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Sunday's Best

Week 17 Marquee Matchups

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: December 31, 2020, 5:32 pm ET

Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

Packers need to win to lock up the #1 seed

Bears need to win to lock up a playoff berth

Both can achieve those with other teams losing games, but they control their own destiny, making this a massively important game.

The Bears Offense has exploded over the last month, but that is because they played the #1 easiest schedule of opposing defenses.

Chicago’s offense has literally played defenses that ranked #32, 31, 30 and 18.

The Packers Defense ranks 15.

While you can only play who is ahead of you, it’s a positive that they put up points in bunches on these bad defenses, scoring 30+ points in all four games.

Is the offensive outburst a result of bad defenses?  Or is it the result of the return of Mitchell Trubisky?  Or is it the result of OC Bill Lazor taking over play calling duties from Matt Nagy.

Earlier in the season, the Bears used a ton of 3+ WR sets even though they didn’t have a great #3 WR.  Meanwhile, the 2-TE sets they used to pass the ball was their most productive unit around.

Over their last 4 games with Bill Lazor calling the offensive plays, the Bears are using 2+ TE sets on 40% of passes on early downs in the first 3 quarters

That’s up from 25% when Nagy was calling plays, a significant increase of 15%.

These passes have been extremely efficient.

They are averaging 68% success, +0.36 EPA and 7.6 YPA with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.

The way to attack the Packers Defense is not by using 3+ WR sets, as the DBs for the Packers are extremely solid at coverage vs WRs.  But you can use TEs and RB passes to see success against the Packers, particularly targeting the middle of the field.

On the other side of the ball, Aaron Rodgers sits 1 TD shy of his career high of 45 passing TDs, so it’s very likely he breaks that record against Chicago on Sunday and then gets a week off to rest with a first round bye.

That’s because the Bears Defense has fallen off a cliff recently.

Despite playing multiple average to below average defenses over the last month, the Bears Defense ranks bottom 10 in explosive runs and passes allowed.

And now they must face one of the most explosive passing attacks in the NFL

Note that the Packers have never showed Allen Robinson with Jaire Alexander in the last two seasons, and Robins put up games with either 100 yards (twice) or two TDs (once).

Interesting nugget:

We know how quickly some offenses start games.  The Packers and Bills are 2 of the best.

But over the last month of the season, no offense is scoring more points in the first half of games than the Chicago Bears.

21.5 first half ppg – Bears
21.0 – Ravens
19.75 – Colts
17.75 – Bills
17.0 – Packers, Browns and Bucs

We’ll see if that’s a product of terrible defense or if Mitchell Trubisky and Bill Lazor have found a groove that leads to a Chicago postseason appearance.



Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills

This line has moved all over the place.  It opened at Bills -4.5 and was bet all the way down to Bills -3.5 before an internal meeting for the Bills on Tuesday morning.

The Bills haven’t shared anything publicly about the results of that meeting, but the line shifted all the way down to Bills -1.

Reading that movement, there is a very good chance the Bills were planning to rest some or many of their starters in this game.  

Buffalo is already in the playoffs, Miami needs to win or to get help to get in.

But there is a chance that if the Bills win, they will have to play Miami again the very next week in the Wild Card round.

So determining motivation for the Bills is going to be very difficult.  One would think they would play this one more conservatively.  The Steelers are resting multiple starters, and the line for the Browns has skyrocketed to -9 points.  If Pittsburgh loses, it doesn’t matter if the Bills win or lose, they will be the #2 seed, ensuring they won’t face the Chiefs until the AFC Championship game should both teams advance that far.

News for the Dolphins has been equally questionable, for different reasons.

Ryan Fitzpatrick tested positive for COVID and will be out.  Somehow, Tua Tagoviloa is not deemed a close contact, so Tua will be able to play.  However, what is less clear is if anyone else will come down with COVID between now and Sunday.

Once Fitzpatrick was announced out, the line moved from Buffalo -1 to Buffalo -3.

If we assume the Bills try to win the game, they should have success passing the football.  Examine the Dolphins Defense by down compared to the NFL average:

1st down:    62% success, 9.0 YPA, +0.18 EPA
1st down avg:    57% success, 7.6 YPA, +0.07 EPA

2nd down:    49% success, 6.7 YPA, -0.22 EPA
2nd down avg:    52% success, 7.0 YPA, +0.02 EPA

3rd down:    31% success, 7.1 YPA, -0.45 EPA
3rd down avg:    42% success, 7.1 YPA, -0.01 EPA

As such, it will be vital to avoid third downs, converting first downs on early downs, and specifically, pass on first down often to attack the Dolphins weak 1st down pass defense

If it’s Josh Allen and his full complement of receivers, the Bills should go for a heavy pass attack on first down.  But if it’s backup QB Matt Barkley, the Bills may want to go run-first and pass less on first down and more on third down.  And that would play right into the Dolphins strength defensively.

As such, if we get word that the Bills are looking to rest Josh Allen, the Dolphins +3 would absolutely have value.

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.