If the Packers defeat the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday, they will clinch the division. They currently hold a one game lead over the Bears and a victory would guarantee them a two game lead and the tie breaker (it would be Green Bay's second victory over Chicago this season) with just two games remaining. The way we currently evaluate the NFC North, if Chicago wins this game, the Bears would still be in the mix for the division title and would need the Packers to lose in at least one more game. With a home playoff game and potential first round bye accompanying a division win, this game has major implications. So who wins? And if the Packers win, do they cover the three-point spread. Good questions...
The Green Bay Packers are 9-4 straight-up and 6-6-1 against-the-spread versus the NFL's ninth ranked strength-of-schedule. On the road this season, the Packers have struggled and are just 3-3 SU and ATS. The Packers rank seventh in our up-to-date NFL Power Rankings and have a top ten pass offense and pass defense. That ranking assumes that both OLB Clay Matthews and S Charles Woodson return to a defense that has been missing them for over a month. Even with those two players on the field and assumed to be 100 percent, Green Bay has one of the weaker run defenses (not to mention a well below average run offense as well) in the league. And while it is good news to the Packers that Woodson and Matthews should be returning, Green Bay will likely still be without WR Jordy Nelson, DEs C.J. Wilson and Mike Neal and RB James Starks (as well as eight other players who have already been placed on Injured Reserve). Health could be the determining factor in this game, in the Packers winning the division and in how the Packers, who still do have a 92.9 percent chance to make the NFL Playoffs, fare in the postseason.
Despite having a full game lead on the next best Wild Card contenders and a schedule that features two teams -- Arizona and Detroit -- that have already been eliminated from postseason play, Bears fans seem to already be resigned to missing the playoffs. We still give Chicago a 68.3 percent chance to make the playoffs and essentially a 50/50 shot to win this game. The Bears are 8-5 SU and 6-7 ATS against the league's 16th ranked schedule. Chicago ranks as the eighth best team in the league -- just one spot behind the Packers -- in our NFL Power Rankings. The Bears have the second most efficient overall defense and the best pass defense in the league (for reference, the Packers throw the ball 58 percent of the time, which accounts for 69 percent of their offense and 86 percent of their touchdowns). The Bears, who have lost LB Brian Urlacher for multiple weeks, were gashed on the ground by Adrian Peterson in Minnesota last week, but this is a completely different situation. Urlacher's absence impacts the run defense far more than the pass defense and Green Bay does not have a RB on its roster with half the talent (not really an exaggeration) of Peterson. (Also, we are assuming that Jay Cutler plays and makes it through this game.) At home at Soldier Field (with rain and wind likely) in a must win game for the division, look for a strong effort from the Bears in a low-scoring, close, NFC North battle.
According to 50,000 simulations of the Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears by the Predictalator, the Packers win just 52.2 percent of the time and by an average score of 19.8-19.1. In a game as close as this, scores within a field goal like 20-19, 21-20, 19-17, 17-16, 14-13 and 23-21 are not all that uncommon. As three-point underdogs that do not even lose by a full point on average, Chicago covers the spread 56.1 percent of the time. With 52.4 percent needed to justify a wager, this would warrant a $39 play from a $50 player (and is our seventh strongest ATS opinion in the NFL on Sunday). With such a defensive battle, the UNDER (43) covers 57.6 percent of the time, which is our second strongest O/U lean of the week in the NFL and would justify a $55 play from a normal $50 player. In the projected Packers @ Bears box score, Brandon Marshall is held to 83 yards on seven catches, while Matt Forte breaks out with 108 rushing yards on 22 carries. Aaron Rodgers falls to 14th (down from his usual top three ranking) in fantasy rankings for the week with this tough matchup.
Follow Paul Bessire on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@predictmachine