There is no rivalry in the NFL quite like the one between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. It’s a metropolis versus a small town built around its football team. Shoot 208 miles north or south along Interstate 43 and the coast of Lake Michigan, and alliances and battle lines quickly become apparent. You’re either a Bears fan or a Packers fan. Staying neutral is not an option. And consorting with the enemy is practically a mortal sin.
Dating back to 1921, it’s the oldest rivalry in the NFL, and fans on both sides pour into stadiums to uphold it. According to Forbes, Sunday afternoon’s showdown at Soldier Field is currently the most expensive ticket for any game during the 2014 season, with the average pass costing $666.36 on the secondary market. That’s more than $100 higher than the average cost to see the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots square off in Week 9, the second-most-expensive game of the season.
However, it’s likely the Bears won’t be thinking about ticket prices come Sunday. They’re hoping to avenge last season’s 33-28 Week 17 home loss, which bumped them out of the playoffs and handed Green Bay their third straight NFC North championship. The Bears can also put Green Bay in an early 0-2 division hole following their Week 3 loss to Detroit.
Chicago still owns the all-time series at 93-89-6, but last season was a rare occasion when neither team could defend its home field. The two sides split their two games last season, each winning on the road, and the Bears managed to snap a five-game losing streak to the Pack. Chicago outgunned the typically powerful Packers offense for a 27-20 victory in Week 9 last season, its first win over the Packers since 2010, and the first in Green Bay since 2007.
But it’s important to remember that Green Bay’s three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone early in that Week 9 loss. Since he took over as the Packers starter in 2008, Rodgers has owned the Bears, completing 68 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and a 9-3 record.
On the flip side, Chicago took advantage of the Packers' misfortune but did so without quarterback Jay Cutler. With Cutler suffering from a groin injury, veteran Josh McCown stood in and threw two touchdowns. For his career, Cutler is 1-7 against the Packers as the Bears quarterback, and has tossed 17 interceptions to 11 touchdowns while barely completing 56 percent of his attempts.
Yet this go-round it’s Cutler and the Bears offense playing at an elite level, with Rodgers coming off one of the poorer performances of his career. The Bears are 2-1 after smoking the New York Jets 27-19 and staging a 17-point comeback against the San Francisco 49ers, both on the road and with Cutler leading the charge. Six of Cutler’s eight touchdown passes for the season have come in the last two games, and his 98.2 passer rating is the eighth-highest in the league.
Cutler has also benefited from exceptional play from receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, along with tight end Martellus Bennett. Jeffery leads the squad with 223 receiving yards, and Marshall and Bennett have both caught four touchdowns.
The Bears offense does have some weak points, namely the running game. They’re last in the NFL with 64 rushing yards per game, and No. 1 rusher Matt Forte is registering 3.2 yards per carry. But Forte’s remained effective with 19 receptions for 145 yards.
Usually it’s Rodgers and the Packers who’ve owned the better offense in the rivalry, but they’ve plummeted to 28 th in the league in total offensive yards and 27 th with 18 points per game. Last week against the Lions, Rodgers went 16-for-27 for 162 yards, and Green Bay could muster only 223 total offensive yards. They also couldn’t prolong drives, converting four of their 10 attempts on third down. To his credit, the Packers offensive line has allowed Rodgers to be sacked nine times, the third-worst mark in the NFL. The o-line's issues are also hurting Green Bay on the ground.
Running back Eddie Lacy has gained 113 yards off 36 attempts, and he continued to struggle when his fumble on Green Bay’s opening drive against Detroit was returned 40 yards for a touchdown and he was later tackled in the end zone for a safety. Lacy could break out of his sophomore slump against Chicago’s No. 26 rushing defense, which is allowing 144.7 yards per game.
With such elite quarterbacks on the field, each team’s secondary will play a crucial role. Rodgers rarely makes mistakes, and he does have top receiver Jordy Nelson to rely on, but he faces a Bears secondary that’s generated six interceptions, the second-highest mark in the league.
Green Bay will roll out the No. 6 pass defense in the league, surrendering 198.3 yards per game and forcing three interceptions so far.
The rivalry will continue Sunday at 1 p.m. EST, and will be broadcast live by FOX. Las Vegas currently has the Packers as 2 point favorites, and the over/under is set at 50.5 points, according to Bovada.lv.
Prediction: Chicago 30, Green Bay 24