London Calling: Bears battle Bucs at Wembley Stadium on Sunday

Chicago Bears vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, England
Sunday, 10/23/11, 1:00 PM EST, TV:  FOX
Opening Point Spread:  Chicago Pick’em
Current Betting Line:  Chicago -1
Opening Total:  42
Current Total:  43.5
Odds Courtesy of Bookmaker

Bears vs. Buccaneers NFL Preview
Tampa Bay QB Josh Freeman saw his first NFL action in London and hopes to win there this time around.

The Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers will meet across the pond at Wembley Stadium on Sunday in the NFL’s annual game in London, England.  Both teams are coming off big wins last week and will try to carry that momentum overseas, although each of them arrived at different times of the week, which could play a role in the game.

The Bears (3-3) are coming off a 39-10 rout of the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday Night Football and did not make it to London until Thursday while the Buccaneers (4-2) arrived on Monday night to give themselves plenty of time to adjust.  Tampa Bay knows how to prepare for this trip since they played the New England Patriots at Wembley just two years ago.

The Bucs lost that game to the Patriots 35-7 but learned a valuable lesson that might just be the difference.  Of course bettors probably will not know if the Bears (-1, O/U 43.5) are affected by their late travel plans until the game kicks off, which makes this matchup tough to handicap.

Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman saw the first action of his pro career late in that loss to New England as a rookie and has come a long way since then.  Freeman is coming off an impressive performance in a 26-20 home win against the New Orleans Saints last week, throwing for a season-high 303 yards and two touchdowns.  His team had suffered a devastating 48-3 road loss to the San Francisco 49ers the week before but obviously showed they can bounce back.

Chicago also rebounded from a bad loss last week, jumping out to a 26-3 halftime lead on Minnesota six days after falling 24-13 to the Detroit Lions on the road.  The Bears have made some key adjustments with their blocking schemes for QB Jay Cutler, who has sacked just once by the Vikings and threw for 267 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions.

The team’s defense also played a lot better after switching out veteran safeties Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather for youngsters Chris Contre and Major Wright, who is nursing a hip injury but is expected to play.  Harris had requested a trade earlier this week but remained with the team and practiced with the first team while Wright sat out.

The Bucs will challenge Chicago’s run defense with running back Earnest Graham, who started in place of the injured LeGarrette Blount (knee) last week and totaled 109 yards on 19 carries.  The Bears are giving up 121.8 yards per game on the ground while Tampa is allowing an average of 114.5 and will try to contain RB Matt Forte, who leads the league with 908 yards rushing and receiving.

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