Kyler Murray is back. Well, hopefully. After holding Murray out of Arizona’s last three games, the dynamic quarterback is expected to return as the Cardinals hit the road to face the downtrodden Chicago Bears, who actually didn’t fire head coach Matt Nagy.
Oddsmakers are clearly expecting Murray to return at Soldier Field, as the Cardinals are currently laying more than a touchdown on the road. Should we back the Cardinals in Murray’s return? Or do the Bears offer value as big home underdogs? Let’s break it down.
- Opening line: Arizona -7
- Current line: Arizona -7.5
- Total: 45
Arizona proved legitimacy without Murray
Up until the last few weeks, I had my doubts about whether the Cardinals were truly legitimate contenders in the NFC. But after going 2-1 in three games with Colt McCoy under center, I’ve been convinced.
Not only were the Cardinals without Murray, but they also haven’t had star receiver DeAndre Hopkins and starting running back Chase Edmonds. Yet, the Cards have found a way to remain the No. 1 seed in the NFC thanks to its elite defense.
The Cardinals rank third in defensive DVOA. They’re third in passing DVOA, 15th in rushing DVOA and fifth in adjusted sack rate. This is a shut down unit with a fearsome front seven, even with J.J. Watt sidelined for the season. Arizona’s defense could dominate a Chicago offensive line that’s given up the most sacks in the NFL.
Offensively, we all know what this unit is capable of when it’s completely healthy. And the good news for Arizona is both Murray and Hopkins returned to practice on Wednesday, indicating that they both could make their long-awaited returns Sunday in Chicago.
With their star passing tandem sidelined, Arizona was forced to rely heavily on tailback James Conner, who has answered the bell. In his last three games, Conner has racked up 197 rushing yards, 139 receiving yards and five total touchdowns. Arizona has found a way to remain in the top 10 of offensive DVOA despite not having their dynamic quarterback.
Chicago still stinks, Matt Nagy’s still employed
That’s basically the only synopsis you need surrounding the Chicago Bears. They’re a terrible team that needed a last-second field goal to beat the winless Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. Even worse, Bears fans were throwing up their Thanksgiving dinner when they heard Matt Nagy would not be fired despite rumors suggesting his departure.
Several of Chicago’s key playmakers on both sides of the ball are hurt, most notably Justin Fields, Allen Robinson and Khalil Mack. The Bears rank 27th in offensive DVOA and 19th in defensive DVOA.
There’s once again uncertainty regarding who will be under center for Chicago. Andy Dalton started last week against Detroit after Fields injured his ribs the week prior. Fields returned to practice Wednesday, but the veteran Dalton was the one taking the first-team reps. With Matt Nagy fighting to keep his job, he might put Fields’ development aside and go with Dalton, who probably gives Chicago the best chance to win.
For Chicago to have a chance in this one, they’ll have to find a way to run the ball against Arizona. That’s the only area where Arizona’s defense is remotely susceptible, however Chicago’s offensive line might not be good enough to exploit it, as the unit ranks 24th in adjusted line yards.
Defensively, Chicago’s only strength is its pass rushing. The Bears rank second in the league in adjusted sack rate. Chicago’s secondary is pretty mediocre and allowed Jared Goff to complete 84% of his passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns. The Bears can also be exposed against the run, as they rank 27th in adjusted line yards allowed. If Arizona can soften up this Bears front seven on the ground, it could be a long day for the home team.
This is an ugly game on an ugly betting slate overall. The line feels about right to me. The Bears are lousy, but there is enough injury concern with Murray and Hopkins that makes me hesitate about laying over a touchdown on the road with the Cards.
This low total also doesn’t offer much value, as Arizona’s offense has the firepower to do the bulk of the work in hitting the over.
So instead, let’s get a little creative. As I wrote above, Arizona’s strength has been its defense over the last few weeks. And their elite pass rush could get home often against the statuesque Dalton. Rather than lay the points and risk Murray showing some rust off a month-long hiatus, I’m going to back Arizona’s defense and take Chicago’s team total under 17.5 points. I also like Arizona as a leg in 6-point teasers.
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