Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 11:00 PM
Last week the Green Bay Packers were stunned by the San Francisco 49ers to start the 2012 season. This week, another dangerous underdog is in Lambeau talking tough and aiming for a nationally televised upset. The Chicago Bears have their swagger back. And they’d like supremacy in the NFC North back too.
It’s easy to think that the Bears are biting off more than they can chew in this lead up to the game. Jay Cutler has dared the Green Bay defense to try and stop him. The defense smells blood since they saw how the 49ers disrupted Aaron Rodgers last week. Let’s not forget that the Packers went 15-1 last year!
Let’s run through some of our favorite indicator stats to see whether Green Bay is due to bounce back, or if they’re in serious danger of falling to 0-2 out of the gate with two HOME losses.
CHICAGO AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (8:20 p.m. on NBC)
Las Vegas Spread: Green Bay by 6, total of 51.5
This line has mostly hopped between 5.5 and 6 this week. Sharps liked the dog initially at +6, but Green Bay money did come in on the host when it fell to 5.5. You can assume the public is going to be on the explosive Packers after a loss at less than a TD. The total opened at 50 but was bet up to 51.5 on the influence of Chicago’s high scoring game with Indianapolis last week. When Cutler is healthy, the Bears offense is playing well (and Forte looked great last week two). But, the Bears defense did allow more than 300 passing yards to Andrew Luck, which would suggest that Rodgers can post big numbers too.
2011 WON-LOST RECORDS/SCHEDULE STRENGTH
Chicago: 8-8 (24th ranked schedule according to USA Today)
Green Bay: 15-1 (29th ranked schedule according to USA Today)
This week we’ll once again post the final numbers from last season since so much of what’s going on this year involves the same players doing the same things. Starting next week our NFL previews will only use this year’s data. You all recall that Green Bay was great in the regular season but lost their first playoff game at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants. Chicago finished at 8-8…but they were dangerous when Cutler was healthy, then helpless when backups had to replace him after he was knocked out for the season with an injury. You’d have to say that last year’s Bears were playoff caliber with Cutler, if not championship caliber. That’s why they’re getting respect from oddsmakers and some sharps with this Vegas number.
2011 TURNOVER DIFFERENTIAL
Green Bay: +24
The Packers did benefit from some good fortune in this stat last year. It’s very difficult to register in the +20’s two seasons in a row. Even if you give Rodgers credit for great decision-making, they’ll probably regress in this stat. Cutler has his problems in terms of risk/reward. He threw a TD pass to the Colts last week to dig an early hole. The math would suggest that Green Bay is more likely to win this stat tonight. Remember that they become mortal when NOT winning that stat vs. top competition.
2011 OFFENSIVE STATS
Chicago: 314.1 yards-per-game on 5.1 yards-per-play
Green Bay: 405.1 yards-per-game on 6.6 yards-per-play
Clear edge for the Packers on this side of the ball, even if you pencil in full season numbers for a healthy Cutler. Green Bay has the better offense. Will it be good enough to win by at least a touchdown?
2011 DEFENSIVE STATS
Chicago: 350.4 yards-per-game on 5.4 yards-per-play
Green Bay: 411.6 yards-per-game on 6.3 yards-per-play
Green Bay’s defense was a big problem last year. Turnovers bailed them out because so many teams were playing catch up. You’ll see in a moment that they had big troubles slowing down San Francisco last week. Cutler may not be off base in his challenge of the Green Bay pass defense. He probably legitimately feels very confident at the moment given what he knows of his skills and what he’ll be facing. That being said, does he believe his own defense can shut down Rodgers? The numbers we’ve just reviewed show you why totals guys liked the Over out of the gate. This could be a quarterback shootout unless weather becomes a factor.
IMPORTANT CHANGES IN 2012
It’s hard to know yet whether Green Bay losing their offensive coordinator to Miami is going to have a significant impact. He sure hasn’t impressed in his new home. Rodgers is basically a coach on the field…and the head coach has an offensive mindset. Probably the most important change is that Chicago’s most dangerous offensive weapons currently seem to be at 100% health.
LAST WEEK”S BOXES
CHICAGO 41, INDIANAPOLIS 21
Total Yardage: Indianapolis 356, Chicago 428
Rushing Yards: Indianapolis 63, Chicago 114
Passing Stats Indianapolis 23-45-3-293, Chicago 21-35-1-314
Turnovers: Indianapolis 5, Chicago 1
Third Downs: Indianapolis 20%, Chicago 33%
Vegas Line: Chicago by 9.5, total of 42.5
The Bears weren’t as dominant as the final score suggested. They were set up a few times for cheap points off those FIVE Indianapolis turnovers. They’re not facing a rookie quarterback this week. It might be a bad sign that the Bears only converted 33% of their third down opportunities. And, Cutler’s probably due for one dumb interception per week. Still, the 428 yards is impressive. The run/pass balance is impressive (over 100 on the ground and 300 in the air). And, Chicago did score 28 points on drives of 60 yards or more…which is a very good indicator for offensive quality.
SAN FRANCISCO 30, GREEN BAY 22
Total Yardage: San Francisco 377, Green Bay 324
Rushing Yards: San Francisco 186, Green Bay 45
Passing Stats San Francisco 20-26-0-191, Green Bay 30-44-1-279
Turnovers: San Francisco 0, Green Bay 1
Third Downs: San Francisco 22%, Green Bay 46%
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 5, total of 46
The worst news here in our view is in that rushing yardage category. Green Bay was bullied inside, and then couldn’t do anything themselves on the ground most of the day. Also, they let Alex Smith complete 20 of 26 passes even though he was throwing downfield more than ever. Last year’s problems for the defense are likely to continue. You can’t give them too much credit for stopping SF on third downs because it’s the nature of Jim Harbaugh that he’d rather punt than risk anything on most third down tries. Remember that the Packers offense only scored two touchdowns last week, with a punt return helping to get them to 22. Disappointing debut needless to say. But, San Francisco could end up being a top two seed in the NFC, so it’s far from the end of the world.
Unless weather is an issue, this is likely to be an offensive shootout where turnovers determines who covers. If Chicago can play mostly mistake free, they’re definitely in position to score an upset. But, three or more miscues will probably allow Green Bay to post a victory margin of 14 or more. We have known quantities here in terms of style, talent, and health. Handicap the risk/reward ratio properly and you’ve handicapped the game.
JIM HURLEY will post his official action at the game day lines (possibly a side and a total) here at the website during the day. Look for bonus action in Rutgers/South Florida as well in the ESPN college game. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Be sure to check on pennant race baseball too. Things are really heating up in the Wildcard picture in both the American and National Leagues. And how about that AL East race?!
Back with you Friday to talk college football. We’ll preview the USC/Stanford game in our Friday report, then come back Saturday with a look at Notre Dame/Michigan State. Be sure you’re with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s really going on in football!
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