NFL Rivalries: Chicago Bears Descend on Lambeau Field
Like polar bears forced from their ice floats prematurely in the spring, the Chicago Bears are coming into our community this Christmas Night. If the no-longer perfect Green Bay Packers can drive them back, home-field advantage will be secured all the way to the Super Bowl.
Of course, that will already be secured should the San Francisco 49ers lose the day before. Even then, a Packers' win is likely to officially knock the Bears out of the playoffs.
Moreover, Green Bay will want badly to bounce back after its first loss of the season. Given the Bears playoff hopes will be remote even with a win, this means the Packers have more to play for.
(Note: Do not expect any home-field advantage. In Lovie Smith's tenure, the home team has had no advantage. If anything, there is the potential that weather influences could slow down the Packers' prolific passing attack.)
Obviously, the Packers come in playing better, as well. One loss does not compare to four. Green Bay is more disciplined (almost two fewer penalties for 16.5 fewer yards per game) and players and coaches are more accomplished.
But for the third time this season, the opponent is changing quarterbacks. The unknown of the offense led by a new quarterback may be the only intangible the Bears have going for them.
Last week's veteran avoided turnovers and was very efficient: 23-for-31 (.742) for 299 yards (9.6 per attempt). Luke McCown is no Kyle Orton. But he is capable of managing the game nearly as well.
But how do the teams match up when the ball is snapped?
Green Bay Has Advantage When Packers Pass
In the first matchup between these teams, Aaron Rodgers was 28-for-38 (.737) for 297 yards (7.8 per attempt), three scores and a pick.
Believe it or not, that makes it one of his worst performances in nearly every statistical category: Rodgers has had only one game with a worse yards per attempt or TD-to-interception ratio (being only one of six games with a pick), only four with fewer yards and only three with a lower passer rating.
All three have come consecutively, but only the last one was not a very good performance. When that is a bad game for someone, they have the advantage while passing.
The offensive line is in shambles. Bryan Bulaga has been ruled out Sunday and Chad Clifton's return is in doubt. This would force the Packers to play three linemen who were not among the team's original starting five. That line finished the game in Arrowhead Stadium Sunday allowing pressure on nearly every play.
If Tamba Hali can exploit Marshall Newhouse, Julius Peppers can. The Packers cannot help out on both sides, where Israel Idonije will get pressure. Still, Chicago is in the bottom half of the league in sacks.
Green Bay is also without Greg Jennings, and that hurt the Packers offense last week. The remaining receivers did not show the capacity to beat corners who were one step better than they were used to facing.
The Packers will need a big day out of Jermichael Finley to deal with the Bears' two-deep coverages. But the Bears will play plenty of one and three-deep, too, and have a pretty good secondary—they may be 27th in yards, but are eighth in opponent passer rating. Only six other teams have at least one pick for every touchdown allowed.
Chicago Has Big Advantage When Packers Run
Green Bay has run the ball effectively for the past two weeks. But as thin as its line and backs are, getting yardage on the ground will be tough this week.
Ryan Grant and John Kuhn could be the only able bodies available. Chicago allows the eighth-fewest rushing yards per game and is in the top half of the league per carry, while the Packers average the 10th least in the league despite playing eight games against the bottom 11 teams in yards per carry yielded.
Chances are, the Packers' running game will go back to being just good enough to keep the defense honest.
Green Bay Has Huge Advantage When Bears Pass
Josh McCown threw two passes in the last two seasons (both last week). One went for 12 yards and the other was picked off.
He has a 70.9 passer rating because he has more interceptions than touchdowns and averages just 6.2 yards per attempt. But he does have 31 starts and is certainly an upgrade from Caleb Haney.
The Bears are in the bottom quarter of the league in scoring, passing yards, passer rating and sacks allowed. The Packers have one of the league's worst sack percentages and allow the second most passing yards, but they are seventh in opponent passer rating because they lead the league in interceptions by a wide margin with 27.
Neither Team Has Advantage When Bears Run
Marion Barber has only 422 yards on 114 carries (3.7 average), but six touchdowns.
Of course, he also carries the burden of almost single-handedly choking away a Bears' win against Denver. With the help of Barber's late run out of bounds and a fumble, Denver was able to come from 10 points behind in the final minutes to all but eradicate Chicago's playoff chances.
He will want to redeem himself, but he may not have the mileage left in him. With little help behind him, the Bears may struggle to exploit the Packers' run defense that is sixth-worst in yards allowed per carry.
One key will be whether Ryan Pickett can return to action this week. Without him, the Packers are only four-deep on the defensive line and can be worn down by a physical back like Barber.
Chicago Has Advantage on Special Teams
He is the primary reason the Bears average over six more yards per punt return and have one more touchdown than the Packers. They also give up more than nine fewer yards and have given up no scores to Green Bay's one.
There is no real advantage in the punting game, with Tim Masthay's extra 2.4 yards per punt being nullified by Adam Podlesh's one extra punt downed inside the 20 rather than becoming a touchback.
However, on kick returns the Packers are a little better, averaging 3.1 yards more and giving up a couple feet less than the Bears per return. Both teams have scored a touchdown but haven't given one up.
Robbie Gould would likely be considered the better kicker because he's had longer success, but it is close. His field-goal efficiency is less than one percent better than Mason Crosby, but he has made over twice as many from 40-plus yards out and gets touchbacks on a slightly higher percentage of kickoffs.
Prediction: Packers 24, Bears 13
The last goal in the Green Bay season will be met, ensuring that every Packers game in January will be at Lambeau Field.
The Bears will be able to move the ball between the 20-yard lines and keep Aaron Rodgers from having the ball too much. When he does, they will force him to go to his check-downs and limit the damage.
But ultimately, the Bears lack the big-play threats to get enough explosive plays and the red-zone passing game to punch it in. They will not have enough to keep up with even a slowed-down Packers offense, especially because the Packers defense is likely to give Rodgers a short field via turnover at least once Sunday.