After 15 regular season games, it comes down to this. The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will face off in Week 17 of the 2013 season with first place on the line.
Both teams have been eliminated from wild card contention, so it’s win or go home for the division rivals. The Bears currently sit atop the NFC North with an 8-7 record. The Packers are right behind them at 7-7-1. The Detroit Lions saw their playoff chances end in Week 16 with a loss to the New York Giants.
The matchup became an unofficial NFC North title game when Green Bay and Chicago both lost on Sunday. Without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers were upended at home by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Knowing that a win would guarantee them a postseason berth, the Bears were embarrassed on "Sunday Night Football," losing to the Philadelphia Eagles by 43 points.
Both teams enter the final week with questions at quarterback. Green Bay might not have Rodgers back, who hasn’t stepped on the field since these teams met in Week Nine. The quarterback fractured his collarbone in the first quarter, and watched the Packers lose at home, 27-20. In the last seven games, three backup quarterbacks have started, leading Green Bay to 2-4-1 record. Matt Flynn has helped the Packers offense get back to respectability, leading the unit to 67 total points in the last two games.
There had been some hope that the 2011 MVP would return against the Steelers because the team waited until Friday to rule out Rodgers for the contest. However, it appears that he was never close to suiting up. A source tells ESPN that the quarterback would’ve been at "extraordinary risk" if he played against Pittsburgh.
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The Bears had been without Jay Cutler for a portion of the season, but they got their starting signal caller back two weeks ago. Even when Josh McCown was under center, Chicago’s offense wasn’t an issue. The team’s defense, which was almost always a top unit under Lovie Smith, has been one of the NFL’s worst under first-year head coach Marc Trestman.
Only two teams in football allow more points per game than Chicago’s 29.7. More specifically, it’s been the Bears run defense that has hurt them the most. They rank dead last, giving up 161.5 yards per game on the ground. In their loss to the Eagles, Philadelphia had a field day against the Bears, rushing for 289 yards on 36 attempts. League-leading rusher LeSean McCoy accounted for less than half of the production.
Rookie Eddie Lacy could be in position to have one of his better games this season. He ranks seventh with 1,112 yards in 2013 and leads a Green Bay rushing attack that is seventh in the NFL. He had a career-best 150 yards in the Packers’ loss to the Bears in their head-to-head meeting. The Packers only scored 20 points behind Seneca Wallace and his 114 passing yards and 53.4 quarterback rating.
With Rodgers’s status remaining uncertain, there are no current betting odds for the contest. When the quarterback first suffered the injury, Jeff Sherman, assistant manager of the sports book at the Las Vegas Hotel, told the Journal Sentinel that Rodgers was worth between 7.5 and eight points against the spread.
Getting Rodgers back would be a major boost for the Packers. With the way Chicago’s defense has been playing, though, it might not make much of a difference if he or Flynn gets the start.
Prediction: Green Bay 34, Chicago 30