|Time||1 p.m. ET|
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One of football’s oldest rivalries is renewed on Sunday when the Packers head a few hundred miles south to face the Bears for the 203rd time. These teams first met in November 1921, 100 years ago, with the Chicago Staleys securing the home shutout to start the rivalry – and they have been division rivals for most of the time since.
The number of all-time rivalries is near, with the Packers edging the Bears 101-95-6, but Green Bay has dominated this one in recent years. The Packers have won 19 of 22 against the Bears, including 16 by one or more touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers is 20-5 lifetime against the Monsters of the Midway. Rodgers is earning so much in Chicago that they may also have to build a statue of him in the Windy City by the end of his career.
However, Rodgers has never faced Justin Fields before. And these bears are starting to feel different with Fields. They also play their trademark defense, winning ugly matches and are able to steal the lead in the division if they can defend their own ground.
This line has been going up all week, with audiences all over Green Bay as usual. Will Rodgers and the pack do it again?
How good are packers really?
The Packers were knocked down by the Saints in Week 1, but have relaxed and won four games since, and it’s starting to look like the same old Packers. Rodgers is making just enough late plays, Mason Crosby sometimes kicks a winner and the Packers win with their same old formula.
Where are they?
The Packers have gone 13-3 each of the past two seasons and look back on track at 4-1, but Green Bay has been better than good so far. The Packers only rank 15th overall in Football Outsiders DVOA, which is basically the league average over the season. They have a negative points differential, even at 4-1, thanks to two last-second wins and a 35-point loss in Week 1. The offense only ranks 10th in DVOA, nowhere near as deadly. than last season, and the defense ranks 20th and is particularly bad against running, a lousy 29th.
The underlying metrics try to tell us a story – they tell us not to just see Rodgers in green and gold, notice the 4-1 record and assume they’re the same shiny old Packers. Green Bay obviously has the talent to do it, but so far the Packers have done pretty well.
It also makes sense. One of the reasons I felt so good about the Packers heading into the season was that they had a renowned player in all five of the league’s most important positions: quarterback, receiver, tackle, point and corner striker. Well, LB Za’Darius Smith and CB Jaire Alexander are out for the foreseeable future, and LT David Bakhtiari is yet to play while substitute Elgton Jenkins continues to battle injury.
If you take out three of your five big name players, life turns out to be a lot harder.
Davante Adams is still awesome. In five weeks, he’s got more catches (42-36), yards (579-524) and touchdowns (2-1) than the Bears’ entire receiving body.
Rodgers? He hasn’t been as good as last season. It was always going to be the case with huge numbers of outlier yards per attempt and a TD rate that dipped to his still excellent career averages, but there are other worrying signs.
According to NFL Next Gen statistics, Rodgers only has an expected completion percentage of 61.7%, the lowest of any full-time starter and barely ahead of the man he faces on Sunday. This suggests Rodgers is overly aggressive as a passer and doesn’t take good open throws, which could also portend some pattern issues. Rodgers also has an overhead yardage differential of -3.6. He throws it away for a long time but can’t find his guys.
Rodgers certainly hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t measured up to other elite QBs so far this season. Remember that as reliable as he is with the late game, he is also part of the reason the game was still close enough to need that late drive.
Still, Rodgers has been making money at this location. He’s 39-22 (64%) ATS (ATS) as a division favorite and 55-29-1 (65%) ATS as a scoring favorite. There’s a reason the public has been hammering Rodgers all week. We’ve all seen this exact game script play out so many times.
Bears only need a minimum of offense
The seasons change, the world turns, and somehow the bears are still the bears – an impressive defense, perhaps elite, but one that, as always, seeks to find just enough attack. to compete.
Defense looks really great. Coordinator Sean Desai really has this unit that plays well, flies all over the field and looks as good as any defense over the past few weeks. Chicago ranks fifth in Defensive DVOA, and that number is growing every week as this unit hits its stride. Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn already have 9.5 sacks combined, Roquan Smith is a threat in the middle and there is talent from top to bottom of the list. Mack, Eddie Jackson and Akiem Hicks are all questionable but seem likely to play in this big game.
The Bears’ defense is really good – and there’s good reason to think it could be better right now than the Green Bay offense. High school isn’t the strongest point, and Adams has been nearly impossible to cover lately, but the Bears have generally held Adams in check. If this unit can limit Adams, the Packers probably won’t score enough to run away and hide here.
That means it’s up to that Bears offense to find a way. And unfortunately, it still hasn’t been good.
Chicago’s offense ranks 31st in DVOA this season, ahead of only the humble Jets, and Fields struggled to make his mark. He has yet to make more than 12 assists in a game. He’s not really running either, with just three attempts in each of his three starts for 25 combined yards.
Fields has shown a big arm and the ability to get it every now and then, but the Bears have been the heaviest team in the NFL for the past three weeks with him to start. They are clearly trying to protect their young QB, especially with that unstable offensive line, often handing the ball over and limiting Fields’ exposure.
It could work very well against that porous Green Bay defense. David Montgomery is missing in Chicago, and it looks like Damien Williams will likely miss the COVID protocol, which could mean a big day for Khalil Herbert. It looks like a great DFS game and a strong over bet for runs and yards – our Chris Raybon has Herbert on both.
Fields has only completed 51% of his passes so far, and he has a miserable -7.8 percentage completion rate over expectations, according to Next Generation stats. He throws it aggressively when he backs down, but the Bears receivers aren’t helping him much either – Allen Robinson has the worst split rate in any NFL right now, and he’s questionable with an ankle injury.
Fields is a great prospect and should improve every week, but it’s pretty obvious the Bears won’t want this to end in a Rodgers vs. Fields showdown. There is only one way to end.
NFL Pick: Packers vs. Bears
If the Bears are to stay in this game, they’ll have to do it the same way we’ve seen Chicago do it so many times over the past few decades – with average defense in front of a boisterous home crowd, a solid running game that keeps the opposing QB on the sidelines, and just enough Chicago magic to find a way.
At the start of the week, I loved the Packers here. They were my look-ahead pick on the podcast a week ago, as I was expecting a big win in Green Bay and the Bears could lose ugly in Las Vegas. Well, that didn’t happen. The Packers were fortunate enough to escape with a win after missing three late winning kicks, and the Bears outscored the Raiders 3-1 on the road.
I’m starting to wonder if we trust the green and gold jerseys a little too much. Green Bay hasn’t been as dominant as the 4-1 record seems, and Chicago has exactly the kind of formula you’d want from an underdog against this team. The Bears handled the ball really well and should tackle this struggling seven Packers while the defense will give Rodgers all he can handle.
The Packers are also 4-1 ATS, which is quite surprising for a team with a minus points differential. Historically it has been very profitable to do away with the big ATS teams in weeks 6 and 7, just about that mark of the season where the public gets a little too confident in what they’ve seen. According to our data at Action Labs, teams facing opponents with 80-99% ATS records in their sixth or seventh game are an impressive 63-34-3 ATS (64.9%), covering 3.3. points.
Now that that line is almost a touchdown – with the Packers looking a bit overrated and the Bears’ defense playing so well and at home in a divisional rivalry – that sounds like too many points. I’m still convinced the Packers are the better team, but I have to play the numbers and bring the Bears here.
If you really believe in the Bears, you can play the +205 moneyline at FanDuel, but I don’t think you go far enough. If the Bears win here, Chicago takes the lead in the NFC North Division. The Bears are +750 to win the division at DraftKings. If you think Chicago is winning, you should probably bet on the future of their division.
I think Rodgers ends up finding a way, like he always does, to break Chicago’s heart. I’m going to take the Bears +6, but I’m also going to look for an opportunity to bet live on Rodgers during the game at even odds or any number more. Give me the Packers at halftime, or give me Rodgers at the end of the fourth with a chance to drive for the win.
Alternatively, you can also play against the Packers to win by six points or less to +310 at BetMGM. This is my favorite angle since I got cover from the Bears but a win from the Packers, and it’s a great intermediate opportunity if you want to risk playing both sides.
I still trust Rodgers to find a way late, but it won’t be too easy.
To take: Bear + 6; Packers to win by 1-6 (+310) at BetMGM
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