Sunday Night Football Betting Preview: Can the Bears' Defense Slow Down Aaron Rodgers?
The Chicago Bears enter Sunday Night Football on a four-game losing streak and are desperate for a win, but pulling off an upset in primetime against the Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field is easier said than done. With Chicago at 5-5 and fading fast, this may be the Bears' last stand if they want to make a playoff push. A win from the Packers and this division would be all but clinched, as Green Bay currently leads the NFC North with a 7-3 record, sporting the only positive point differential among the four teams (+50).
The spread opened with the Packers favored by 9.5 points, but it has been bet up and down between 8.5 and 9.5 on FanDuel Sportsbook. The 9.5 line is drawing 58% of the bets and 68% of the money to Green Bay, per our oddsFire betting tool, so the big-money bets are backing the favorite. The moneyline has a big split on the betting, as 55% of the bets are taking Chicago at +350 to win outright, but the big money is hammering the Packers with 72% of the money taking Green Bay at -450. Finally, after opening at 44.0, the point total has been bet up to 45.0 and back down to 44.0, a number being kept in check by the struggles of the Chicago offense.
At first glance this appears to be an easy Packers victory, but do our projections back that up? Let's run through the numbers to find out, as well as looking for prop bets along the way.
Passing Game Preview
The Chicago passing offense ranks fourth-worst in the NFL, producing -0.03 Adjusted Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) per drop back on the season. It's not for a lack of trying, however, as the Bears have been the most pass-happy team in the league with a 1.97 pass-to-rush ratio. On the other side of the ball will be a Green Bay pass defense that ranks 11th in the league allowing 0.12 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back. Left tackle Charles Leno Jr. will be a game-time decision for the Bears after sitting out practice Friday with a toe injury, while the Packers will have a healthy Jaire Alexander at cornerback, which is a huge boost to this pass defense.
With Nick Foles doubtful with a hip injury, Chicago has named Mitchell Trubisky as the starting quarterback ahead of this crucial divisional battle. Trubisky hasn't started since Week 3 and is coming off of a recent shoulder injury, so it will be interesting to see if Chicago airs it out as much as they have been with Foles under center. Trubisky was sacked seven times, threw three interceptions, and completed just under 60% of his passes in his three starts to open the year, and those matchups came against three mediocre defenses in the Detroit Lions, New York Giants, and Atlanta Falcons.
The matchup to watch will be wide receiver Allen Robinson lined up against Alexander. Robinson was clearly Trubisky's number-one option to start the year, and Alexander has done an excellent job shutting down opposing wideouts all season. Robinson's efficiency has been hurt by the Bears' struggles as quarterback, as his 0.61 Reception NEP per target is fairly mediocre for a player with his talent. He also has just three touchdowns on 95 targets this season and hasn't reached 90 yards receiving since Week 5.
After Robinson it gets ugly, as he leads all relevant Bears pass-catchers in Reception NEP per target. Veteran tight end Jimmy Graham has actually been Chicago's second-best pass catcher on the year with 0.50 Reception NEP per target, and his 57 targets are second on the team, as well. It's disappointing that the Bears haven't been able to get more out of their talented young receivers in Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney, but they are no more than complimentary pieces at this stage in the season.
When the Packers are throwing it, we will have a matchup of two of the best units in the league, as Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL's second-best passing offense (0.31 Adjusted Passing NEP per drop back) against Chicago's fourth-ranked pass D (0.02 Adjusted Defensive Passing NEP per drop back). Green Bay has a much more balanced offense than the Bears do, ranking toward the middle of the league with a 1.37 pass-to-run ratio. Green Bay could be without center Corey Linsley and wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, as both are listed as questionable and may be game-time decisions. For the Bears' defense, lineman Akiem Hicks appears to be a game-time decision with a hamstring injury and would be a key loss for the Chicago front seven.
We all know how great Rodgers is, and he has been force-feeding his targets to Davante Adams, who has delivered on a weekly basis. Adams snapped a string of five straight games of double-digit targets last week against the Indianapolis Colts, as he caught seven passes on nine targets for 106 yards and a touchdown. Adams has 10 touchdowns across eight games this year, including a staggering eight touchdowns over his last five games. Overall, Adams' 0.87 Reception NEP per target ranks 18th among all receivers with 40 or more targets, and his 90 targets are tied for eighth-most in the league.
If Valdes-Scantling were to miss the game, Rodgers would be without his second-most targeted option in the passing game. Luckily Allen Lazard returned from injury last week to see four targets and haul in two of them. Lazard was really impressive early in the season before he suffered an injury of his own. Tight end Robert Tonyan is also worth keeping an eye on -- while he isn't a heavily targeted option, he has been impressive with his opportunities. He's caught 32 of 37 targets on the year, and his 0.95 Reception NEP per target makes him one of Green Bay's most efficient offensive weapons.
Rushing Game Preview
The honor of worst matchup of the game goes to when Chicago keeps the ball on the ground, as the Bears rank fourth-worst in the league with -0.02 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry, while the Packers' run defense ranks 26th in the NFL with 0.11 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry. There isn't much reason for optimism for the Bears, either, as the only rushers with positive NEP per carry have been their quarterbacks, who only have a combined 16 attempts on the season.
David Montgomery returns from a concussion, and while he is certainly their best option, his -0.08 Rushing NEP per carry on 131 attempts is far from impressive. He's been better than his replacement, Cordarrelle Patterson, who has registered -0.18 Rushing NEP per carry on 40 attempts and would be better off left on special teams and in the passing game. If the Bears can produce an effective running game against this Packers defense, Green Bay may be in real trouble against tougher competition.
Green Bay has a rock-solid running game, especially for not having the boost of a mobile quarterback. The Packers' rushing attack ranks 12th in the league with 0.09 Adjusted Rushing NEP per carry and will square off against Chicago's seventh-ranked run D, which is allowing 0.00 Adjusted Defensive Rushing NEP per carry.
The polar opposite of the Bears, the Packers feature positive rushing contributions from every member of their backfield. Aaron Jones leads the way in both volume and efficiency, as his 0.07 Rushing NEP per carry on 113 attempts paces this offense. His 42 targets also ranks third on the team, so while his 57% snap share doesn't seem impressive on the surface, he is a heavily-used option when he is on the field.
Jamaal Williams serves as the compliment to Jones and has been a productive player in his own right. He's produced 0.04 Rushing NEP per carry on 81 rushes and is a factor in the passing game, as well, ranking fifth on the team with 31 targets. Jones is the real star of this backfield, however, and he also gets the touches in scoring position, with eight total touchdowns compared to Williams' two.
Of the 10 most comparable games to this matchup, the favorite has won outright in eight of 10 outcomes. Against the spread, however, the favorite has covered just six of 10 times. And the point total is an even 5-5 split between the over and the under. So the historical comparisons aren't showing any strong trends this week, as you would expect an 8.5-point favorite to win outright most of the time.
Game Projections and Props
Our algorithm gives the Packers an 80% chance of winning outright, which unfortunately makes both sides of the moneyline a losing proposition in the long run. We also project a negative return on investment (ROI) on both sides of the spread, so definitely make sure to shop for a good line if you want to take a side on this spread. Our strongest bet here is actually on the over, as we project a 14% ROI and give this bet a 60% likelihood of paying off.
Props bets are sparse for now, presumably due to the late pivot to Trubisky as the Bears' starting quarterback. We are mainly left with touchdown props and variations on the point total, so let's keep our first prop simple. With a same-game parlay on FanDuel Sportsbook, we can combine a Davante Adams touchdown (-145) with an Aaron Jones touchdown (-140) for a more exciting payout of +221 if both reach the end zone on Sunday. We could even take it a step further and add in the over (44), as a touchdown from Adams and Jones would be a good start to the over hitting, taking the payout on the same game parlay up to +367.
For a same-game parlay on the Bears side, I would look to combine a David Montgomery prop with the spread, as it is hard to imagine a scenario where the Bears keep this game close without the help of their run game. With no yardage totals to bet on currently, we will have to look at the touchdown props again. Montgomery is +175 to score a touchdown, not a bad number on its own against this struggling Packers run defense. But parlay that with Chicago +8.5, and you have yourself a nice payout of +311.