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NFC Championship Game: Packers at Bears

The team named after a meat packing plant battles the team originally named after a corn processing plant (Decatur Staleys) for the NFC Championship. Green Bay and Chicago. Lambeau and Halas. Lombardi and Ditka. And now, Rodgers and Cutler, Matthews and Urlacher, McCarthy and Lovie.

I already picked the Packers to reach the Super Bowl by beating the Bears in the championship game before the postseason, and I don’t see any reason to come off that now. The Packers have been in playoff contests for a month after losing at Detroit in the game that Rodgers suffered a concussion and Green Bay managed 3 points. Since then, Green Bay has lost a close game at New England without Rodgers, destroyed the Giants in a de facto playoff game, beat the Bears at home 10-3 to officially gain entry, won at Philadelphia, and dominated conference #1 seed Atlanta.

There is always a danger to overreacting to the last week’s results. I don’t think Green Bay will roll over the Bears like they did; the Bears defense is much better than Atlanta’s. However, it’s not like Green Bay has been a mediocre team all year. They led the NFC in point differential. They never trailed by more than one score all season.

The line opened with Green Bay favored, which was not a surprise to me, though it opened a little higher than I expected. Bears fans should be happy. It gives the home team added motivation of feeling disrespected, and we’ve seen that playoff teams who are underdogs at home have been good bets. However, in the championship game round, they haven’t been quite as successful, going 5-5 against the spread.  The last 7 conference championship game home underdogs are only 2-5. The successful underdogs were Arizona over Philadelphia two years ago, and the Giants destroying Minnesota in January of 2001. The Bears were slight home underdogs to another 10-6 team back in 1988, and lost 28-3 at home to San Francisco.

Even though the teams split while winning at home this year, this is a series with very little home field advantage. Both teams play outdoors, in the cold, and are very familiar with each other. Since 1960, the Packers actually have a winning record in Chicago, going 28-22. That’s only one game worse than their home record against Chicago (29-21). Since 1990, the Packers are 13-8 against the spread in Chicago, and 9-1 (7-3 ATS) in Soldier Field when favored.

The fact that Terry McAuley was the referee in the first Bears-Packers meeting this year, where Green Bay was called for 18 penalties, has raised some concern. If I were the Packers, I would be more concerned about executing. It’s not the full crew (playoff crews are mixed) and McAuley doesn’t have a reputation for overly calling penalties.

The tale of the tape shows that the Packers have the significant advantage at pass offense, while the Bears are better at stopping the opponent on the ground.

OFFENSE DEFENSE
Team PF/G PA/G NYPA YPC NYPA YPC TO MARGIN
Green Bay 24.2 15.0 7.1 3.8 5.4 4.7 +10
Chicago 27.2 24.3 5.8 3.9 5.8 3.7 +4

The one area that doesn’t show up there is special teams, and it is a decided advantage for Chicago. It is, in fact, the one facet where Chicago will need to win to have a good chance, while Green Bay will try to limit the damage. We saw Green Bay give up a kick return touchdown last week, and Devin Hester had a punt return touchdown in the first contest between these teams. Chicago scored only one offensive touchdown (a Cutler pass to Olsen) in the two games, so they will need short fields or scores out of the return games, something that Green Bay can accomodate.

The line: Green Bay by 3.5

My pick: Green Bay 23, Chicago 13

[photo via Getty]

 

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