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Split Down the Middle
by Dennis Ranahan

A couple years ago, a game between the Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams would have been of interest only to the most diehard fans of those two teams. Now, with the Bears looking to win a division following four straight seasons of last place finishes, and the Rams considered by many the best team in football, we have a matchup that NBC has chosen to use their flex option to televise.

Good call.

The home standing Bears are three point underdogs tonight at Soldier Field, and after losing last week on the road against the New York Giants, have their perch atop the NFC in jeopardy. They come into 14th week action with a one game advantage over the Minnesota Vikings in the loss column and two up on the win side, given the Vikings also have a tie this season.

What those numbers mean, is that the Bears could have their division lead cut this week, but not erased. Even with a defeat to the Rams tonight and a win by the Vikings tomorrow night in Seattle, Chicago would hold on to a slim advantage. While Chicago won’t need any extra motivation to prepare for the Rams, the fact that they hold first place win or lose is not to their advantage on the motivational scale.

The Rams also will be in first place in their division, win or lose, and no matter what the Seattle Seahawks do tomorrow night. Their first place margin coming into the week is four games over Pete Carroll’s squad, and what the Seahawks are playing for is one of the two NFC Wild Card spots.

But, the Rams, who won the NFC West last year, are not content with that title, but rather looking to earn the best record in the conference and home field advantage for the playoffs. In order to come out of this week with that edge, they need to win tonight’s game to maintain their one game advantage over the New Orleans Saints. To get the top seed, the Rams need to have a win/loss edge over New Orleans because Drew Brees and company outgunned the Rams, 45-35, in their only regular season head-to-head meeting. The Saints also kept the pressure on Los Angeles with their win earlier today in Tampa.

What all these factors mean is that in a strange way the team that is 11-1, the Rams, need this game more than the team with an 8-4 season record,the Bears.

Although, you wouldn’t be able to convince any player on either of these teams that they don’t need this win the most.

So, who is going to get it?

Often, a team that runs away over the first half of the season with a run of point spread wins will falter after Thanksgiving when expectations and bloated point spreads level their results against the number. Case in point, the Kansas City Chiefs were 8-1 both straight up and against the point spread after their first game in November. But, since that November 4th win and cover over the Cleveland Browns, the Chiefs have lost only one game straight up but in their last four games are now 0-3-1 against the point spread.

Wouldn’t the Rams be a perfect candidate for a similar post Thanksgiving dip?

Funny thing about Los Angeles, they have only lost one game this year but against the point spread over the past nine weeks they are only 2-6-1. Based on a quick start out of the gate, three straight double-digit wins and point spread covers, the bloated lines were piled on the Rams early … and they responded like most teams that have lines designed to beat them, they lost against the number 75% of the time.

Does that mean the Bears are the right play tonight?

What it really means, is that the Rams may now be the most dangerous team in the league and given tonight is not a bloated line, Los Angeles favored by a field goal, there is little advantage to back a Bears team that doesn’t need the game more and isn’t getting the benefit of a bloated point spread.

This is a great game tonight, but an edge to identify a point spread winner before kickoff is split right down the middle.