Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs. Kansas

Keith Appling's late-game offense is getting
most of the pub, but MSU's D earned the win (AP).

Michigan State, for what seems like the first time in a decade, has one of those November victories that will continue to look better as the season wears on. The defense is a big reason to be thankful if you're a Spartan fan.

Kansas has, and likely will always be, been a very efficient offensive team under Bill Self. While the Jayhawks were decent offensively (64 points in a 66-possession game against a very good defensive team is still impressive), MSU still forced Kansas into a turnover percentage rate of 22.7 percent.

Both teams will undoubtedly mature from this game, but for the first time in recent memory the Spartans can mature while enjoying a victory.

Below is MSU's Defensive Score Sheet from the game. In-depth explanations are in this post, but here is a cliff notes version:
  • Min - Minutes played
  • DREB - Defensive Rebounds
  • FM - Forced field goal miss (includes blocks)
  • FTO - Forced Turnover (steals, charges taken)
  • FFTA - Forced missed Free Throw Attempt
  • DFGM - Allowed Defensive Field Goal Made
  • DFTM - Allowed Free Throw Made
  • DRtg - Defensive Rating (Gives players credit for stops and scoring possessions)
*The DRtg is most important part of a defensive score sheet as it is the analog of an offensive rating. If a player was on the floor for 100 of his team's defensive possessions, the DRtg calculates the number of points the opposition would score.

WELCOME BACK, "DERRICK PAYNE:" It's clear Michigan State can't survive big-time games without its main bigs (Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne) playing like stars. While the duo is still getting used to playing together (the offense isn't clicking as many have expected so far) it looked like a nice defensive tandem against the Jayhawks. 

BRANDEN DAWSON IS STILL NOT HUMAN: Take a little bit of Shannon Brown, a dash of Kelvin Torbert and boat load of Superman and you have Dawson. Seriously, the guy is eight months removed from a brutal ACL tear and he looks like the best player on the floor in every game he plays (at least he has so far). His energy level is off the charts and his aggressive risk-taking on the defensive end is something Izzo is growing to love. Heck, if he makes some sort of mistake he's able to recover, most of the time, with his athleticism. Dawson was the "victim" of a few early Kansas baskets and other than another one to start the second half he was flawless defensively regardless of who his man was.

GARY HARRIS WILL BE HITTING THE BOARDS HARD IN PRACTICE: It's becoming clear that Gary Harris is a star in the making. Harris had an offensive stretch last night where he had back-to-back And-1s and you would have thought Wolf Blitzer was making another "major projection" for this year's Presidential Election based on my Twitter feed. Because Izzo is a break-'em-down, build-'em-up type coach I know what he'll be harping Harris on this week: rebounding. Despite playing 35 minutes Harris didn't grab a single defensive rebound (he did have one offensive board). Izzo loves his wings to crash the glass, more so on the offensive end, but he doesn't necessarily want them abandoning the defensive glass. Harris should, at minimum, grab a few defensive boards a game, especially when he plays 87.5 percent of available minutes.

THE THIRD WHEEL WASN'T A MAJOR LIABILITY: The biggest problem with playing Nix and Payne together is foul trouble. The only other "center" on the roster is Alex Gauna, who Izzo has lamented in the past is incapable of defending a table. In 12 minutes, which is on the high end due to Payne's foul trouble, Gauna did a decent job on Kansas' Jeff Withey. He allowed 1.5 baskets but also prevented another pair and was part responsible for a turnover. It definitely wasn't vintage Gauna, which is a good thing for the Spartans.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Defensive Score Sheet: Michigan State vs. UConn

Napier and  most of UConn slashed through MSU's defense
for much of Friday night's 66-62 Huskies victory. (AP)

In another "gimmick" game, Tom Izzo's Spartans fell short. Stop me if you've heard this before. I tweeted last night that this really makes Izzo 0-4 in such games going back to the 2003 BasketBowl against Kentucky at Ford Field. 

This one, however, was there for the taking and the Spartans didn't want it. Don't get me wrong: UConn is a really good team, especially with Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright occupying the guard spots. But, MSU is the better team and should have never trailed by double digits let alone 16 points (it was 20-6 just 7:23 into the game and 34-18 just 12 minutes into action.

From that point on, the Spartans defense looked like it did for much of the 2011-12 season. The canyon just proved too big to climb.

Below is MSU's Defensive Score Sheet from the game. In-depth explanations are in this post, but here is a cliff notes version:
  • Min - Minutes played
  • DREB - Defensive Rebounds
  • FM - Forced field goal miss (includes blocks)
  • FTO - Forced Turnover (steals, charges taken)
  • FFTA - Forced missed Free Throw Attempt
  • DFGM - Allowed Defensive Field Goal Made
  • DFTM - Allowed Free Throw Made
  • DRtg - Defensive Rating (Gives players credit for stops and scoring possessions)
*The DRtg is most important part of a defensive score sheet as it is the analog of an offensive rating. If a player was on the floor for 100 of his team's defensive possessions, the DRtg calculates the number of points the opposition would score.

OFFENSE NOT THE PROBLEM: Pretty much every beat writer for the Spartans knew Tom Izzo's team would struggle to score in the halfcourt this season. Offense, surprisingly wasn't the problem against UConn in the Armed Forces Classic. Put simply: the defense was atrocious. 

"BK" IS THE DEFENSIVE KING: Izzo has said Brandan Kearney is going to be a key member of the team, doing all the little things. Well, he was phenomenal in a very limited playing time (likely due to MSU needing to focus on scoring points from the get-go due to the huge deficit). What's incredible is in just six minutes of action Kearney was responsible for 4.5 missed shots. It doesn't take sabermetrics to realize that translates to 30 forced missed shots in 40 minutes of game time. Those numbers would make former Kentucky standout Anthony Davis look like former Spartan Brandon Wood.

BIG ISSUES FOR "DERRICK PAYNE": Let the "MSU really misses Draymond Green" chorus begin in 3...2...1... In all honesty, it was more team defense than individual defense. There were a few bad eggs defensively (Payne looked the slowest he's been in his MSU career and Nix continued to put himself in a position to fail defensively), but there were six UConn buckets that came in the fast break, most off a MSU turnover as well as two "someone-lost-their-man" buckets off inbound passes. 

THUMBS UP FOR THE FRESHMEN: I'm sure Izzo will find something to harp on with his rookies - and that's what makes him a great coach is he'll never let his player become satisfied when they can do better. Still, Gary Harris and Denzel Valentine were spectacular, especially on the defensive end. Valentine's eight rebounds in just 24 minutes were Draymond Green-esque and Harris' only defensive miscues came in the latter part of the game. (Of course, some would say Harris' three baskets allowed were all crucial to MSU losing). Harris lost his man for an easy under-the-hoop layup off an inbounds pass and he was responsible for UConn's last two field goals (both 3-pointers by Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, respectively) that proved the immediate answer to when MSU took a 58-56 lead with 5:34 to play. Get a stop on one of those plays and the result might be different. Then again, if Harris hadn't of forced 1.5 turnovers and been a defensive pest earlier the game might not have been as close.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Preseason Top 25: Kansas, UCLA, Indiana, MSU make up Final Four

Sometimes those "Way Too Early" rankings - like ours posted in early April - change drastically. There are some major changes but one thing is clear: Kansas is still the team to beat in the eyes of Deuce2Sports.

Kansas surprised many by reaching the title game
as a No. 2 seed last year (is that even possible?).
Could the Jayhawks be better in 2013? We think so. (AP)

1. Kansas
Underestimate Bill Self and the Jayhawks once, shame on you. Underestimate the duo twice? Well, then you're an idiot. Kansas overachieved in 2011-12, which means things should only get better. I loved Thomas Robinson and he'll be sorely missed. I hated Tyshawn Taylor and, despite all the accolades thrown his way by his coach, his graduation will be a blessing for the Jayhawks. Is this a risky pick? Absolutely. But when has going against Kansas worked out for you? 


The Bruins are a tough team to gauge. This isn't just about a pair of Top 3 recruits (Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson); it's about a team that drastically underachieved in 2012 because of chemistry issues. With those resolved, I expect UCLA to mirror Michigan State's rise from the one-year-into-purgatory ashes from 2010-11 to 2011-12. Ben Howland can coach and ridding the program of excess baggage was difficult but it'll pay big dividends this season. The only difference between this UCLA class and those recent John Calipari Kentucky groups is that Coach Cal gets a little more out of his players. That's why Howland comes up just short.

3. Indiana

Listen, I really like Indiana. Tom Crean is one of my favorite coaches molded from the Tom Izzo coaching tree. But I even feel this is a tad high for Indiana. Why? The team plays no defense. None. Some will say to ignore the 102-90 Sweet 16 loss to Kentucky. Even if we do, Indiana still surrendered 89 points to Iowa and 82 points to Penn State. It Indiana wants to play like Loyola Marymount of the 1990s, that's fine, but it can't win a national championship 100-99. (Or can it?) If the team can make major strides on the defensive end then the Final Four (and more) is a real possibility. 

4. Michigan State

The Spartans lose do-it-all Draymond Green but this team will still be loaded for years to come. It's other departures are Brandon Wood (a fifth-year Valpo transfer) and Austin Thornton (a walk-on who worked his way into big minutes by knowing Tom Izzo's system and coming up big in key moments). If Branden Dawson gets healthy by midseason, this team will challenge for another Big Ten title. The recruiting class is loaded, led by Gary Harris. Two other Top 80 recruits (Denzel Valentine and Matt Costello) give MSU the depth it likes to have. If the injury bug stays away from East Lansing, this could be another Final Four year for Izzo & Co.

5. Florida
The Gators have a little addition by subtraction in the case of Erving Walker. Bradley Beal's NBA departure will hurt, but that'll mean Mike Rosario, the former Rutgers transfer, will get his chance to shine. Throw in a more mature Patric Young and another solid recruiting class and Billy Donovan's gang will be sniffing the Final Four again. Only this time, expect a not-so-disappointing regular season.  

6. Kentucky
The  revolving-door Wildcats lose a lot (Anthony Davis, Terrence Jones, Marquis Teague, Darius Miller,  Doron Lamb and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) but don't think that means Coach Calipari is in for a measly 20-win season. Coach Cal can flat out run a team and get divas to play defense. That, coupled with gifted athletic abilities and limitless offense games, is a recipe for success. There is enough incoming talent to repeat as national champions but taking the field is more smarter. The names Archie Goodwin, Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel, NC State transfer Ryan Harrow (and possibly Anthony Bennett)  will be Fab Five-esque in the future. I can this 3-year stretch (2012-2014) of Kentucky basketball looking like the 1996-1998 years (championship, runner-up finish, championship). But one thing is for sure: last year's group was special and not every Kentucky freshmen class is going to go 38-2. This one should be good but only Elite Eight good.

7. Baylor
The Bears lose their heart and soul in Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III is heading to the NBA, but the rest of the core is intact. I believe Pierre Jackson is one of the best (read: Top 3) point guards in the country and Brady Heslip's ability as a Ray Allen-type 3-point shooter is deadly. Top-5 recruit Isaiah Austin could put the Bears in their first Final Four. 

8. Arizona
Count me as one of the people who had the Wildcats peaking a year early. That won't happen again. This year's team will still have Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom returns from an injury. Like Kentucky this past season, Arizona will rely heavily on freshmen. Of course, it helps when all four recruits - Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York are ranked in the Top 50. It's easy to forget that while Arizona struggled most of the season it was just a Pac-12 Tournament Championship game win away from a spot in the Big Dance. I wouldn't be surprised if 2013 ended with one win away from an Elite Eight or even a spot in the Final Four.

9. Memphis
At some point the Tigers will make a Butler-type run, right? Josh Pastner's squad is bound to pick up some big nonconference wins (the one thing missing from the 2011-12 resume that regulated Memphis to a No. 8 seed) and another blitzing through Conference USA - the last before heading to the Big East - should be enough to secure a Top 4 seed and decent spot in the bracket. 

10. Louisville
The Cardinals will be good next year, but don't fall into the trap most already are: Because Louisville reached the 2012 Final Four it should reach it again (or go further) in 2013. The Cardinals beat one higher-ranked team (No. 1 seed MSU) in their Final Four run. The other wins - No. 13 Davidson, No. 5 New Mexico and No. 7 Florida. That isn't to say Louisville didn't earn a spot in the Final Four - it did - it's just that using one phenomenal defensive performance against Michigan State shouldn't be the blueprint for a 2013 projection. (In covering the Spartans, I can say that was the worst Izzo's team played all season. Yes, even worse than the 42-41 loss at Illinois). While Louisville's offense likely can't get any worse, especially from 3-point range, the defense can't possibly be much better. Like post-bracket expectations this season, it would be wise to expect Louisville to be in the 3-4-5 seed range with a ride to the Sweet 16 but no further.

11. Michigan
Never underestimate what seniors mean to a team. Michigan loses two in Zack Novak and Stu Douglass that really helped the underclassmen the past three years. That said, the roster isn't exactly barren of talent. Trey Burke's decision to return is big and Tim Hardaway Jr. can be lethal when he wants. Add two stud recruits in Glenn Robinson Jr. and Mitch McGary and the Wolverines will have loads of talent. The issue will be 3-point shooting, it seems, which is something odd in Ann Arbor. That will be the problem that keeps Michigan from the Final Four aspirations many are projecting but it doesn't mean Michigan won't have its best season in more than a decade.

12. Cincinnati
The Bearcats are a mix between Michigan State and Marquette; typically undersized, but quick, very athletic and great on the boards. I've been a Mick Cronin fan for a while, long before he became a folk hero for the way he handled the Cincinnati-Xavier crosstown brawl fiasco. While Yancy Gates leaving will be a big blow, the Bearcats still have one of the league's best backcourts in Jaquon Parker (a star in the making), Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright. One of these years I expect Cincinnati to reward Cronin for all his hard work.

13. Missouri

Without Alex Oriakhi the Tigers were a fringe Top 25 team; with him in the post this team could be really good once again. Not only will Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey need to pick up the slack left by the departing seniors Kim English, Marchs Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe, but Laurence Bowers will have to play a key role after missing this past year with a knee injury. It will be very, very tough for the Tigers to duplicate last year's success from 3-point range -- the main reason they went 30-4 and were Big 12 Tournament Champions. The move to the SEC coupled with three impact transfers will make Missouri an interesting team to follow.

14. Duke
It would be foolish to doubt a Coach K team. It's sounding cliche, but Austin Rivers leaving will actually be better for Duke. Rivers was great in Duke's offense other than in creating his own shot and he didn't make teammates better. Oh, he also didn't play much defense. That was Duke's downside capped off with the shocking Round of 64 loss to 15th-seeded Lehigh. While it's not a monster recruiting class (Rasheed Sulaimon, ranked 18th at Rivals, is Duke's only Top 150 coup) the pieces are there for Duke to once again have a successful ACC season and find a way into March's second weekend. 

15. NC State
How did this happen so fast? Is North Carolina State really the ACC favorite? Why not. North Carolina and Duke are taking on serious losses, and the Wolfpack overachieved under Mark Gottfried (and top assistant Bobby Lutz) to get to the Sweet 16. Gottfried has one of the top recruiting classes in the country with Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren and Tyler Lewis. So get ready, Raleigh, you might just have the ACC favorite.

16. North Carolina
Lost in all this year's UNC hoopla was the fact the Tar Heels were down to their 4th-string point guard in the Sweet 16 win vs. Ohio and in the Elite Eight loss to Kansas. Losses of Kendall Marshall, Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller will ultimately sting, but don't kid yourself; Roy Williams' teams are always loaded with talent. UNC will score and still be an ACC threat. But without good Ol' Roy's typical level of talent it would be a shock to expect great things from the most overrated coach in the country. 

17. Gonzaga
If there is one program these recent Final Four Cinderella runs by George Mason, Butler and VCU have made me feel sorry for it's Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were the original Cinderella, but the deepest tourney run was an Elite Eight in 1999 (Gonzaga lost 67-62 to eventual national champion UConn). That said, coaching plus continually talent makes Gonzaga a Top 25 mainstay. After a one-year hiatus, the Bulldogs should climb back to the top of the WCC thanks to uber-talented youngsters Gary Bell Jr., Kevin Pangos and Sam Dower.

18. Creighton
Sometimes one player makes a world of difference, especially in a mid-major conference. That's the deal with Creighton and Doug McDermott. Will the world have Dougie figured out in 2013? Possibly. But this will again be a deep team rolling through a down MVC. Anything less than a Top 7 NCAA seed would be a major surprise.

19. Ohio State
The Buckeyes will have a different look in 2013 but don't think Thad Matta's crew will fall off the face of the earth. Amir Williams had flashes of greatness and LaQuinton Ross, Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott are both Top 50 recruits who played sparingly last season. This will be a loaded team and, despite all the doubters, could still win the Big Ten. Deshaun Thomas staying was key and Lenzelle Smith Jr. will have to step up his game even more. The Buckeyes might need Aaron Craft to provide more offense, but this is still a 24-win team that'll be a tough out in March.

20. Minnesota
The Gophers are a major Big Ten sleeper. All five starters and nearly the entire bench returns for Tubby Smith. The NIT runner-ups have the experience of playing in the loaded conference this past season and are poised to finish games this time around. Lost in Minnesota's disappointing regular season was that the Gophers were a few minutes away from a NCAA berth if only they could have closed out a few games (see Michigan State, Iowa, Michigan). NIT wins at LaSalle, at Miami, at Middle Tennessee State and against Washington showed the true potential of this team. Expect to see much more of that Minnesota team next season.

21. Wisconsin
I'm expecting big things from Top 20 recruit Sam Dekker. It isn't often Bo Ryan snags a player of that talented. Jordan Taylor's graduation create a huge point guard void. If Wisconsin can find a suitable replacement or a suitable PG committee another Top 4 Big Ten finish will be in the books. (In eight years in the Big Ten Bo Ryan has never finished lower than fourth in the conference). That said, I'm still expecting a year like 2008-09, where Wisconsin lost a lot, finished 20-13 with a 10-8 Big Ten record. That season, where Michigan State won the league by four games, Wisconsin finished in a 3-way tie for fourth. But since the Big Ten will be spectacular this season a 10- or 11-win Big Ten team won't be as bad as the record might show.

22. Syracuse
Don't be fooled by another hot start for the Orange this season. Syracuse loses more than meets the eye in Dion Waiters, Scoop Jardine and Kris Joseph. There are enough pieces to continue Jim Boeheim's success - Michael Carter-Williams should be a stud and C.J. Fair should have more freedom to excel - but there is nowhere to go but down from a 34-3 season. 

23. San Diego State
One of the budding programs out west has been San Diego State. If you doubt Steve Fisher will have his guys playing great basketball out of November's gates you're nuts. A handful of BCS transfers plus a returning trio of Jamaal Franklin, Chase Tapley and James Rahon will have the Aztecs battling UNLV and New Mexico for Mountain West supremacy.

24. Kansas State
Bruce Weber takes over for Frank Martin, and it isn't a terrible time to head to Manhattan. I expect Rodney McGruder to take over a Draymond Green-like role for Weber, being his voice on the floor. (Note: I am not comparing McGruder to Green in any way, other than the on-floor leadership). The core of this team returns and while Kansas, Missouri and Texas still look like the class of the Big 12 there is no reason Kansas State shouldn't be No. 4 and push to join that group.

T25. Marquette
Most pundits always save a spot in their Top 25 for Wisconsin. While that's usually smart, there is one team that has been consistently better year in and year out -- and its in the same state: Marquette. The Golden Eagles play hard every night under Buzz Williams. Unless you're a Wisconsin fan - Marquette's biggest rival - how can you not like Marquette? (Okay, maybe West Virginia fans have a beef after Buzz's celebratory dance to "Take Me Home, Country Roads" after a victory this past year). It won't be easy in 2013 as Marquette loses its best two players in Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder but that seems to be the story every year and Marquette doesn't skip a beat. Despite being undersized, the athleticism and up-tempo style this team possesses will make it dangerous once again.

T25. Pittsburgh
This past season was over before it began for Pitt. Despite the early-season success, Khem Birch's decision just seemed to send shock waves through the Panthers' team. Then the injury to Tray Woodall was the dagger. That said, Pitt won its first postseason championship in a while (we can celebrate the CBI title, right?) and that momentum should be nothing but positive for this season. Jamie Dixon always has his teams ready to play and, outside of last year's outlier, is always a beast in the Big East. Woodall's return along with Lamar Patterson's further development means Pittsburgh should approach that 25-win mark once again.

Eight other teams to watch: Miami, St. Louis, Butler, New Mexico, Maryland, Alabama, St. Mary's, Iowa.

Monday, October 1, 2012

GameDay: Chicago at Dallas

We’re coming off a successful double Book It from Thursday’s Baltimore-Cleveland game. Let’s keep that momentum going into tonight’s Cowboys-Bears clash. While I’m sure no one has ever said this, the Cowboys – “America’s Team” – are seemingly always enjoyable to watch while the Bears tend to only be fun to watch if you live in Illinois.

So, let’s dub this the Watchables vs. the Unwatchables.

Tonight’s Important Numbers (5Dimes)

LINE: Dallas -3 (-130); Chicago +3 (+110)
OVER/UNDER: 41 1/2; (-110 for both)

Breakdown: Chicago
It’s never pretty but the Bears typically win with defense. Last week’s 23-6 dismantling of St. Louis is more of what Chicagoans are expecting from the vaunted Bears D this season. Heck, holding Green Bay to 23 points at Lambeau Field – a week after the Packers were beaten on the same field and likely were angrier than ever – is pretty impressive as well. Those defensive efforts have helped the Bears hit the under the past two weeks.

Here are a few key Chicago trends:
  • Since 2010 the Bears have played in an NFL-high eight games where both teams combined to score 30 or fewer points (four in 2010, three in 2011 and last week vs. St. Louis).
  • Chicago is 6-2 ATS in its last eight games as a 3-point or less underdog (3-2 on the road, 3-0 at home).
  • While the Bears are lauded year after year for their defense the team is capable of scoring in bunches. Chicago has posted 11 30-point games since 2010. Naturally, in every one of those cases the Bears blew past the total, giving over bettors a gigantic smile. Heck, in two of those games the Bears covered the over all by themselves (38-14 win vs. NY Jets in 2010 - over at 36; 40-14 win at Minnesota in 2010 - over at 34), while falling just short of a Chicago-only cover in this year's season-opening 41-21 win vs. Indianapolis (over at 41.5).
It is usually fairly obvious from the first quarter what kind of Bears team you’re watching that day. You’ll either have a 0-0 slugfest heading into the second quarter or, as was the case in last year’s 37-13 whipping of Detroit when the Bears had a 20-0 lead less than a minute into the second quarter. Then there are the games like the Tyler Palko-led Chiefs’ 10-3 win at Soldier Field last December where the Bears offense was somehow kidnapped prior to kickoff.

Breakdown: Dallas
Here are some great Cowboys nuggets for you:
  • Dallas is just 6-12-1 ATS dating back to 2011.
  • Dallas has hit the under in 13 of 19 games since the start of 2011.
  • Dallas hit the over on 13 of 16 games in 2010.
  • Since 2010, the Cowboys have gone over all four totals set between 40.5 and 41.5.
The first thing I’ll answer is “Why are you giving us erroneous factoids from 2010, especially when they contradict the other numbers?” The answer is simple: Rob Ryan. Heralded for his vaunted defense in Cleveland, which was always overshadowed by the horrific offense, Rex’s brother really does know what he’s doing. Rob’s first year in Dallas was last season and the change was immediate. The defense stopped giving up a slew of points and that led to a 62.5-percent rate on unders vs. overs. The Cowboys are 3-for-3 on unders this year, and most haven’t been close to touching Vegas’ number.

What makes the Cowboys so dangerous – or perceived to be dangerous – is that they’re very similar to that other team in Texas. You know, the Houston Texans, who just might be the NFL’s best team in 2012? It relies on its defense and, at home it is better than ever.
In the only home game this season, the Cowboys suffocated Tampa Bay in a 16-10 win. Last year Dallas’ points allowed in home games were as follows: 16, 34, 7, 13, 7, 19, 37, 20. A few clunkers are in there – the first is the Romo collapse game where Detroit stole a victory and the other was the Eli-Romo shootout in a December Sunday Night game. But those other point totals are salivating if you like defense.
The Matchup
The talking heads, especially on ESPN, will blabber about this being a showdown of Dallas’ offense against Chicago’s defense. In reality, the game will hinge on Chicago’s offense against Dallas’ defense.

If Dallas can get pressure with its front four – very likely with Chicago’s O-line problems and Dallas’ outstanding line led by Demarcus Ware – then it’ll be on Jay Cutler to make quick reads and let his wide receivers work. Matt Forte in the screen game – if he plays for the first time since Week 2 – will be a big part of Chicago’s offense tonight. If Forte can’t go it’ll be up to Michael Bush to pick up the pieces in the short passing game.

Turnovers, as always, will be key. I wouldn’t expect many interceptions – maybe one from each quarterback, but with all the speedy rushers and turnover history here I could see a half dozen fumbles. Those giveaways, especially if they occur in the red zone, will help keep both teams in the game and, for betting purposes, lead to a lower-scoring contest.

The Pick
Usually I like the Bears getting points, but I hate really this matchup for Chicago. The Cowboys defense is playing awfully well and while the offense isn’t exactly clicking (13.6 points per game in three weeks) it’s been successful in controlling the ball and eating up clock. The combination of all these facts has me stay away from the spread tonight. But, forced to choose I would lean Chicago +3 (the Bears do wonders when given points). I keep seeing a 23-13 Cowboys win in my head, so that's why I'm not pulling the trigger. I do love the under 41 ½Unless there are a few Pick-6s I can’t see how this game will combine for more than five touchdowns and two field goals. Book It!