NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Preview & Picks

Jay CutlerWith three weeks in the books, the NFL schedule has finally reached its biggest rivalry game as the (1-2) Green Bay Packers travel to the infamous Soldier Field to take on the (2-1) Chicago Bears this Sunday (1 pm EST on FOX).

When it comes to the rivalry between the Bears and the Packers, there is a love-hate relationship that has marked years of intensity, tradition and a culture of winning unlike any other. It is the most competitive and one of the oldest rivalries in American sports, MLB’s New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox notwithstanding. While these two teams have developed great respect for the other, there certainly is no love lost.

So to get a better understanding of why this rivalry is so great, let’s take a short walk down memory lane.

In 1921, the Bears welcomed the Packers to their home at Wrigley Field. As one of the league’s founding teams, Chicago, then known as the Staleys, faced off against the Packers, who were in their inaugural NFL season. The game was not much of a contest as the Bears blanked the Packers 20-0. And quite literally adding injury to insult, one of the Bears’ guards broke the nose of one of the Packers’ tackles with a sucker punch.

It was the start of a beautiful rivalry and quite frankly was a major part of the reason why the NFL was able to grow and flourish into the league it is today.

Spurred on by George Halas and Earl Lambeau, two of the most influential figures in the league’s history, the rivalry was fueled from the start. Both player-coaches were so dedicated and committed to winning, that they built a culture with that as the main focus. Because of this, the two teams often clashed and often did so with a title on the line.

In 1925, the Packers defeated the Bears for the first time. Four years later, Green Bay won three consecutive championships behind Lambeau’s leadership. As Lambeau stepped down, the famed Vince Lombardi continued right where he left off and brought as much intensity as his predecessor did to the rivalry.

It was just as easy for new head coach Mike Ditka to assume the mantle left behind by Halas and for players and coaches alike to share the tradition and pass the rivalry down the line to where it still exists today, over 80 years later.

While the current head coaches are not as intense as that of the rivalry’s beginners, there is no question the significance is still there. When asked about the rivalry, current Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers, spoke of the competition, the physicality, the tradition, the intensity.  He is also well aware of the incredible career numbers he himself has put up when playing against the Bears.

Long story short, the fire of the rivalry flame burns on and likely will do so for a long, long time to come, especially since the two teams are in the same division.

Big Stage, Big Numbers for Aaron Rodgers not Jay Cutler

As I mentioned in the above paragraph, Rodgers really is at his best in these rivalry games. That means an 8-2 regular season career record, 2,486 yards and 19 touchdowns to just six interceptions. His QB rating of 102.7 is the best of his career against any single team. Rodgers also won his only postseason match-up against Chicago in the 2010 NFC Championship.

While Green Bay’s signal caller has not been perfect this year by any means, there is something about this rivalry game that brings out the best in him. There is no reason to expect this to change even though the personnel on both teams and both sides of the ball has undergone quite a few changes.

In complete contrast to Rodgers is Chicago’s Jay Cutler (pictured), who has been around the rivalry his whole career as well. Cutler is 1-8 against Green Bay with 17 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. He is the anti-Rodgers in a sense when it comes to this rivalry.

However, it has to be noted that Cutler has never been as good as Rodgers in general and that in years past, he has really struggled to find himself and find consistency in his game. But this is a different year and Cutler is a different QB.

Perhaps finally developing into the guy the Denver Broncos originally drafted him to be, Cutler only has two interceptions in his first three games. He is off to a career best completion percentage and has accumulated an average of over 250 yards in each of his first three games. He has eight touchdowns and really hasn’t made any costly plays like he has in years’ past.

Of course, Cutler finally has offensive weapons that any team would envy. When healthy, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte, are forces to be reckoned with and are no doubt part of the reason why Cutler is having what so far, is a career year.

Without a Running Game

It may be contrary to the rivalry theme of this post but the Bears and Packers do have something quite significant in common. They both have had basically no running game this year. And for both teams, this is something that will have to be corrected and soon.

Both Matt Forte of the Bears and Eddie Lacy of the Packers were top five fantasy backs last year. This year however, they will be lucky to finish in the top 15.

Lacy opened the season off to a strong start until a concussion forced him out of the first game. Since he came back in week two, Lacy’s production has failed to pick up. He has totaled just 113 yards on 36 carries this year and has been almost a non-factor in the passing game.

Last year, Lacy only failed to carry the ball less than 15 times three times. The fourth time was when Lacy missed most of the game with a bad concussion. Additionally, Lacy only totaled less than 40 yards three times, including the concussion shortened game. This year, he has failed to carry the ball more than 13 times in a single game and has totaled over 40 yards (43) just once.

Forte’s stats are eerily similar. The seven-year veteran has carried the ball more than Lacy with 42 attempts on the season but has just 136 total yards with no touchdowns. Forte put in a strong game in the first week with 80+ rushing and 80+ receiving yards but since then has been a complete non-factor.

Forte has just 54 yards on 25 carries in his last two games and 58 yards on 11 receptions. His involvement in the passing game has made him more valuable than Lacy but not by much, especially considering Lacy’s backup James Starks is like a miniature Darren Sproles. He is quick and great at turning dump offs and screen passes into big gains.

Fortunately enough for both teams, their offenses are very solid in the passing game that neither has had to really rely on the running game at this point in the season. Establishing the run will be important though and if one team can do it better than the other on Sunday, this could be the difference.

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears Betting Picks

The spread is marginal, making the Packers favorites by 2 points. Now this is a road game and Soldier Field has been documented as one of the toughest places for enemies to play but maybe not the Packers. Green Bay has won each of their last five contests in Chicago and this time should be no different.

  • Take the Packers -2pts at odds of -110 with either BetOnline or 5Dimes Sportsbook to cover the spread. The best moneyline odds for Green Bay are -128 with 5Dimes, but we prefer the spread. Expect Rodgers to continue to one-up his biggest divisional rival.
  • Take the under on the lofty 50 point spread as well. Both of these teams can score in bunches but throughout the rivalry and even just this season, low scoring games have been the norm. You can get under 50.5pts with Bovada for odds of -110. BetOnline and 5Dimes are currently the same betting odds but half a point lower on the spread at 50 total points.