(11-4, 8-6-1 ATS)
Green Bay Packers
(9-6, 9-6 ATS)
There will be a playoff feel in the air on the hallowed grounds of Lambeau Field on the first Sunday of the year, as the Green Bay Packers will fight for their postseason life against the Chicago Bears.
Chicago could very well have something to play for in this one if both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons end up losing earlier. If that’s the case, the Bears know that a win in this one locks up the No. 1 seed in the conference. If not, the NFC North champs know that they are locked into the No. 2 seed in the postseason, win or lose. That being said, Head Coach Lovie Smith plans on taking no chances here, and he will probably be resting his starters unless a miracle happens in the early games. That means very little or none of QB Jay Cutler, who threw for 3,106 yards and 23 TDs this year. Will it be veteran backup QB Todd Collins, who completed just 37 percent of his passes and tossed five picks earlier this year, or the younger QB Caleb Hanie, who has only thrown for 55 yards on the season, though? Either way, we really don’t love the options, just as we aren’t much for the running game if RB Matt Forte and RB Chester Taylor are limited.
This one might not ultimately mean anything to the Packers either, especially if the Tampa Bay Buccaneers lose earlier in the day. If that’s how this plays out, Green Bay knows that a win or a loss by the New York Giants in a game running concurrently would be the road to the playoffs. QB Aaron Rodgers is also playing this one to become the first man in the history of the NFL to throw for at least 4,000 yards in each of his first three seasons as a starting quarterback. He currently has 3,693 yards and 27 TDs this year, and this is his last stand for his MVP candidacy as well. The Pack know that sledding is going to be tough in this one even if Chicago does rest a lot of players, as the defense for the men from the Midway is as stout as could be. If the ground game can’t have a star to it, Rodgers and company should have a field day. Don’t be shocked if WR Greg Jennings, a Pro Bowler, has another one of these days where he catches five or six passes for 120 yards and a couple of TDs.
All of the motivation is in Green Bay’s corner unless all of a sudden, all of the best teams in the NFC decide that they are going to fall apart at 1:00. Even if that is the case, the Packers still have revenge to play for in this do or die game, as it could be argued that the 20-17 loss at Soldier Field earlier this year was the difference between winning the NFC North and a bye in the first round of the playoffs, and the situation that they are presently in. It’s a double digit set of NFL odds, but we aren’t afraid of them.
NFL Free Pick: Green Bay Packers -10