NFC North-leading Packers look to slow down the streaking Bears
The NFL's oldest rivalry resumes on Sunday with postseason implications at stake for both the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The 200th overall meeting between these two teams (Packers lead series 98-95-6) could wind up being one of the bigger games of the NFL's 100th season. The Packers (10-3) are looking to stay ahead of the Minnesota Vikings (9-4) for first place in the NFC North, while the Bears (7-6) need a win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Green Bay enters with a better record, but it hasn't come easy for the Packers lately. They are 4-2 over their last six games, although they have been outscored 131-125 during this stretch. First-year head coach Matt LaFleur is known for his work with offenses, but the Packers have been inconsistent on that side of the ball. Entering this game, Green Bay ranks 23rd in the league in total offense and 22nd in total defense.
Chicago enters this game with a little more momentum, having won three in a row and four of its past five. One key to the Bears' recent surge has been an uptick on offense that starts with improved play from quarterback Mitchell Tribusky and more opportunities for rookie David Montgomery to run the ball.
The Packers won the first meeting this season, defeating Chicago 10-3 way back in Week 1. Green Bay has won six of the past seven matchups, which allowed them to take the lead in the all-time series, and hasn't lost at home to the Bears since 2015. Chicago needs a win on Sunday with Seattle (10-3), Minnesota (9-4), and the Los Angeles Rams (8-5, own tiebreaker vs. Bears) all ahead in the pecking order for a wild-card spot. The Bears will host the Chiefs for "Sunday Night Football" next week and finish up on the road against the Vikings. Chicago's not out of the race yet, but the defending NFC North champions know what needs to be done, and it starts by getting back into the win column against the archrival Packers.
Chicago at Green Bay
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 15 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Green Bay -4.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Home sweet home for the Packers
The Packers are one of the top home teams in the NFL in 2019. They're 6-1 at Lambeau Field this year, they've won their last four home games in a row, and they're 11-3-1 dating back to last season. Green Bay has outscored opponents 184-143 at Lambeau this season. And Aaron Rodgers has been lights out at home with 2,006 passing yards and 13 touchdowns in seven games. There's also Rodgers' success in his career against Chicago. He's 18-5 vs. the Bears, including one playoff victory, and 9-2 at home. Overall, he's averaging 243.6 passing yards per game against Chicago with 48 total touchdowns (46 passing, 2 rushing) and 12 turnovers (10 interceptions, 2 fumbles lost). Rodgers has had the Bears' number in his career, although it's been a little tougher sledding for him the last couple of games against Khalil Mack and Co.
2. The Packers' defense came to play
This side of the ball for Green Bay has seen improvement from last season. The Packers are 13th in scoring defense (20.8 ppg), 14th in sacks (32), and tied for sixth in takeaways (20). Green Bay's linebackers have been the backbone for this defense. Blake Martinez is tied for the league lead in tackles (129), while Preston and Za'Darius Smith — no relation — have combined for 21.5 sacks, and both rank in the top 10 in that category. Additionally, cornerback Kevin King is tied for second in interceptions with four. The Packers' defense has been solid for the most part, especially over the past two weeks, but it also ranks 25th against the run, which will be a key in Sunday's game.
3. The resilient Mitchell Trubisky
He's definitely played that way over these last few games. Last week against Dallas, Tribusky was at his best. He completed 74.2 percent of his passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. He also made a difference with his legs, rushing for 63 yards and another score on 10 carries, to help fuel the 31-24 victory at home last Thursday night.
Over the past five games, Tribusky has appeared more confident on the field and in the pocket. He's making better decisions when throwing, he's making the tough throws, he's showing more patience in the pocket, but also using his feet when needed. Tribusky has seemed to have found his groove, but can he maintain it against the defense that rattled him and shook his confidence in Week 1? In the first meeting with Green Bay, Tribusky was 26-of-45 for 228 yards with an interception, as the Bears managed just a field goal in a disappointing 10-3 season-opening loss.
Something else that has benefited Tribusky and Chicago's offense is the steady emergence of running back David Montgomery. Over the last three games, the third-round pick has gotten more opportunities, posting 183 rushing yards on 49 carries. On Sunday, he'll get a shot at a Packers defense that's giving up 122.8 rushing yards per game. If the Bears' backfield can continue to do its part, Chicago should be able to move the ball and put some points on the board against Green Bay, even in Lambeau Field.
Chicago head coach Matt Nagy should get some credit for the Bears' recent turnaround, as his team has won three in a row. But is it too little too late? Chicago is thin at inside linebacker with Danny Trevathan sidelined by a dislocated elbow and leading tackler Roquan Smith lost for the season after tearing his pectoral last week against Dallas. Defensive end Akiem Hicks should be back on Sunday, but how effective will the Pro Bowler be after missing eight games with his own dislocated elbow?
The Bears' defense is not at full strength, while Green Bay's already neutralized Chicago's offense once this season. The Packers have the momentum in this series (winners of six out of seven) and are tough to beat at Lambeau Field. Add Aaron Rodgers track record against the Bears, and I see the home team doing just enough to pick up the season sweep. But the visitors won't go quietly.
Prediction: Packers 17, Bears 14
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.