The Green Bay Packers have already matched their loss total from a year ago. The Chicago Bears believe they have closed the gap. Something has to give and Thursday night could set the tone for both teams the rest of the season.
The early offseason line on this game had the Bears as 7.5-point underdogs. I would love to have that number now, but I'll settle for +6. After Week 1 the line re-opened at -5, but the line has gone back and forth all week. Early in the week action came in on the Packers and moved it to -6, but since then sharp money has come back on the dog (odds from SBRforum).
Let's take a closer look why the Bears are undervalued.
This pick might come across as a bit contradictory given the reasoning I used last week when I was on the Packers. I put forth the question whether or not Green Bay were spread-proof in much the same way the New England Patriots are.
The logic is that the books consistently inflate the line, but they continue to cover anyway (11-5 ATS in 2011); thanks in large part to Aaron Rodgers. In Week 1 the wiseguys faded the Patriots and paid the price for it. I'm not about to throw all that out the window just because the 49ers spanked them, but I'm willing to take a chance on this game thanks to the improvements (and health) of the Chicago offense.
Chicago Bears 2.0?
In the offseason there were a lot of things that were viewed as "positive" with their offense. Mike Martz is out, Mike Tice is in. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery were brought in to finally give Jay Cutler some real receiving options. Gabe Carimi returned from injury to give the O-line some much-needed help. Michael Bush was signed to complement Matt Forte.
I'm not about to declare them the next offensive juggernaut because they pasted the Indianapolis Colts, but it's hard to ignore the potential of this unit now. Over the last few years I have always been the first in line to rip the Bears' offense for putting up sad-sack numbers; not only in the traditional categories, but also in the all-important "make-or-break" categories, too.
They'll be going up against a defense that was not only badly prepared in Week 1, but failed to adjust during the game or execute base schemes that should be standard fare by now. The Desmond Bishop injury takes away their best blitzer, but there should still be enough talent here to slow offenses down once in a while.
I don't think the Bears' offense goes wild here, but with a healthy Forte in the backfield and Marshall on the outside, it's going to be hard to account for everybody. These guys alone will give Jeffery, Hester and Davis very favorable matchups.
If the Packers want to win this game, they'll need B.J. Raji to be a disruptive force in the middle while Nick Perry and Clay Mathews attack this still-questionable O-line. It wouldn't hurt if Charles Woodson makes some big plays either.
No Jennings, No Problem?
Greg Jennings is now listed as "doubtful" to play, but it might come down to another Jennings in this one. Tim Jennings might be matched up with Jordy Nelson on Thursday, which would feature quite the height disadvantage; 5'8" vs. 6'3".
The hope is that Charles Tillman will be good-to-go after suffering a shin injury. It seems like he'll be playing according to ESPN, despite not practicing all week. With Greg Jennings out, and Tillman in, Chicago's ability to slow down the aerial attack improves immensely.
My main concern comes from Jermichael Finley. This guy is a beast and he's had great success against the Bears the last few meetings. With Jennings doubtful, they'll likely look his way even more.
Those injuries are key because you can't expect much from the GB running game. Cedric Benson is serviceable, but the Bears feature a stout front seven. What's more important for the Packers is their efficiency in 3rd-and-short—an area again in which Rodgers often takes charge and breaks the backs of defenses.
When you line up all three phases of the game, offense, defense and special teams, I find it puzzling that the Packers are getting this much respect on the spread. Sure, Randall Cobb has closed the special teams gap between these teams, but I think Chicago is much more balanced across the board. If I were setting this line I'd have GB favored by 3.5.
NFL Pick: CHI (+6).