Packers, Steelers, Patriots Favored In 3 Key Games Sunday

By: Don Best Staff | Friday, December 14, 2012

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
NFL Betting Preview
12/16/2012 at 1:00 p.m. (ET)
Opening Lines: Packers -3, O/U 42
(click for latest NFL odds)
Television: FOX

Green Bay Packers: The NFC North title is on the line when the Pack (9-4 straight-up, 7-6 against the spread) heads to the Windy City with a one-game lead over the Bears and the opportunity to clinch the division with a victory. Green Bay won its second straight with a 27-20 home decision over Detroit last week to take sole command of the NFC North. The Packers were held under 300 yards on offense but still managed to cover the 5½-point line for a second consecutive point-spread triumph and fourth cover in five games. Jordy Nelson, the team's second-leading receiver with 46 catches for 658 yards, missed the Lions game with a hamstring injury and is doubtful for Sunday's tilt in Chicago, but linebacker Clay Matthews is expected to return to action (click to check updated NFL injury report). Green Bay won its fifth straight in this series with a 23-10 home victory in Week 2 as 5½-point chalk, limiting the Bears to 171 yards of offense. The Packers have covered the last four vs. Chicago, a string that started with the 2011 NFC Championship.

Chicago Bears: While the Packers have won two straight, the Bears (8-5 SU, 6-7 ATS) have dropped their last two following a 21-14 defeat last Sunday in Minnesota as 1-point road favorites. The setback was Chicago's fourth in the last five games during a tough stretch on the schedule, each defeat also a loss at the NFL betting window. Quarterback Jay Cutler left the Vikings game with a neck injury after completing 22-of-44 passes and throwing a couple of picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown that proved to be the winning score for Minnesota. Cutler is listed as probable for the matchup with the Packers and is expected to start. The Bears also lost kicker Robbie Gould for the season with a calf injury in the loss to Minnesota, and they have signed Olindo Mare to replace him. Chicago is 7-6 "over" for the season, but this series has gone "under" nine of the last 10 clashes, including the past five played at Soldier Field.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Dallas Cowboys
NFL Betting Preview
12/16/2012 at 4:25 p.m. (ET)
Opening Lines: Dallas -1, O/U 44
(click for latest NFL odds)
Television: CBS

Pittsburgh Steelers: The Steelers (7-6 straight-up, 5-7-1 against the spread) have seen this spread move in their favor even after a bad 34-24 home loss to San Diego last week as 7-point favorites. It was a 34-10 game before two meaningless Pittsburgh touchdowns. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (ribs, shoulder) returned after missing three games and struggled early, although he finished with decent numbers (22-of-42 for 285 yards, 3 TDs, one pick). Pitt was badly outgained in time of possession (37-23 minutes) and needs to get the running game going with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. Coach Mike Tomlin’s team is tied for the final AFC playoff spot with Cincy, but he has to be concerned about his defense, which has allowed 24.7 points per game the last three contests with the "over" going 3-0 compared to 15 ppg the prior five with the "under" going 5-0.

Dallas Cowboys: Dallas (7-6 SU, 5-8 ATS) is also in the NFC playoff hunt, but in a much more precarious position than Pittsburgh. Coach Jason Garrett’s guys have won four of five, but they have been living dangerously with fourth-quarter comebacks in the last three victories. Quarterback Tony Romo could be without leading receiver Dez Bryant (1,028 yards), as he has a broken finger but has vowed to play. His absence would be a big blow as the running game is still pretty quiet even with DeMarco Murray (foot) returning two games ago. Dallas is a terrible 0-6 ATS (3-3 SU) at Cowboys Stadium this year. The defense has allowed a whopping 30.8 ppg the last five at home with the "over" going 4-1. The rivalry between the Steelers and Cowboys is famous for the three Super Bowl matchups, but they have played each other just twice since 1997, both Pittsburgh wins and covers.

San Francisco 49ers at New England Patriots
NFL Betting Preview
12/16/2012 at 8:20 p.m. (ET)
Opening Lines: Pats -4½, O/U 49
(click for latest NFL odds)
Television: NBC

San Francisco 49ers: Coach Jim Harbaugh and the Niners (9-3-1 straight-up, 8-5 against the spread) face their second consecutive AFC East opponent, and one that should present a greater challenge than the Dolphins a week ago. San Francisco's defense had little problem stifling the Miami attack in the 27-13 win, limiting the Fins to 227 total yards to grab the cover as 11-point home chalk. It was the third win and cover for the 49ers in their last four games, and the final just skipped past the 38½-point mark for the fourth "over" in five contests. San Fran's stop unit ranks second in the NFL, allowing just 275.5 yards per contest, but will now be up against the league's top-ranked offense in New England (425.7 ypg). One injury concern for the Niners is WR Mario Manningham, who is questionable with a shoulder issue (click to check updated NFL injury report). San Francisco has won six of the last nine vs. the Patriots but covered just one of the last five.

New England Patriots: A 42-14 dismantling of the Texans last week has the Pats (10-3 SU, 8-4-1 ATS) riding a seven-game winning streak into this matchup with the 49ers. New England built a 28-0 lead early in he third quarter as Tom Brady picked apart the Houston defense with four touchdown passes to easily cover the 5½-point spread. Brady is tied with Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III for the top passer rating in the league at 104.2. A late score by the Texans sent the game past the 50½ mark, making the "over" 6-1 in the last seven for the Patriots. It was the third time in four games that New England scored at least 42 points, and fifth time this season to boost the team's average to an NFL-best 36.3 ppg, more than a touchdown per game better than Denver's 28.8, which ranks second. The Patriots have won the last three meetings with San Francisco, covering each time. Four of the last five in this series have remained "under" the total.

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