Green Bay Packers (7-6 SU, 7-5-1 ATS) vs. Chicago Bears (3-10 SU, 6-7 ATS)
NFL Week 15
Date/Time: Sunday, December 18 at 1PM EST
Where: Soldier Field
by Evergreen, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: GB -6.5/CHI +6.5
Over/Under Total: 44
Winter has officially arrived in the Midwest, so the only thing hot right now for NFC North teams is the playoff race. Green Bay heads to Chicago this weekend looking for a fourth straight win in order to keep the division leading Lions in sight. The Bears are playing out the string on another lackluster year but Iím sure they would love to dent the playoff hopes of their most bitter rival. As it can this time of year, the weather could provide a major influence come Sunday as temps are forecasted to hover around zero at game time. Chicago fans would love nothing more than to see the Packers season put on ice.
Despite being just one game over .500 at 7-6, Green Bay is getting a lot of love from the online betting sites as 6.5 point favorites. There are some seven point spreads out there are well and an amazing 77% of the public money has come in on the Packers side. These teams split the series last season but Green Bay has won eight of the last ten straight up and have won 23-of-33 against the spread going back quite a way. The Pack is 7-1 ATS in their last eight December contests but the Bears have played well of late, going 4-0 ATS in their last four overall and 4-1 against the spread in their last five at Soldier Field. If you like the Sagarin ratings, Green Bay is more like a five point favorite according to the computers and no more than a six point favorite under the new offense-defense method.
Green Bay comes in riding a three-game winning streak and appears to be over most of the troubles they encountered during an earlier four game losing skid. The offense is still pass-heavy but Aaron Rodgers and his skill guys have found success more often than not recently and that offensive production has taken some of the heat off of a banged-up Packers defense. The offense shouldnít need to be perfect this weekend given the opponent and weather but Rodgersí injury situation is a concern. There is no thought that he will miss the game but A-Rod strained his calf during last weekís action and he already was dealing with a strained hamstring in the other leg. The calf is probably more troublesome when it applies to his play and while the sub-zero temps are never good for soft tissue injuries, the reports are this is more of a pain management issue than a mechanical one that could sideline him after any one play. Rodgers will be limited in his mobility and that does cause some worry as the Bears have seen three different defenders get to seven sacks thus far. The pass rush isnít dominant but pestering the Green Bay QB is job number one for any defense and Chicago could see some success there with a hobbling opponent.
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The Bears limp in with that 3-10 record but they have managed a more respectable 6-7 ATS mark with their ability to play some teams close even though the end result was a straight up loss. They were dropped by six points at the Colts and Giants, lost by three at Detroit and fell to Jacksonville by just one. Close losses donít account for anything in the real world but Chicago can be a better bet than what you would think at first glance. The defense has played better than expected with top-7 ranks in passing and total yards allowed and they are basically league average in allowing 22.3 points per game. They allow less than four yards per rush, keep the opposing QB under a 90 rating and limit third down conversions to 38.9 percent. Those are all above average stats and ones that help keep a team in a game when they might not be projected to. The big question for this week is if that defense can slow a Green Bay offense that is trending upward.
The Chicago D will need a top-tier effort on Sunday because the offense is limited to put it kindly. The Bears are not ranked in the top-half of the league in any yardage category and come in 30th in points scored at 17 per game. They average just over 28 minutes of possession and convert just 36% of their third downs so the overall package just isnít great. Matt Barkley will take the snaps again this week and while he has played alright at times, he still has the look of a career backup. He has hit on just 54% of his passes for four touchdowns and four interceptions and the big play is seemingly absent with him in there. The passing game will get a boost from the return of Alshon Jeffery this week. Jeffery leads the team in receiving yards despite missing the last month and he should be motivated to perform with only three weeks left in his contract year. He and Cameron Meredith are big receivers that pose tough matchups for a suspect Green Bay secondary so maybe the Bears can do a bit better than average of 242 passing yards per game. Jordan Howard has been aces since he took over the starting running back job and he will likely pass the 1,000 yard mark this week. He averages five yards per carry and is a big factor in the passing game as well. The Packers rank 9th in rush defense but are allowing 3.9 yards per carry which isnít all that great. If the Bears can keep the game close and stick with the run, they should see game-long production.
If you have watched any Packer football the last three weeks, you have seen the kind of play that Aaron Rodgers is capable of. Even while nursing a bad hammy, A-Rod has found the open man and made big throws more often than not. He, and Mike McCarthy, have embraced the throw-first scheme that the injuries to the running game have forced them into and the Pack are better for it after struggling through the transition. Ty Montgomery has looked better in his adapted role as half-back and he is averaging five yards per carry while remaining a receiving threat out of the backfield. You know what you get with Jordy Nelson, Davante Adams and Randall Cobb but Jared Cook has also emerged as a middle of the field target since his return from injury, giving Green Bay another target that must be covered. Cook is listed as probable for Sunday after leaving last week with a bruised lung. Overall, the Green Bay offensive stats have been on a steady climb and they are now top-half in everything but rushing yards and check in at 7th in points scored at 25.6 per contest.
I think the 6.5-7 is a big number for a game that the weather will play such a big factor in. Both teams are going to be challenged to rack up consistent ball movement and that should put a pretty hard ceiling on points. I give Green Bay a good chance to score 20 given their solid play over that last three weeks but it wonít be automatic for them and there is a big question mark surrounding Rodgers ability to make a play outside of his first or second read. It wonít be any easier for Barkley and the Bears but they have the better running back and a little more potential for a big play with Jeffery back in there. They have said for years that the muddy field evens things up and even pushes the needle to the side of the lesser team and I think the low temps will do the same this weekend. If Barkley can keep the turnovers to a minimum, and Howard can find something north of 80 rushing yards, then Chicago can get 14 on the board and I like them to get the ATS win with Green Bay getting the 20-14 straight up W.
Evergreenís Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Chicago
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