Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Chicago Bears (8-5)
I’ve called the Packers overrated before. This was because they were really banged up with injuries and as a result, they weren’t really playing as well as people thought they are. Injuries to Cedric Benson and now James Starks left the mediocre Alex Green as the feature back, running behind an offensive line that struggles both to run block and pass protect. Bryan Bulaga is out for the season and TJ Lang, who moved from guard to right tackle in his absence, has also missed time. Undrafted free agent Don Barclay, who has sucked in the last two weeks in his absence, might get this start.
On the defensive side of the ball, Clay Matthews has also missed time, leaving the Packers without their top pass rusher and leaving them with only one of the 4 starting linebackers they entered into Training Camp with. Nick Perry and Desmond Bishop are on IR, while DJ Smith, who replaced Bishop, is also on IR. Charles Woodson has also missed time.
The Packers were so good in 2010 despite injuries because they still had key defensive players healthy. Clay Matthews, Desmond Bishop, Cullen Jenkins, BJ Raji, Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, and Nick Collins were all huge for them on the league’s 2nd ranked scoring defense. Matthews and Bishop are out for the year and Woodson has also missed time. Jenkins left as a free agent and Raji hasn’t been the same since 2010. Nick Collins had to retire because of injury, leaving Williams as the only one of those 7 healthy and playing near his 2010 level this year. They’ve added some nice young players in the meantime, like Casey Hayward, but it’s not enough for them to be considered as good currently as they once were.
Last year, they were so good despite a rough defense because they dominated the turnover battle and scored 35.0 points per game. This year, thanks to injuries and the pure unsustainability of that 35.0 points per game figure, they are averaging just 24.8 points per game. That’s good, but a far cry from last season. They didn’t come into this season with the goal of being the league’s #11 scoring offense. Meanwhile, their turnover differential is down from +24 to +7. All of this has combined to expose a vulnerable and now injury riddled defense.
Look at the Packers’ last 7 games and I’ll show you what I mean. Their only win by more than 10 in that stretch was before their bye and this is despite playing Arizona, Jacksonville, St. Louis, Minnesota, and the Lions twice. Meanwhile, the only real team they played during that stretch, the Giants, absolutely blew them out. Even more embarrassing, that blowout win for the Giants was sandwiched in between straight up losses as road dogs to the Bengals and Redskins.
The Packers rank just 12th in net points per drive at 0.17, as a result. The Bears, meanwhile, rank 9th at 0.40. If you take the difference between those two figures, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per game per team), and add 2.5 points for home field, you get that line should be Chicago -5. That holds up somewhat to DVOA, as the Bears rank 6th in DVOA and weighted DVOA, while the Packers rank 5th and 7th respectively. Nothing in there says the Bears should be 3 point home dogs.
We’re getting significant line value with the Bears, especially since this line has moved significantly in the past week. This line was Chicago -1 last week and now it’s at Green Bay -3. In spite of this, the public is all over the Packers and I love fading the public, especially on heavy public leans and especially on heavy public leans after big line movements. Chicago being home dogs has put them in a good spot trends wise. Teams are 105-62 ATS as dogs before being favorites since 2011. Going off that, home dogs are 55-32 ATS before being road favorites since 2002. The Bears go to Arizona next week.
The reason this line shifted 4 points in the past week is because the Bears lost in Minnesota. People assume that was because of the Bears’ injuries (more on those later) and that they can’t possibly compete with the Packers this week because of that. Well, I’m not so shocked the Bears lost in Minnesota. The Vikings are 6-1 there, including a win over the 49ers. Besides, the Bears’ defense wasn’t why they lost. Their defense really only gave up one good scoring drive. The other two touchdowns the Vikings scored were either on a pick six or directly off a long touchdown return. Their offense was why they lost, not their defense. Their offense has generally been solid this season, so I see that as a bit of a fluke.
All this being said, these two teams are going in a different direction injury wise. Clay Matthews is expected to return for the Packers, as is TJ Lang. Jordy Nelson and Charles Woodson are still out, so they’re not 100% yet, but I’ve said they could be very dangerous if they can be healthy and Matthews’ return is huge, even if he’ll be limited in his snap count. He’s really their only good pass rusher and I wouldn’t have given them much chance to take advantage of the Bears’ weak offensive line without him.
The Bears, meanwhile, are missing not just Brian Urlacher and Tim Jennings, but they will also be without Henry Melton in this one. They didn’t seem to miss Urlacher and Jennings against Minnesota, but the Packers are a much better offense and Melton’s absence will also be huge. It’s also worth noting that the Bears have had a lot of issues beating teams of the Packers’ caliber this year. They are 1-5 ATS as dogs or favorites of less than 4, including 1-5 SU. In other situations, they are 5-1-1 ATS and 7-0 SU.
At the end of the day, I think the Bears are the right side, but I’m not that confident in it. However, I love fading heavy public leans, especially after a big line shift for no real reason. Besides, every year, one team goes from out of the playoffs to a first round bye. In order for that to happen, either the Seahawks or Bears have to win out and the Packers and 49ers have to lose once. This is the game the Packers are most likely to lose and like Seahawks/49ers next week, it will kill birds with one stone, if that is to happen once again. It’s happened every year in at least the last decade.
Public lean: Green Bay (80% range)
Chicago Bears 24 Green Bay Packers 23 Upset Pick +145
Pick against spread: Chicago +3 (-110) 2 units