The Chicago Bears have been tail-enders and bottom feeders in the NFC North for years, but that script has been ripped up this season.
The Bears have become one of the great turnaround stories in the NFL. The combination of an emerging young defense that added a superstar in Khalil Mack and a stellar rookie in Roquan Smith, along with a creative head coach that gets the most out of his offensive talent, has turned the Bears into a first-place team.
If they are victorious over the Packers Sunday, they will clinch the NFC North title. While they are currently the No. 3 seed in the NFC playoffs, they have a chance to finish in the top two, and that would give them a bye in the first round of the playoffs.
That's still unlikely because the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams both have two-game leads on Chicago, but the Bears do have the tiebreaker over Los Angeles because they beat the Rams Sunday night.
This game means a lot to the Bears, and the sight of the Green Bay Packers on the opposite sidelines makes this game even more meaningful. The Packers have been getting the best of the Bears on a regular basis throughout the quarterback tenures of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers (starting in 1992). Chicago victories in the series have been few and far between.
In addition to the Chicago defense, the Bears have been relying on head coach Matt Nagy's creative playcalling and the execution of quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, speedy running back Tarik Cohen and wideout Allen Robinson.
The Bears held the high-flying Rams to two field goals, and if they can stop the Rodgers-led offense, they will make up for a lot of painful losses over the years.
The Packers have not won a game on the road this season, but they have won their last eight games at Soldier Field. That winning streak has gotten under the skin of the Bears and their fans, as getting beaten consistently in this ancient rivalry has not been easy to take.
Rodgers will try to get the ball to Davante Adams and Randall Cobb, and he should be fairly successful for three quarters. However, the Bears' defense will make the difference in the final quarter, and the Bears will win and cover the six-point spread.
All Times ET
Thursday, December 13
Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City (-3.5) (Over/Under: 53.5) (8:20 p.m., Fox)
Saturday, December 15
Houston (-6) at New York Jets (Over/Under: 41.5) (4:30 p.m., NFL Network)
Cleveland at Denver (-3) (Over/Under: 45.5) (8:20 p.m., NFL Network)
Sunday, December 16
Oakland at Cincinnati (-2.5) (Over/Under: 46) (1 p.m., CBS)
Miami at Minnesota (-7) (Over/Under: 44.5) (1 p.m., CBS)
Tennessee at New York Giants (-2.5) (Over/Under: 43.5) (1 p.m., CBS)
Washington at Jacksonville (-7) (Over/Under: 36) (1 p.m., CBS)
Arizona at Atlanta (-9) Over/Under: 44) (1 p.m., Fox)
Detroit at Buffalo (-2.5) (Over/Under: 39) (1 p.m., Fox)
Green Bay at Chicago (-6) (Over/Under: 45.5) (1 p.m., Fox)
Dallas at Indianapolis (-3) (Over/Under: 47) (1 p.m., Fox)
Tampa Bay at Baltimore (-7.5) (Over/Under: 46.5) (1 p.m., Fox)
Seattle (-4.5) at San Francisco (Over/Under: 44) (4:05 p.m., Fox)
New England (-2) at Pittsburgh (Over/Under: 52) (4:25 p.m., CBS)
Philadelphia at Los Angeles Rams (-10.5) (Over/Under: 52.5) (8:20 p.m., NBC)
Monday, December 17
New Orleans (-6) at Carolina (Over/Under: 52) (8:15 p.m., ESPN)
All games are also available on FuboTV.
Odds obtained from OddsShark. Picks against the spread in bold.
Tampa Bay at Baltimore
The Baltimore Ravens appeared to be in quite a bit of trouble when they dropped a 23-16 decision to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 9.
At that point, the Ravens were 4-5, while the Steelers were 5-2-1, and they were clearly in charge of the AFC North.
The division has turned around as the Ravens are 7-6, while the Steelers are 7-5-1.
Not only has Pittsburgh lost three games in a row, their next two games are against the New England Patriots and the New Orleans Saints.
If the Steelers lose at home to the Pats and the Ravens beat the struggling Tampa Bay Bucs, the Ravens will move into first place with just two games remaining in the regular season.
The Ravens have been playing some of the best defense in the league, and they are led by linebackers C.J. Mosley, Matt Judon and Za'Darius Smith. Mosley leads the Ravens with 83 tackles, while Judon and Smith both have 7.0 sacks.
Lamar Jackson has been under center since Joe Flacco has been injured, and he will start this week against the Bucs. Jackson hurt his ankle against Kansas City last Sunday, but it will not keep him out of the lineup.
Tampa Bay has struggled since the end of September, and it's difficult to see Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston playing an error-free game and leading the Bucs to the upset.
Baltimore is a 7.5-point favorite, and the Ravens should be able to win this game by double digits.
Oddschecker offers bettors the chance to wager on the first touchdown scorer in the Saturday game between the Houston Texans and the New York Jets.
While we often like to look at some of the longshot players in this type of wager, that may not be the way to go in this game.
The Texans had won nine games in a row prior to losing at home to the Indianapolis Colts last week, so the they should be prepared to get right back to business and play a sharp game against the struggling Jets.
So we are looking at Lamar Miller, DeAndre Hopkins and Deshaun Watson as the three most likely players to score first. Watson may throw for the opening touchdown, but we don't think it's likely that he will run for a touchdown early in the game.
Hopkins is listed as the 4-1 favorite, while Miller is the 5-1 second choice. We are tempted to go with Watson because his odds are 17-1, but the likelihood is that Hopkins will catch a big pass early and get into the end zone.
We are taking Hopkins. A $100 bet on Hopkins will return a profit of $400.