|NFL Week 10: Bears at Raiders Preview & Picks|
|Written by Anthony Rome|
|Sunday, 11 November 2007 08:00|
The Chicago Bears might be the NFL's most disappointing team this season, but they believe there is still time to turn things around.
The reigning NFC champions look to bounce back from a dismal first half as they come off their bye week Sunday to visit the lowly Oakland Raiders, who haven't won in more than a month.
Oddsmakers from Bodog have made Chicago –3.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday's game, the over/under has been set at 38.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 79% of bets for this game have been placed on Chicago –3.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
Chicago (3-5) was expected to contend for a return trip to the Super Bowl, but now hopes to simply be in the mix for a playoff spot. The 2002 New York Jets were the most recent team to start 3-5 and reach the postseason.
"We obviously have to make a great run here," linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer told the Bears' official Web site. "We're looking at an 8-0 or 7-1 finish to try to get into the playoffs, and that's something where you need to come back ready to go, ready for a run."
The Bears have shown in recent years that they are capable of making an extended run. In 2005, Chicago won eight straight from Oct. 16-Dec. 4 on its way to the NFC North title. Last season, the Bears won their first seven games.
"The potential is there," said receiver Muhsin Muhammad, who has two touchdowns in his last three games. "Here we are with an opportunity to go on another winning streak."
However, those teams weren't tied for last in the division this late and didn't underachieve in as many areas as this year's club.
Though a season-ending knee injury to safety Mike Brown, cornerback Nathan Vasher's nagging groin problem and Brian Urlacher's arthritic back have plagued Chicago's once-dominant defense, the unit looks nothing like the NFC's top-ranked group from 2006.
The Bears are 27th in the NFL, allowing 358.4 yards per game, and have forced just 13 turnovers. They are allowing 22.6 points, let Detroit score a league-record 34 fourth-quarter points in a September loss and watched as Minnesota rookie Adrian Peterson rushed for 224 yards - the most by a Bears opponent - at Soldier Field in a 34-31 overtime defeat on Oct. 14.
Chicago, though, could have Vasher back Sunday for the first time since Sept 23.
The Bears offense hasn't been much better, as displayed in their most recent contest, a 16-7 home loss to Detroit on Oct. 28 where they rushed for a season-low 63 yards.
A franchise that has prided itself on successfully running the football, Chicago ranks 31st in the NFL, averaging 78.9 yards on the ground.
Cedric Benson has rushed for 466 yards on 149 carries for a dismal 3.1 average, but could break out Sunday against Oakland's 30th-ranked run defense, which allows 152.5 yards per contest.
Quarterback Brian Griese, meanwhile, has played well at times since taking the starting job from Rex Grossman, but is coming off a game where he threw four interceptions.
All-Pro specialist Devin Hester leads the team with four touchdowns, three coming on returns.
Chicago has committed 23 turnovers and ranks near the bottom of league with a minus-10 turnover differential.
"We've been playing from behind," Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said. "We're throwing the ball much more than I thought we'd be throwing this year, and it's not our game plan. The turnovers tie into it, too. ... I would hate to think you're going to single out one person."
Though Chicago might resemble a team more like Oakland (2-6) - which looks to avoid a fifth straight loss - than last season's 13-3 club, facing the Raiders could help the Bears rebound. Chicago is 11-7 coming off a bye week.
Oakland lost 24-17 at home to Houston last Sunday. The Raiders won 35-17 at Miami on Sept. 30 for their most recent victory and are averaging 12.5 points during their current four-game skid.
Despite Justin Fargas rushing for 104 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown and the team scoring 17 second-half points last week, Oakland lost for the seventh time in its last eight home contests.
Josh McCown was 13-for-28 for 158 yards with a touchdown and three interceptions in his first game since replacing the struggling Daunte Culpepper.
Raiders fans constantly booed McCown and began chanting for No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell. Oakland ranks 28th in passing.
"As much as they may hate me or anybody else they don't understand how I feel," McCown said. "Nobody in this room and none of the fans want to feel what I feel right now. Trust me. It's a sick, hurting feeling you can't describe."
Oakland has won three of the last five meetings with Chicago, but Sunday's game will be the first between the teams since the Bears won 24-21 at home on Oct. 5, 2003.
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