but whilst Frank Gore has been averaging 82 rushing yards a game the Rams' feature back Steven Jackson hasn't had one 80+ yard game this year & Daryl Richardson is now sharing many of the carries. We can't see anything other than a defensive battle here & San Francisco should win, the value lies however with the St Louis Rams with a big +12.5 point lead on the handicap because if it's low scoring the 49ers will struggle to pull away.
Houston Texans @ Chicago Bears
For our money this is the standout game of the week with two highly fancied teams for the Super Bowl from either conference taking each other on with identical 7&1 records having both only been beaten by the Packers this season - it's the Houston Texans travelling to the Chicago Bears for a rumble!
(Matt Schaub - well protected by his O-Line)
If there is a word of warning for backers of either of these teams it would be that they've both had fairly undemanding schedules for the most part & that when they did come up against the high powered offense of the Packers both sides failed, they did both bounce back creditably though & both have some scarily good defenses & excellent running backs. Both teams rank joint 3rd with sacks gained this season with 25 each & J.J. Watt continues to prove unstoppable for the Texans whilst the Bears have 4 players with 4 or more sacks & Charles 'Peanut' Tillman has forced an incredible 7 fumbles on the year (as many as the Texans whole team).
Both sides are also great against the run with the Texans ranking 2nd in yards given up (& would be1st but no one bothers to run against Tampa Bay as their pass defense is so laughable!) & the Bears rank 6th, the big thing to note about the Texans is that along with New England they've allowed only one run of 20+ yards all year showing the high levels of concentration they possess. The Texans are 4th against the pass whilst the Bears only rank 16th, the big difference being that Chicago have come up with a huge 17 interceptions & are generally built for turnovers with Tim Jennings coming up with 6 of his 13 career interceptions this season. Houston's cornerbacks Kareem Jackson & Johnathan Joseph have come up with a few picks themselves but the Bears are almost unmatchable in terms of their picks.
(The Bears' Jay Cutler - not so well protected...)
So we've identified both teams are ace defensively but the big difference is in thee quarterback play & protection for these two sides. Whilst Matt Schaub has been sacked just 10 times all season & also thrown just 4 interceptions, Jay Cutler has been sacked 28 times (2nd highest in league) & thrown 8 picks. It's just going to be much easier to get to Cutler than it is to Schaub & the Bears gameplan of creating turnovers may not work in this one. The Bears also only have one wideout with over 200 receiving yards, Brandon Marshall, & although he's been excellent the Texans will be pleased to know they only have one receiving target to really worry about. The Texans have 4 receivers with 200+ yards including their fullback James Casey & tight end Owen Daniels as they use their play action passing game to full effect. We like Chicago running back Matt Forte but can't see him having much joy in this one as Houston have the speedy players too stop him being elusive & this could instead be the game where Arian Foster proves he is 'the' elite running back in the NFL. The Bears defense are great but the Texans are too efficient & the league's 2nd highest scorers can prevail in this one at odds of 11/10, also take Houston to win by 7-12 points at 6/1 with William Hill.
St Louis Rams to beat San Francisco 49ers with +12.5 points at 10/11 (General)
Houston Texans to beat Chicago Bears at 11/10 (Ladbrokes) & by 7-12 points at 6/1 (William Hill)