Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers
Yet another late game in a season full of them (Green Bay shows up in night games 5 times this season), and it comes against the team’s oldest rival.
These teams have been playing each other since 1921, and over time things have essentially become even; the current record sits at 93-91-6 in favor of Chicago, with each team dominating for multiple long stretches. If sweep the Bears this year, Green Bay can even up the series for the first time since 1933 (11-11-4).
These Bears have not done well overall against the Packers since Rodgers took over for Brett Favre (13-4), but in their first year under John Fox they managed to keep things close in Chicago before taking the Thanksgiving night game at Lambeau.
The team has holes everywhere, but the coaching is superb and should have the team playing above the sum of their parts again in Year 2 of the regime; taking them lightly could prove erroneous.
The team’s offense had perhaps its best season behind Jay Cutler in 2015 (10th in Offensive DVOA), and should actually have their top receiving weapons available more often with the healthy returns of Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White.
The offensive line should also improve with better health and the addition of former Packer Josh Sitton, and while they moved on from Matt Forte there are some young options in the backfield who may surprise if used properly.
The defense still has plenty of room to improve (#29 in Weighted DVOA for 2015), but they have shored up the middle — their weakest point last year — with Danny Trevathan (#10 ILB grade, per PFF) and Jerrell Freeman (#5), while also adding a hopeful pass rush boost in Leonard Floyd.
The way Green Bay can beat Chicago this year likely lies in their passing game efficiency. The Bears are pretty beatable in the secondary, and their defensive line is hit-or-miss with creating decent pressure up the middle; keeping the pocket clean will let the quick-strike passing game go to work, nullifying the effect of the multiple skilled pass rushers Chicago has to throw at them.
On the other side, the best parts of the Bears’ offense will be matched against the strongest unit of the defense; while receivers with the size of Jeffery and White can be a problem, Shields has done pretty well over the years against big-bodied guys (he was the go-to against Calvin Johnson versus the Lions) and Dom Capers can find ways to involve Clinton-Dix and Morgan Burnett more often if Jeffery or White starts to get hot against the younger corners.
This probably won’t be a pretty game (most Packers-Bears matchups tend not to be), but it should be exciting, and I could see it sealed in our favorite way: a Jay Cutler turnover to squash their fading hopes.
Green Bay 23
Green Bay Record: 5-1
Next: Packers vs. Falcons