The term "deja vu" will be on the tips of frozen tongues when the Chicago Bears host the Green Bay Packers this Sunday.
Chicago (8-5) lost to Minnesota last weekend, which—combined with the Packers' (9-4) shellacking of Detroit—dropped them out of the NFC North lead for the first time since Week 3. After starting the season 7-1, the Bears are now facing the unthinkable prospect of missing the playoffs.
Well—maybe "unthinkable" isn't the right word. Ludicrous, sure. But not unthinkable. Not with the Bears. Not one year removed from 2011, where this very same team lost five straight after starting 7-3.
Looking to capitalize, once again, on the Bears' late-season woes are the steady Green Bay Packers. Despite palpable injuries among the wide receivers, and even more palpable deficiencies along the offensive line, Green Bay can clinch the division with a victory in Chicago.
Should the Bears turn 7-1 into another disappointing 16-game season, massive turnover can be expected in Chicago. A win here would keep those fears at bay. A loss would perpetuate them even further.
Let's take a closer look:
When: Sunday, Dec. 16th, 1 p.m. ET
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
Watch: Fox (Check local listings)
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Green Bay -3 (via VegasInsider.com—LVH)
The Packers have nine wins this season, eight of which came by over three points. The Bears have five losses this season, all of which came by over three points.
See where I'm going with this?
I's obviously not an exact science, but for all intents and purposes, you can paper over the spread in this one. If the Packers win, there's a good chance they'll cover. If they lose—obviously—they won't.
So pick the team you think will win straight up. My personal prediction can be found at the bottom.
Over/Under: 42.5 (via VegasInsider.com—LVH)
The numbers regarding Chicago's offense get more unsettling by the week. The Bears rank sixth in Football Outsiders' team efficiency ratings, but do so in spite of their 26th-ranked offense. They're the only team ranked in the overall top-19 with an offense or defense ranked below 25.
They're able to retain a high position thanks to their defense, which, despite a sharp decline in recent weeks, remains the top-ranked unit in the league. And teeing off against the Packers' leaky offensive line—which ranks 31st in pass protection—will be welcome respite from consecutive games against the Seahawks and Vikings.
Green Bay has hit the under in four straight games and five of their last six. Plus, the teams' 23-10 slugfest in Week 2 was the 10th time the Bears and Packers have hit the under in their last 11 meetings.
Bet with the trend and take the under.
Green Bay Packers Injury Report (via USA Today—as of 12/13/12)
|LB Clay Matthews||Hamstring||Probable|
|DB Davon House||Illness||Questionable|
|OT Marshall Newhouse||Wrist||Questionable|
|G T.J. Lang||Ankle||Questionable|
|DE C.J. Wilson||Knee||Questionable|
|LB Terrell Manning||Shoulder||Questionable|
|WR Jordy Nelson||Hamstring||Doubtful|
Chicago Bears Injury Report (via USA Today—as of 12/13/12)
|LB Lance Briggs||Hip||Probable|
|QB Jay Cutler||Neck||Probable|
|DT Stephen Paea||Foot||Probable|
|G Chris Spencer||Knee||Probable|
|TE Kellen Davis||Knee||Questionable|
|LB Geno Hayes||Knee||Questionable|
|DE Shea McClellin||Knee||Questionable|
|WR Earl Bennett||Concussion||Questionable|
|CB Tim Jennings||Shoulder||Questionable|
|LB Brian Urlacher||Hamstring||Out Indefinitely|
Fantasy Big Plays
Green Bay Packers: QB Aaron Rodgers
Not a lot to choose from here, so why not go with old reliable?
Rodgers won't surpass the gaudy precedent he set in 2011, but with the revolving door Green Bay has employed at receiver, his 2012 season has been just as impressive. Jordy Nelson is still, reportedly, a "longshot" to play, but Greg Jennings returned two weeks ago, and this could be the week he finds his legs.
In the Bears' last home game, Russell Wilson threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns. He also scampered around for 71 rushing yards—something Rodgers is equally capable of doing.
He won't be given much time in the pocket (more on that below), but Rodgers' aplomb under fire will allow him to improvise some big gains.
A-Rod won't win your matchup single-handedly, but there are far worse options in Week 15.
Chicago Bears: D/ST
As alluded to earlier, the Packers' offensive line has the second-worst sack rate in the NFL. The only team that ranks lower is Arizona.
That's not exactly prestigious company.
As also alluded to earlier, the Bears' last two games were against Seattle and Minnesota. Their offensive lines boast the 16th and 22nd-best sack rates in the league, respectively, but they've gotten stronger as the year has progressed.
Over the totality of 2012, the Bears' pass rush has shown flashes of greatness. But against Seattle and Minnesota, they were bottled up to the tune of just one sack—combined.
So like a potent man who's gone two weeks without....well, you know....expect the Bears' front four to come out frustrated, aggressive and dangerously reckless against the Packers.
Consider anything short of four sacks and two turnovers a letdown.
Key to Victory: Green Bay Pass Rush
Through the duration of this primer, much ado has been made about the Bears' pass rush vs. the Packers' offensive line. But the converse matchup could actually be the game's deciding factor.
The Bears' offensive line has been just as abysmal as the Packers': They rank third-worst in the league with a sack-rate of 8.6 percent—one-tenth of a point better than Green Bay's.
But whereas Chicago's pass rush has been a (relatively) steady force, the Packers' has gone AWOL on more than one occasion.
Clay Matthews is slated to return this week, and his form will be of paramount importance. If he truly looks like Clay Matthews, the Bears have no one who can slow him down. They've proved as much, allowing the blonde assassin to tally 3.5 sacks in Week 2.
If he looks banged up or rusty, however, Jay Cutler might be able to find a rhythm. And that's always a dangerous proposition.
It's easy to get caught up in the moment. And the current moment dictates that the Packers will win handily on Sunday.
But it's not so cut-and-dry. They're going in opposite directions, sure, but Football Outsiders still rates Chicago slightly higher than Green Bay in weighted DVOA.
The Bears have lost only twice in Chicago this season. Once, on a rainy night against the 11-2 Texans, Jay Cutler got hurt, forcing the Bears to use a backup QB and a limited playbook.
The second loss came against Seattle—the league's second-best team, according to Football Outsiders—in a game the Bears led with 24 seconds remaining.
Insofar as I'm concerned, neither of those losses can really be held against them.
At Soldier Field, with the 2012 season (and possibly a number of 2013 jobs) on the line, Chicago shows up big and silences the critics.
Predicted Score: Chicago 20, Green Bay 17