Philadelphia Eagles +3 (-105) @ Chicago Bears Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois September 19, 2016, 5:30PM PDT
Our primary handicapping factors call for Philly to extend their cover streak to two straight when the Eagles take to the road to meet the Chicago Bears for Monday Night Football.
Philadelphia's rookie quarterback, Carson Wentz, at least, demonstrated a basic proficiency last week, ranking seventh overall by DYAR. Granted the young QB out of North Dakota State's initial bout of success was registered against the Cleveland Browns, who are projected to own the worst overall defense in the league this year, by Football Outsiders' DAVE statistic. However, objective indications suggest that expectations should not be much higher for the Bears defense.
While the Bears D ranked 8th by Defense-adjusted Value Over Average after last week (which places Chicago's defense in the top quartile) their 25th ranking by DAVE suggests the Bears' D will fall to the bottom quartile over the course of the season. This expectation is aligned with DAVE's outlook for the defense of the Browns.
Further, while we appreciate that Chicago's second year coach is committed to improving on the other side of the ball, we note such a rapid ascension up the defensive DVOA rankings scale (i.e. from fourth to first quartile) is, historically, quite the rare phenomenon. A review of year-over-year changes in defensive DVOA rankings for the last five completed seasons reveals that only the 2013 Buffalo Bills, 2012 Green Bay Packers, 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2011 Houston Texans, of 156 total observations, have managed such a feat.
Moreover, there is a case to be made that even the slim 2.6% (4 ÷ 156) rate of observed extreme defensive improvement is high. As our sample of quartile-level changes in annual defensive rankings are at least approximately normally distributed, we can infer that a one-year, fourth-to-first quartile advance is expected in only about 1.4% of all cases.
Thus, in our thinking, the Bears defense, may prove to be little more of a disruption to Carson Wentz than were the Cleveland Browns last week. But also, Ryan Matthews, the Eagles' 7th year Running Back from Fresno State, should lessen the pressure on the newbie QB. Last week, Matthews' 77 rushing yards and touchdown run en route to an Eagles win and cover, were adequate to secure the 13th DVOA ranking for the RB position. Look for Matthews to notch stats akin to week 1's productivity tonight, perhaps not unlike how Lamar Miller dealt over a 100 rushing yards to the the Bears' formerly dead-last rushing defense (by DVOA) last week.
Betting trends also appear slightly biased in favor of the road team. For instance, extending the streak of disappointing play at home, the Bears went 2-6 against the number last year, including an 0-2 stint from the position of favorite (Chicago was 3-5 at Soldier Field the previous year, and 1-6-1 in 2013). Philly, on the other hand, finished 2015 with a 3-2 record versus the line as road dogs. The Eagles also own a modest (4-3) edge in head-to-head play since 2004. Moreover, the underdog is 8-3 ATS the last 11 times the Bears and Eagles have gotten together.
Bottom line: We are content to take the points and side with Philly in the 2016 season's second installment of Monday Night Football. We fear the market is overestimating 1) the uncertainty surrounding Wentz's abilities and 2) the prowess of the perhaps transforming, but as of yet, still unproven Bears defense.