NFL Playoff Schedule, Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers: A Statistical Preview

Fooch's Note: Check out our AFC Championship statistical preview/open thread HERE

DANNY'S NOTE: This is going to be our official game thread for Bears-Packers.

Today, my reputation is on the line. Before the season started, most of the Niners Nation staff writers offered up their Super Bowl predictions. Five of the seven picked the Packers to make the big game, but yours truly was the only one who predicted Packers vs. Jets. I guess I was the only one that believed the smack-talk coming out of Rex Ryan during the preseason.  So here's hoping for an outcome today that will reserve my spot in Niners Nation lore.

Even though it's clear who I'm going to pick to win each of today's games, I'll nevertheless go through the motions and give you guys proper statistical previews. Here, I'll preview Bears-Packers. Later on today, I'll preview Steelers-Ravens.

As always, if you're unfamiliar with the format of these statistical preview posts, see my post from last weekend. If you're unfamiliar with Football Outsiders' stats, see here for their overall team stats, OL & defensive front-7 (DF7) stats, and an explanation of the methods they used to come up with their stats.

GREEN BAY PACKERS @ CHICAGO BEARS

Here's how the two teams stack up in terms of Total, Offense, Defense, and Special Teams DVOA (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

Total DVOA

Rank

Offense

Rank

Defense

Rank

Special Teams

Rank

GB

23.2%

3

14.7%

7

-10.8%

2

-2.2%

27

GB - ROAD

9.1%

3.4%

15

-7.9%

6

CHI

3.0%

16

-12.0%

28

-7.8%

5

7.2%

1

CHI - HOME

19.8%

 

-6.5%

27

-6.1%

9

 

 

As was the case with their matchup against the Falcons, the Packers' neutral-site DVOA advantage over their opponent becomes a disadvantage given that the game is at Soldier Field. Last week, there was an 18.5% DVOA swing based on the game being at the Georgia Dome; this week, the swing is even larger at 30.9% (i.e., a 20.2% neutral-site DVOA advantage for GB turns into a 10.7% advantage for CHI). Of course, this didn't seem to be an issue whatsoever for GB in their dismantling of ATL, so I'd imagine it's not going to be a problem this week either; not to mention the fact that the Packers are very familiar with playing at Soldier Field.

GB also once again finds itself in a huge special teams (ST) disadvantage against their opponent. Last week, the Packers faced the NFL's #2 ST unit according to DVOA; this week they face #1. However, unlike last week, the majority of GB's ST disadvantage comes not while they're receiving kickoffs; rather, it's when they're kicking off to CHI. Specifically, Devin Hester and the Bears' kick return unit was 3rd-best in the NFL this season, whereas the Packers' kickoff coverage unit was 6th-worst. Therefore, whereas ATL's kickoff advantage was more of a way to help their below-average defense keep GB from scoring points (epic fail), CHI's kickoff return advantage will be more of a way to help their below-average offense keep up with GB's point-scoring.

After the jump, a veritable cornucopia of strength vs. weakness matchups for CHI-GB ... 

Here are the meaningful strength-versus-weakness (SVW) matchups in the game:

Situation

CHI Rank

GB Rank

CHI KICKOFF RETURN VS. GB KICKOFF

3

27

GB DEFENSE VS. CHI OFFENSE IN THE FIRST HALF

27

4

GB DEFENSE VS. CHI OFFENSE IN THE SECOND HALF

26

3

GB DEFENSE VS. CHI OFFENSE WHEN GAME IS LATE & CLOSE

27

4

GB PASS DEFENSE VS. CHI PASS OFFENSE ON PASSES

28

1

GB PASS DEFENSE VS. CHI PASS OFFENSE IN RED ZONE

28

8

GB RUN DEFENSE VS. CHI RUN OFFENSE IN RED ZONE

25

4

GB DEFENSE VS. CHI OFFENSE ON 1ST DOWN

25

3

GB PASS DEFENSE VS. CHI PASS OFFENSE ON 3RD DOWN

30

5

GB PASS DEFENSE VS. CHI PASS OFFENSE ON 3RD & LONG

32

3

Aside from the aforementioned ST advantage for CHI, every other meaningful matchup advantage in this game belongs to GB's defense; especially their pass defense. For all the love Jay Cutler's been getting lately, the Bears' pass offense has been pretty inefficient this season, basically across the entire spectrum of game situations. And, unfortunately for CHI in this game, they're not going to be playing against the 29th-best pass defense like they did last week against the Seahawks. Indeed, if we were to look at Cutler's games this season in terms of adjusted yards per pass attempt (AYPA), a stat that incorporates the positive value of TDs and the negative value of INTs into your basic YPA number, his 2 worst outings were against the Giants (AYPA @ NYG = -0.27), who were #3 in pass defense, and the Packers (AYPA @ GB = 2.00), who were #2. Of course, you might notice both of those games were on the road, whereas today's game is at home. That's a valid point. Therefore, I wouldn't expect Cutler to have one of his worst games of the year, but these stats suggest that I also wouldn't expect him to have an AYPA of 11.21 like he did last week against SEA. Rather, I'm thinking the best you're going to see out of him is something resembling his 7.26-AYPA performance in CHI's earlier home game against GB. But, you say, "They won that game!" They sure did, but it wasn't primarily because of Cutler's arm: 13 of CHI's 20 points came via their ST.

And really, the first GB @ CHI game was, I think, a useful manifestation of what the SVW matchups suggest. The Bears are likely to do good things on ST, and have to settle for FGs if they get to the red zone. Their pass offense, in contrast, likely won't be carrying the team to victory ala last week. Rather, if the Bears are going to beat the Packers, Cutler and company are going to have to overcome a lot of matchup disadvantages, and find a way to be "average," as opposed to "woefully inefficient."

Here's how the two teams rank in the trenches (Top-8 in bold, Bottom-8 in italics):

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

GB OL

23

32

21

7

18

28

25

9

21

CHI DF7

2

8

24

1

9

10

31

1

21

 

Team

ALY

LE

LT

C/G

RT

RE

Power

Stuffed

ASR

CHI OL

28

1

25

30

32

17

32

29

32

GB DF7

20

19

28

21

25

16

2

28

4

What's really interesting to me is that, as inefficient as the Bear's pass offense has been this season, it's not like they have a stout run offense to grind out yardage if Cutler turns into the 2nd coming of Jake Delhomme ca. the 2009 NFC Championship game. Put simply, that's because their OL can't run-block to save their lives. Like many run offenses, CHI's "favorite" run is behind RT, but their OL is dead last in the league in terms of blocking in that direction. In addition, there's further evidence here supporting the idea that the Bears are likely to be settling for FGs: their OL ranks dead last (again) on power running plays, which are runs on 3rd or 4th down with less than 3 yards to gain for a first down or TD, whereas GB's defensive front 7 (DF7) is 2nd-best in the NFL. The Bears converting that crucial 3rd & 2 at the GB 15 yard line? I'd bet against it.

It turns out, also, that CHI's OL can't pass-protect either, and that's kind of a problem when you're going against a DF7 that's #4in the NFL at sacking the opposing QB. Of course, there's the usual caveat here about sacks being more dependent on the QB than people realize, but it's not like Jay Cutler isn't going to be playing in this game. To boot, if we again rely on the first Packers-Bears game in Chicago as an indicator of what's likely to happen, GB did have 3 sacks in that game, which was about average for them this season.

On the other side of the ball, GB again faces a DF7 that's only in the middle of the pack in terms of ASR. Not being able to disrupt Aaron Rodgers' comfort zone was a recipe for disaster for the Falcons last week. Although I don't envision a 40-point explosion against the Bears, I do think that Rodgers will benefit from not having to face a sack-happy opponent. That's especially important given that the Packers would be wise to run the ball even less than they normally do seeing as how CHI's DF7 is #2 in overall ALY, and #1 in the specific direction toward which GB's window-dressing run-blockers block best.

BOTTOM LINE: This one's a pretty simple call for me. I picked the Packers to win it all before the season started, so I'm certainly not going to jump ship now. Putting selfishness aside, however, the stats seem to suggest that there's really only one way the Bears can win this game. Namely, they'll have to replicate the game the two teams played in Chicago earlier this year. CHI's offense is at such a disadvantage here, and Jay Cutler is so ripe for a 5-interception game, that the Bears are going to need special teams and defense to save the day in a win. Otherwise, all other matchup permutations appear to result in a GB trip to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV.

**DVOA, ALY, and ASR statistics used to produce this article were obtained from Football Outsiders.

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