A win in Week 4 would give the Oakland Raiders their best start to a season since they reached the Super Bowl in 2002. They have a good chance to do so when they visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday afternoon, as Oakland faces a team that has struggled as bad as any in the NFL.
Oakland is on a two-game winning streak, having won two games as underdogs. After losing a competitive game to the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, the Bears were been blown out in their next two games, becoming one of four 0-3 teams.
Chicago is an underdog for the fourth time this season, getting three points at home against Oakland, according to vegasinsider.com. The over/under has been set a 44.5 points.
Jay Cutler or Jimmy Clausen?
When Cutler suffered a hamstring injury in Week 2, it appeared that he’d miss at least the next two games and Clausen would be the Bears’ quarterback for the foreseeable future. The odds seem to be against Chicago’s No.1 quarterback returning against Oakland, but it’s not out of the question. Cutler returned to practice on Wednesday and was a limited participant.
Bears head coach John Fox said Cutler had a good practice, but he didn’t give any indication that he’d play on Sunday. Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio is preparing to face Cutler, and he said he’d be “shocked” if the quarterback doesn’t take the field this weekend.
Cutler has received his share of criticism as Chicago’s quarterback, but he’d undoubtedly give the Bears a much better chance than Clausen to win. The Bears had the NFL’s worst offensive performance of the season with Clausen under center for a whole game. Chicago punted on all of their 10 possessions in a 26-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, and Clausen completed just nine passes for 63 yards. The quarterback is 1-10 in his career as a starter, though he could get wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey back, who was limited in practice on Wednesday after missing the last two games.
Oakland’s New Expectations
Having won no more than four games in each of the last three seasons, the Raiders find themselves in an unfamiliar position by winning two of their first three contests. After getting off to a hot start and looking like a potential playoff team, Oakland is facing new expectations.
After 27 consecutive games of being the underdog, the Raiders are finally favored to win a game. Oakland hasn’t been favored since they played the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013, according to ESPN’s Bill Williamson, and they ended up losing that game by 29 points. The Raiders are one of just six road favorites in Week 4, and they haven’t been favored away from home since they visited the Miami Dolphins in September 2012. The Raiders lost that game, as well, falling 35-13.
Las Vegas odds makers seem to rank Oakland higher than they did a week ago. They were getting 3.5 points in their visit to Cleveland, meaning they would even be underdogs against the Browns on a neutral field. The Raiders were home underdogs in their games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens.
Two Bad Defenses
Chicago might have the NFL’s worst offense with Clausen as their starter, but no defense has been worse statistically than Oakland’s in 2015. The Raiders have been able to win two games by averaging 32 points in their victories, but they’ve still given up 414.7 yards per game on the season.
Oakland’s biggest struggles have come against the pass, giving up 323 yards per game in the air. Andy Dalton posted a 115.9 passer rating against the Raiders in the opener, and both Joe Flacco and Josh McCown threw for at least 340 yards against Oakland in the next two weeks.
The Bears haven’t allowed as many yards as the Raiders, but they’re giving up almost a touchdown more each game. Chicago ranks dead last in the NFL, surrendering an average of 35 points per contest. In their last two games, they’ve allowed two kick returns and one interception return for touchdowns.
A lot of what happens depends on the health of Jay Cutler. If he starts, the Bears offense should be much improved, and they’ll have a good chance to win the game. But Chicago isn’t likely to rush Cutler back and risk further injury, in which case they’ll be lucky to score more than 10 points.
Oakland over Chicago, 24-10