8:15 PM EST, Prime Video – Line: Commanders -6.0, Over/Under: 44.5
Let’s play it again, folks, as the winless Chicago Bears travel to the nation’s capital in search of hope against the Washington Commanders in the reverse fixture from last year’s dour midweek matchup. It isn’t often that a game in October is labeled as a must-win, but for these Bears (0-4, Last in NFC North) that is ABSOLUTELY the case. Simply put, this team has been a disaster on and off the field this fall, which is remarkable given the tepid optimism that was filtering out of Halas Hall during the offseason. After a veritable Year Zero under the leadership of (Head Coach) Mat Eberflus and (General Manager) Ryan Poles, Chicago made use of their plethora of cap space and maneuvered their way throughout the draft to amass as much talent as they could to surround (young Quarterback) Justin Fields, whom they ultimately decided to put their faith in despite owning the number one overall pick. Well, how many people in the Chi believe that Eberflus and Poles would like a do-over after the events of the last month? NOTHING has gone right for this team, with Fields regressing, the offense looking toothless, and the defense continuing to run counter to the franchise’s proud legacy on that side of the football. Oh, and there has been plenty of controversy to boot. So, where shall we start, ladies and gentlemen? Well, let’s begin with Fields, who has yet to make the leap that so many in the Windy City had hoped that he would this fall. This is year no. 3 for the 24-year-old, who saw management gift him with reinforcements in the Spring, adding (criminally underrated Wideout) D.J. Moore in a draft day trade with the Panthers. However, his accuracy and decision-making remain a concern, while posting a QBR that is 20.6 points lower than last year. Though the coaching staff may believe in him, it is an open question as to whether or not their QB reciprocates those feelings; prior to a Week Three trip to Kansas City, Fields was asked about his struggles and he responded by stating that he felt “robotic” within the scheme, and that “maybe it was coaching”, before eventually realizing his error and publicly apologized to (Offensive Coordinator) Luke Getzy. Talk about awkward… Granted, last weekend’s loss at home to the Broncos could provide hope of better things to come after completing 28-of-35 passes for 335 yards and four touchdowns, but he still drew the ire of the fans at Soldier Field with TWO crucial turnovers. First, with the hosts clinging to a 28-21 lead, he was strip sacked at midfield with the ensuing fumble returned thirty-five yards to the house. Second, now trailing 28-31, he was intercepted at midfield on a poor read in which he never saw the Defensive Back looming in coverage. However, this one wasn’t all on him, folks, for like the campaign as whole, there is plenty of blame to go around. There is an argument to be made that Fields should have never been put in that situation to throw the pick, for on the previous drive, with the hosts marching deep into Denver territory, Eberflus (pictured below) eschewed the opportunity to kick a field goal to make it a 31-28 game with 2:57 left to play, instead going for it on fourth-and-one, which predictably came up short. Talk about self-sabotage… Then again, this is the kind of slide it has been for the Bears thus far, who rank twenty-second overall in points scored (18.8) and next-to-last in points allowed (34.3), with the performance of the defense drawing even more criticism from the fan base. After adding (veteran Linebackers) Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards along with (Edge-Rusher) Yannick Ngakoue in free agency, this unit was expected to improve upon the group that shipped the most points in the NFL last season (27.2). However, (Defensive Coordinator) Alan Williams abruptly resigned from his post after the second game, leaving Eberflus to effectively wear two hats on the sidelines. Oh, and then there was news of the FBI arriving to Halas Hall in regard to thousands of dollars of equipment being stolen. Needless to say, it has been a proverbial !@#$show in Chicago, which has many calling for ownership to blow it all up and start from scratch yet again, with news circulating that if his troops fail to inspire any confidence in tonight’s trip to the capital, then Eberflus will indeed be out of work. Whether or not that is the correct move for this franchise at this particular moment is up for debate, but those trademark winds blowing through the Chi are likely to become winds of change quicker than expected.
From a betting perspective, the Bears are also winless against the spread, though they did manage to push on last weekend’s collapse against the Broncos. Chicago was getting three points at Soldier Field with bettors certain they were finally going to cash in on the home side after a dominant first half, only to see that payday slip away during that shambolic final quarter. It should come as no surprise that this team hasn’t been in good form in quite a while, covering just ONE (1-8-1) of their last ten games overall dating back to last season, including a 2-8 record against the spread in their past ten trips away from the Windy City, failing to cover six such contests in a row. Rebounding from poor defensive efforts has proven to be difficult for Eberflus’ troops, who are 0-6-1 in their last seven games after allowing thirty or more points in the previous outing, which has been the case in three of their four games thus far. Looking at this particular matchup, the Bears have had a really difficult time with the Commanders/Football Team/Redskins, winning and covering just TWO of their last ten meetings dating back to 2003, losing eight of the last nine in both in regards. Ironically, these sides met in a midweek clash last fall, a morbid 7-12 affair at Soldier Field in which Chicago wasted a 7-3 halftime lead. Simply put, the hosts were the stronger side in this affair, holding sizable advantages in total yards (391-214), first downs (20-14), rushing yards (237-128), and passing yads (190-99), though literally gave them away with a pair of turnovers, one, an interception of Fields, and the other, a lost fumble from (then-Rookie Receiver) Velus Jones. That pick aside, Fields performed well enough, completing 14-of-27 passes for 190 yards and a score, but this was also the beginning of Getzy really utilizing his Quarterback’s rushing ability, churning out another eighty-eight yards on a dozen carries. Herbert and (former Tailback) David Montgomery added seventy-four and sixty-seven yards of their own, though it wasn’t enough to overcome those self-inflicted wounds. On the injury front, the Bears could once again be without (Defensive Backs) Eddie Jackson (foot) and Jajuan Johnson (hamstring), who are both listed as questionable after missing last weekend’s loss to Denver, though they could see the 2023 debut of (Tackle) Teven Jenkins, who has been taken off injured reserve and is eligible to return from a leg injury. That would provide a boost to an underperforming Offensive Line that lost (fellow Lineman) Braxton Jones indefinitely after suffering a neck injury three weeks ago. In non-injury news, the saga of (wantaway Receiver) Chase Claypool could be finally coming to an end, as he was informed by the club that will NOT be suiting up for them this week, as rumors suggest that they are desperately shopping the former second-round pick, whom they acquired via trade in a deal with the Steelers last October. Granted, we would like to question the wisdom of shipping out a young playmaker form a team that simply doesn’t have enough of them, but the fact that they have taken this approach should inform us how dire things really are behind the scenes at Halas Hall. In three games, the Notre Dame product has hauled in just four catches on fourteen targets for fifty-one yards and a touchdown. Looking ahead, Eberflus & Co will return to the Windy City for a two-game homestand against the Vikings and Raiders, which should present them with an opportunity to turn their campaign around following this miserable start, though it’s open for debate whether or not the skipper will be around to see it through.
Meanwhile, it’s a new era in the nation’s capital, where the Commanders (2-2, 3rd in NFC East) are enjoying life under new ownership after the sale of the franchise was finally confirmed days prior to the season opener. Simply put, the fanbase was feverishly desperate to put the Daniel Snyder era behind them, welcoming in (new Principal Owner) Josh Harris with open arms. That positive energy has transferred down to the gridiron, where despite sitting at 2-2, Washington looks like a competitive side that could potentially compete for a Wild Card in the NFC. Coming into the campaign, there seemed to be a very clear hierarchy within the conference, with three elite teams (Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Dallas) occupying their own tier, with the other four playoff spots very much up for grabs. Four weeks into the regular season and that notion hasn’t changed one bit, as (Head Coach) Ron Rivera’s troops have placed themselves in the mix of the NFC’s middle class. After meandering just below .500 in each of his three seasons in the capital, Rivera knew that changes needed to be made, particularly on the offensive side of the football where they had ranked no better than twenty-third overall in points scored or twentieth in total yards during that span. So, what did Riverboat Ron do, you ask? Well, true to his namesake, he hired (former Chiefs OC) Eric Bieniemy to be his new Offensive Coordinator. Needless to say, this is quite the gamble for the 61-year-old for a variety of reasons. Despite not calling plays in Kansas City, Bieniemy was a fixture of the two-time Super Bowl Champions’ coaching staff that helped raise Patrick Mahomes to a pair of MVP awards, making him a rising star in coaching circles. However, for unknown reasons, the 54-year-old failed to land any of the numerous head coaching opportunities that he interviewed for, which creates a potentially awkward Head Coach in Waiting scenario in Washington. With that being said, Rivera hired this guy to save his job, not take it, with the expectation being that Bieniemy elevates a sluggish attack that isn’t without playmakers. Through four weeks, the Commanders have been a far cry from his previous employers, though have displayed the signs of an improved unit; Washington has averaged 22.3 points (17th Overall) on 346.5 total yards (20th Overall), including 240.3 yards through the air (20th Overall). However, it has been a little too much dink-and-dunk with a net yards per pass attempt of just 4.91, which has gone hand in hand with a dismal third down percentage of 33.3% (27th Overall). The issue has been at Quarterback, where Sam Howell is basically a rookie in this offense despite being drafted in the fifth-round last year. Howell (pictured below) has showed promise but has come under pressure far more than anyone associated with the team would like; the 23-year-old has been sacked an NFL-high TWENTY-FOUR times thus far, which has placed the offense in unfavorable down-and-distance situations too often. Like his counterpart tonight, the North Carolina product showed signs of persevering in last weekend’s trip to Philadelphia, in which he completed an efficient 29-of-41 passes for 290 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for another forty yards on six carries against arguably the toughest Defensive Line in the league. As we saw last fall, Rivera’s side matches up well with the Eagles, whom they very nearly handed their first loss for a second consecutive season; the visitors led 17-7 early in the second quarter and managed to tie the game on a clutch Howell touchdown to force overtime, though ultimately couldn’t maintain their momentum en route to a bittersweet 31-34 defeat to the reigning NFC Champions. Washington amassed 365 total yards on twenty-six first downs and converted 8-of-17 third downs along with each of their two tries on fourth, possessing the football for a healthy 35:07 of game time. However, when the rubber met the road, they were victimized on a pair of deep pass plays, as a young Secondary showed their inexperience. As Chicago comes calling for this midweek clash in the capital, Rivera, Bieniemy, and the rest of the team are presented with a golden opportunity to build upon the momentum that they created last weekend. Will they exploit their opponent’s many weaknesses? We’ll have to wait and see…
From a betting perspective, the Commanders are 2-2 both straight-up and against the spread thus far, having alternated losses and wins of that latter variety. After escaping a very competitive Cardinals (+7) team in the opener (20-16), Washington (+3.5) put together a furious rally to upset the Broncos at Mile High (35-33), only to turn around and get HAMMERED in a 3-37 loss at home to the Bills (-5). Last weekend’s trip to Philly was set up to be a similar affair, but credit Rivera’s troops for playing the reigning NFC Champions to the bone, covering as 9-point underdogs despite coming up short in that aforementioned overtime thriller. Dating back to last season, this is a team that has covered just four of their last ten games overall, including a poor run of form at FedEx Field, where they are a dismal 1-4 against the spread in their last five home outings. Furthermore, being a favorite hasn’t suited them well, as they have covered just one of their last five contests when favored by the oddsmakers. With that being said, there are a number of trends working in their favor tonight. First, they have adored the month of October, coming off a perfect 4-0 (ATS) stretch last fall. Second, they have generally handled their business against weaker teams, riding a streak of four consecutive covers versus opponents with losing records. Lastly, as we covered earlier, they have fancied matching up with the Bears, whom they’ve bested in eight of their last nine encounters, covering the spread in each of those victories. In that 12-7 snoozefest from last October, the Commanders stormed into Soldier Field and managed to overcome a very underwhelming offensive performance to escape with the win. Rivera and (Defensive Coordinator) Jack Del Rio were effusive in their praise of the defense, which harassed Fields throughout the tilt, sacking him five times, hitting him on twelve occasions, and totaling FIFTEEN pressures, en route to creating two crucial turnovers. (Pro-Bowl Defensive Tackle) Jonathan Allen was the man of the match, logging a sack, a forced fumble, and an interception of Fields, wreaking havoc in the trenches throughout the game. Hopefully, we’ll be privy to some fireworks, for with Bieniemy now running the offense, Washington has a completely different system this time around, not to mention Howell at Quarterback, who had yet to see the field at that point in his rookie campaign. However, (Sophomore Tailback) Brian Robinson will have fond memories of that night in which he rushed for sixty yards and the game-winning touchdown in just his second game as a professional after surviving a gunshot wound to his leg. On the injury front, the Commanders aren’t expected to have any significant absences, though the Receiving Corps could be depleted in this Thursday showdown; (Wideouts) Jahan Dotson (ankle) and Curtis Samuel (quadriceps) are both listed as questionable with various ailments after coming off strong performances, with the former hauling in his first touchdown of the season and the latter reeling in seven receptions for fifty-one yards. Looking ahead, tonight’s matchup kicks off a run of three very winnable games for Washington, who will come off the mini-bye week for back-to-back road ventures at Atlanta and New York (Giants), before returning home for the second leg of their annual battle with Philadelphia.