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Friday, December 27, 2013

NFL Predictions 2013 Week 17: Packers vs Bears

Green Bay Packers vs Chicago Bears: GB -3 (Pinnacle)

Market Watch

How much is Aaron Rodgers worth?  Many are reporting that he was worth a full seven points on this game, but sportsbooks have waited until final word on his health status each and every week before putting up a line at all.  I would argue that he's worth even more than that.

Without Rodgers, I had the Bears as -3 point favorites for this matchup, but with him in the lineup it should flip more than what we're seeing right now.  If I was setting this line, it would be Green Bay -3.5 at the minimum.

Motivation is clearly high for both teams, as the winner will walk away with the division crown and a playoff berth. The loser will be booking tee-times at Pebble Beach.

So far 70 percent of the bets have come in on the Packers.

Keep an eye on

All the talk is about Aaron Rodgers this week, but let's talk about the other QB in this game first. As a
member of the Bears, Jay Cutler has 8 touchdowns vs 17 interceptions against the Packers.  I usually don't put a lot of stock into meaningless trends that date back to prior seasons, but in this case it's something to take note of. The reason is simple, Dom Capers has been the Packers defensive coordinator in all of those matchups.

The problem for Green Bay is their defense has underacheived all season and now they are without Clay Matthews again. The pass defense ranks near the bottom, and the Bears pass offense ranks above average. This is not the matchup it used to be. Cutler now has Marshall and Jeffery on the outside, both of which grade near the top of the wide receiver rankings.

Covering them will be Shields and Williams. Shields has played much better over the second half of the season, and Williams is a guy who makes big plays in big games. Another critical factor is the Green Bay pass rush. It didn't get a lot of publicity, but their sack rate actually went up when Matthews was out of the lineup earlier in the season.

On the other side, Eddie Lacy's health status is almost as important as Aaron Rodgers. Despite banging up his ankle, Lacy is listed as 'probable' on Friday's injury report. It helps Chicago that Briggs has returned to the lineup, but he's the only guy on that side of the ball that can stop the run this year. They've been decimated by injury, and the replacements haven't gotten the job done. Last week we saw what LeSean McCoy can do to this unit, and now they have to worry about Rodgers too.

Cobb is out for this game, but that won't mean as much with the return of Rodgers. The Bears pass defense hasn't been what is usually is, and Tillman's injury only add more reason to worry if you're a Chicago fan. Green Bay's passing, drive efficiency, third down, and red zone stats all plummeted when Rodgers went down, and the Bears defense is below average in every one of those categories.  Worst of all, Chicago's defense has continued to trend downwards on third down and in the red zone during December. Needless to say, that's not what you want when everything is on the line and you're fighting for a playoff spot.

Bottom Line

The "square" pick is the Packers and we're seeing a reflection of that in the betting numbers, but in this case it is justified.  Chicago have been one of the worst teams against the spread this year. The Packers were 5-2 against the spread with Rodgers, and 1-6 without him.

Another thing to consider is the fact that the point spread crossed the dead number of 0 when it was announced that Rodgers would return, so we are getting a bit of extra value at -3.

I'll roll with the Packers.

NFL Pick: GB -3.
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