- Both teams are playing to clinch something that would be open to other results if they lose, with Chicago needing a win to guarantee a playoff berth and Green Bay needing one to lock in the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye
Motivation is always a key factor in Week 17, but there won’t be a deficit of it when Green Bay takes on Chicago. The Packers need a win to clinch a first-round bye; a loss and a Seattle win would cost them the No. 1 seed, which would go to either the Seahawks or Saints depending on the result of New Orleans’ game. The Bears need a win to ensure a postseason berth; a loss and a Cardinals win over a Rams team starting its backup quarterback would eliminate Chicago.
There’s also the fact that these teams plain just don’t like each other. Given the opportunity to play spoiler, typically the Bears and Packers would be happy to try to prevent their opposition from improving their outlook. Both teams have their own interests here, but there are few if any rivalries in the NFL that can lay claim to being more competitive than this one.
The Packers are clearly the better team on paper, but they suffered a major loss this week when Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari tore his ACL in practice. It’s hard to overstate what that could mean — Bakhtiari is PFF’s highest-graded tackle in pass protection, and grades second overall at the position behind only San Francisco’s Trent Williams. At first glance, the Packers’ offense still produced when Bakhtiari missed three games earlier this season — they put up 379, 400, and 405 yards and averaged just over 30 points — but they weren’t the same juggernaut. Compared to their season ranks, the Packers fell from second in passing success rate to seventh in that Week 7-9 stretch, and first in rushing success rate overall down to 15th. Their explosive play ranks were down during that stretch as well, and they played two defenses in Houston and Minnesota that were among the worst in the league, as well as San Francisco’s solid but injury-depleted unit.
Simply put, they were still functional with Billy Turner shifting to left tackle and Rick Wagner filling in admirably on the right side, but they weren’t on the same level they’ve otherwise been all year. That led in part to them losing one of those games, to Minnesota, when their defense got gashed for over 200 total yards from Dalvin Cook and their offense couldn’t quite keep up the way it otherwise has all year.
And that could prove to be a problem as they get set to face a Chicago team thriving in exactly the ways teams tend to attack Green Bay. The Packers focus their defensive efforts on stopping the pass, asking teams to play suboptimally with a run-first gameplan. But the Bears aren’t a particularly strong passing team, and have thrived of late on the back of David Montgomery, who has suddenly come alive since the Week 11 bye after a forgettable first year-and-a-half in the NFL. Since Week 13, only Derrick Henry has more rushing yards than Montgomery, who has averaged 106 yards per game on the ground and chipped in another 163 total through the air.
But you typically can't beat good teams in the modern NFL on the ground game alone. Mitchell Trubisky has also played better of late, but the discourse around him seems largely influenced by low expectations. He’s been very good statistically over the past four games especially, but hasn’t thrown more than 35 passes or for more than 270 yards in any, so he’s been protected a bit by the great running game. The Bears have notably played the Lions, Texans, Vikings, and Jaguars over that stretch, which is about as soft of a four-game schedule as it gets.
And ultimately that’s why I’m taking the Packers here. The Bears are trending positively, but Chicago's recent results are buoyed by a soft schedule. Montgomery’s first strong outing in his recent run of success came against these Packers in Week 12, but Green Bay still dominated that game, winning 41-25 despite the Bears putting up 15 unanswered fourth-quarter points to close the game. Even with Montgomery posting 143 total yards on just 16 touches in that game, the Bears were massively overmatched, and I don't trust Trubisky's recent run of success to hold up against a better Packers defense than the ones he's faced of late. Trubisky notably completed just 57% of his passes with three turnovers in that Week 12 game against Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers and company might have a little more trouble with the Bears defense this time around without Bakhtiari in the lineup, but we get a nice number here given the result the last time these teams faced. Green Bay -4 is the play.
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Packers -4 @ -112
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