Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) at Chicago Bears (8-7)
Aaron Rodgers is back! The Packers are saved! Right? Well that seems to be what everyone is thinking. The public pulse is that the Packers are now de facto NFC North Champions now that Mike McCarthy has said the words “Aaron Rodgers will be our starting quarterback” and the Bears are screwed. Reports say public bettors are literally lining up to take the Packers as mere 3 point favorites here. Public bettors always lose money in the long run though. There’s a reason why the odds makers set this line at 3. This feels like a trap bet.
Aaron Rodgers certainly upgrades their offense. Before he got hurt, the Packers were moving the chains at a 77.12% rate through 7 games, which would have ranked 3rd in the NFL right now if it had been sustained through 15 games, only behind Denver and San Diego. I have no doubt that if Rodgers had never gotten hurt, the Packers would have one of the NFL’s premier offenses once again right now. However, I have some concern that Rodgers won’t be 100% in his first game back.
The injury reportedly isn’t giving him any real pain when he throws and he’s been practicing well for a couple of weeks, but practice is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to be thrown back into game action after 2 months off. There could be some rust as he seeks to get back to game speed. He also has had limited practice with the first team, so there could be some chemistry issues. There is also some concern that Rodgers’ teammates give less than 100% knowing that their “savior” Aaron Rodgers is back.
The bigger concern, however, is this Packer defense. That’s something Rodgers can’t control and they’re one of the worst in the NFL, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 74.42% rate. Injuries have hit them badly there as well and things aren’t going to get better this week. In fact, they could get worse as Clay Matthews is expected out for this one after re-breaking his thumb and also the defense could feel they don’t have to give 100% with savior Aaron Rodgers back. If you take their opponents’ rate of moving the chains and subtract it from that 77.12% number from earlier, that’s a differential of 2.70% and that’s an absolute best case scenario.
The Bears, meanwhile, are moving the chains at a 75.56% rate, as opposed to 76.54%, a differential of -0.98% that ranks 19th in the NFL. Given that, this line should be around a pick em or 1 point in favor of Green Bay, instead of 3, and, again that’s an absolute best case scenario. The Packers could easily move the ball all over Chicago’s putrid defense, but the Bears could do the same to the Packers’ and they are the home team with the only quarterback starting in this game that has played in the last 2 or so months. Football Outsiders actually backs this up as their playoff odds model has this game at a 50/50 toss up, so getting that field goal with Chicago could be valuable.
The Bears’ putrid defense let up 54 points to the Eagles last week in a 54-11 loss, but that actually makes it more likely they’ll cover this week. It’s counterintuitive, but teams are 45-23 ATS off of a loss by 35 or more since 2002, including 20-6 ATS as home underdog. It makes sense when you think about it, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. I’ve already gotten into undervalued, but overlooked and embarrassed could definitely be in play as well. The Packers could overlook the “lowly” Bears with Rodgers back, while the Bears could give 110% to put last week behind them against a team that now has their starting quarterback back.
Of course, this is essentially a play-in game so both teams could be at 100%, which would nullify some of that and work to the Packers’ advantage, but getting field goal protection with Chicago does seem like the right call right now. I definitely wish we were getting more than a field goal though, especially since Jay Cutler has lost to Aaron Rodgers 7 out of 8 times, but there once was a time that Joe Flacco couldn’t beat Ben Roethlisberger. That changed. This could too. I’m tentatively going with the Bears for a low confidence pick, but if the line increases or I become more confident I could make this a medium confidence pick later in the week.
Green Bay Packers 31 Chicago Bears 30
Pick against spread: Chicago +3