The last few weeks we've heard a lot of chatter about rivalries in the NFL Playoffs. Well, I got news for you: there are few better rivalries in the entire sports world than the Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears.
Maybe it is the 21 combined championships. Maybe it is the 48 combined members in the Hall of Fame. Maybe it is the tradition or the at-its-roots nostalgia that these two ancient Midwestern franchises conjure up. But when the Packers travel to Soldiers Field at 2 p.m. on Sunday for their 183rd meeting with the Bears, there will be a lot more at stake than pride.
The Bears and Packers will square off in the NFC Championship Game for a shot at the ultimate prize in our nation's prominent sport—the Super Bowl title. This is the first time in 70 years that these two have met in the postseason, and this has to be considered one of the most monumental games in this matchup's history.
But that is the past. And the Super Bowl is in the future of the winner. But in the present we have to try to break down which one of these teams is going to win and why.
Apparently the betting public is convinced that the Packers will win in a rout. They have been instilled in bettor's minds as a rare NFC Championship Game road favorite, and despite laying the points, they are still taking around 70 percent of the action in this game.
The last NFC Title Game home underdog was Arizona two years ago. They were surprise hosts and they knocked off Philadelphia, 32-25. Overall, the underdog is 3-0 ATS in the last three conference title games, and two of those puppies have won outright.
The home team has won eight of the last 11 NFC championships. In fact, the last home team to come up short at the doorstep of the Super Bowl was Green Bay in 2008 when they lost to the eventual champion New York Giants.
The Bears hosted the NFC Championship Game one year prior to Green Bay's flop. They dominated New Orleans en route to a 39-14 blowout.
Chicago and Green Bay split their meetings this year, with each winning at home. The Bears covered the spread in each game. They pulled the outright upset back in September and then barely, barely lost in Lambeau in Week 17. A win there would have knocked Green Bay out of the postseason, and I thought it was surprising how well the Bears played—even with the starters in—considering they had nothing on the line.
Green Bay has essentially been playing in the postseason for four straight weeks. In Week 16 they overwhelmed the Giants at a time when both teams were tied for the last playoff spot. Then in Week 17 they had to beat the Bears to secure that slot. They then pulled out back-to-back dominating efforts on the road against Philadelphia and the NFC's top seed, Atlanta.
This game features two exciting, athletic quarterbacks and pass-oriented offenses, squaring off against two Top 10 defenses. Interestingly enough, each opposing defense presents a unique challenge for the opposing offense. Chicago has had trouble cracking 3-4 defenses, regardless of quarterback or coordinator, for the past decade. For Green Bay, Chicago's Cover-2 has baffled Aaron Rodgers. His passer rating against the Bears is six points lower than his career average, and Rodgers has averaged barely more than one touchdown per game against Brian Urlacher and Co.
Both teams have reached the apex of their conference despite having two of the weaker (and most criticized) offensive lines in football. I believe that the team that wins will do so because their O-line performs the best in the face of unyielding pressure. Chicago has a slender edge in the ground game (No. 22 rush offense vs. No. 24 for Green Bay), but neither has gotten to this point because of its rushing attack. That could be a key in this game due to the fact that two of the top secondaries in the league are going to be on red alert against the opposing passing game.
The weather forecast is calling for a high of 21 degrees with wind blowing in at over 10 miles per hour. Much has been made this week of Chicago's decision not to re-sod their battle-worn field. People have been complaining about the shoddy condition of the Bears turf all season long. But against the faster, more pass-oriented Packers, the Bears must feel that unstable footing will give them an advantage.
NFC Championship Game Odds: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
This game opened with Green Bay as a field goal favorite, according to NFL lines. However, it was bet up to its current spot of -3.5 within the first 24 hours and I wouldn't be surprised if it moved even higher by kickoff because of the heavy Packers action. The total has come down slightly from 44.0 at open to 43.5.
Packers at Bears Betting Trends
Packers are 9-3 ATS in their last 12 meetings in Chicago.
Packers are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games overall.
Packers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games as a favorite.
Packers are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 road games.
Packers are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 vs. NFC.
Packers are 11-5-1 ATS in their last 17 games following a ATS win.
Packers are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 playoff games as a favorite.
Packers are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 games following a SU win of more than 14 points.
Bears are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games in January.
Bears are 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games overall.
Bears are 6-1 ATS vs. a team with a winning record.
Bears are 5-1 ATS in their last 6 vs. NFC.
Bears are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 home games.
Bears are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 games as an underdog.
Bears are 4-1 ATS in their last 5 vs. NFC North.
Bears are 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games following a S.U. win.
NFL Picks and Betting Predictions: Packers at Bears
I find the total in this game very interesting. On the one hand, we have the No. 9 and No. 5 defenses in the NFL waging war on a rotten field in nasty elements. These two teams know each other's tendencies and have played the "under" in six straight meetings. This season alone the two teams combined for just 50 points—barely topping the total in this game alone. All of that would suggest a strong "under" play, and the line movement on the total suggests that is where the early sharp money has come.
However, I still am having a hard time figuring out why this total is so high; however, it may be due to both teams' breakout offensive performances last weekend. Green Bay blitzed Atlanta while scoring 48 points. Chicago was equally impressive in the elements, notching 35 points and combining for 59 with Seattle. So perhaps this play suggests a regression back to the mean.
And while the public, enamored with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler, piles on the "over," maybe the books are looking to clean up on the "under." Then again, maybe not. Maybe the regression will be plenty of scoring out of two teams that have played low scoring games over the past three years.
It's a tough one; they always are this time of year. But I will play on the "under" and look for defense to carry the day. It will be close but I think we see around 40-42 total points in this game.