Green Bay Packers vs. Chicago Bears Preview: Can the Packers Clinch the NFC’s Top Seed?

Phil P

A few weeks ago, it looked like the Chicago Bears would be sitting at home in January, watching seven other NFC teams in the postseason. Now, the Bears are in a position to be one of those seven teams, but there is the small matter of beating Green Bay at home on Sunday. The NFC North rivals kick-off at 4:25 pm ET on FOX. The Packers are favored by 4.5 points, while the total for the game is set at 50.5.

The Bears (8-7) can still get into the playoffs if they lose if Arizona (8-7) also loses to the Los Angeles Rams, as they hold the tiebreaker over the Cardinals. However, a win would be even sweeter for Chicago, as it would not only secure their playoff spot but could also prevent the Packers (12-3) from clinching the top seed in the NFC.

Green Bay Packers Preview

Last season, the Packers finished 13-3 but were beaten out to the NFC’s top seed by San Francisco due to a head-to-head loss. That proved to be vital, as the 49ers hosted and won the NFC Championship matchup between them. This season, the Packers have 13-3 in their sights again, but this time it would net them the top seed ahead of New Orleans and Seattle.

Green Bay heads into Week 17 with five wins in a row since an overtime loss at Indianapolis in Week 11, in which they blew a two-touchdown lead in the second half. The Packers have not had too many bad performances this season or overall in Matt LaFleur’s two seasons as coach. A big part of that consistency is Aaron Rodgers’ continued excellence. Rodgers has already locked up his ninth 4,000 yard season, and he has thrown a career-high 44 touchdown passes, with only five interceptions in 502 attempts. He also is completing a career-best 70.3% of his passes, and if he can remain at 70% or better after Sunday, it will be the first time in his career that he has hit that mark.

One of the reasons why Rodgers has been so good is his offensive line, which has allowed him to be sacked only 19 times. However, that line suffered a devastating blow on Thursday, as Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari went down in practice with an apparent torn ACL. With Bakhtiari done for the season, versatile lineman Billy Turner, who started at left tackle when Bakhtiari was injured earlier this season, could be tasked with protecting Rodgers’ blind side again.

Offensively, the Packers are third in the NFL in yards per game (393.9), thanks to the ninth-ranked passing offense (257.9 ypg) and the eighth-ranked rushing offense (135.9 ypg). Most notably, they are also first in the league in fewest giveaways with only 10. Their improvement on the ground is a big part of why they are a serious championship contender, as they went from averaging 104.2 rushing yards per game in Mike McCarthy’s last season in 2018, to 112.2 yards per game last season, to now posting the best average of any season in the Aaron Rodgers era thus far. Their other Aaron, running back Aaron Jones, has followed up last season’s breakout campaign by going for 1,062 yards and eight touchdowns on an average of 5.6 yards per carry.

Defensively, the Packers are also one of the soundest units in the NFL. They have given up some points this year, but last time out, they held Tennessee, one of the league’s most potent offenses, to only 14 points and 260 yards in a 40-14 rout. Linebacker Za’Darius Smith is having another excellent season, with 50 tackles, 16.5 tackles for loss, and 12.5 sacks, while safety Darnell Savage leads the team with four interceptions. Green Bay held only two of their first 11 opponents under 20 points, but three of their last four opponents have been held to under 20 points. They have a modest 16 takeaways this season, but they did record three takeaways in a 41-25 win over Chicago in Week 12.

Chicago Bears Preview

The Bears opened the season 5-1, giving hope that they could challenge the Packers for the NFC North. Then they entered into freefall, dropping six games in a row to fall below .500 heading into the home stretch. But they have woken up just in time to save their playoff hopes and potentially coach Matt Nagy’s job, with three wins in a row to move ahead of the Cardinals for the seventh seed in the NFC.

The defense was supposed to the big calling card this season, but it’s the offense that has led this late surge. In their win streak, the Bears are averaging 36.7 points and 399.3 yards per game. After being benched for Nick Foles earlier in the season, Mitchell Trubisky has found his groove since returning to the starting lineup in Week 12. In his last five starts, Trubisky has completed 68% of his passes for 1,243 yards and ten touchdowns, with four interceptions.

Solid performances in the passing game make things all the better for the ground game, and that has been the case for the Bears. Second-year back David Montgomery is flourishing down the stretch, recording all three of his 100-yard performances of the season over Trubisky’s last five starts to cross the 1,000 yard mark for the season. In that stretch, Montgomery has run for 529 yards and six touchdowns on an average of 5.6 yards per carry, and he has also caught 15 passes for 162 yards (10.8 yards per catch) and a touchdown. In his first nine games of the season, Montgomery had run for only 472 yards and one touchdown on an average of 3.6 yards per carry and had 30 catches for 213 yards (7.1 yards per catch) and one touchdown.

Defensively, the Bears have not been as stout as past Bears defenses, but linebacker Roquan Smith is having a stellar season with 136 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, four sacks, and two interceptions, and was unlucky to miss out Pro Bowl selection. Khalil Mack has not been his most dominant self, but he does have 46 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, and eight sacks. On the season, the Bears rank 11th in yards allowed per game (346.9), 13th in passing yards allowed per game (231.2), 15th in rushing yards allowed per game (115.7), and ninth in points allowed per game (22.5). The most noteworthy thing for the Bears defensively is the fact that they have 36 takeaways total in the last two seasons–19 last season, 17 this season–after having a league-leading 36 in the 2018 season.

Betting Breakdown

Odds via FanDuel as of 1/03/21 (10:00 AM ET)

Spread: Green Bay -4.5 (+108), Chicago +4.5 (-112)

Moneyline: Green Bay -225, Chicago +188

Total: Over 48.5 (-110), Under 48.5 (-110)

Key Trends

  • The Packers are 5-2 on the road this season. In those games, they are averaging 31.6 points per game and allowing an average of 28.1 points per game.
  • Green Bay has topped the 30-point mark in six of their seven road games and in 11 of 15 games overall. The only road game in which they missed that mark was a 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay in Week 6.
  • Green Bay has allowed 30 or more points in four of their road games. They have allowed under 20 points only once on the road, in a 34-17 win at San Francisco in Week 9.
  • Chicago is 3-4 at home this season. In those games, they are averaging 21.4 points per game and allowing an average of 19.6 points per game.
  • Over their last five games, which Mitchell Trubisky has started, the Bears are averaging 33 points per game and allowing an average of 25.2 points per game.
  • Only one of the Bears’ first 10 games saw a total hit over 50.5, while four of their last five games have.
  • Nine of the Packers’ 15 games have seen the total hit over 50.5, including six of their seven road games.

Best Bets

Chicago Bears team total over 23.5 (-110): The Bears have been productive offensively since Trubisky returned to the starting lineup in Week 12. Will continued offensive production be enough to get a vital win? Maybe, maybe not, but it will be enough to win this bet.

Prediction

The Packers are by far the better team, but the Bears have been playing well at the right time and are at home for their biggest game of the season. That said, the Packers come off of one of their best wins of the season, as they routed one of the AFC’s best teams, and they will not be content with just the NFC North title. Not only is this a game against their fiercest rival, but the memory of missing out on the #1 seed last year and thus having to play the NFC Championship game on the road instead of at Lambeau Field should act as fuel for a strong performance. Even a loss might not keep the Bears out of the postseason, with Arizona facing one of the NFL’s best defenses on the road. The spread is too tricky to take a side here, but look for the over to cash.

Tip: Over 48.5

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