So the Bears head into the Frozen Tundra on Thursday night to face a Packers team currently sitting in the NFC North basement alone, possibly frightened, and texting an assortment of sad-faced emoticons. But seriously, with a home loss against the 49ers, the Packers will be determined to get into the win column and avoid a two-game deficit to the Bears.
The Bears new high-powered offense adds a different wrinkle to the rivalry, and figures to challenge a struggling but still talented Packer defense. On the flip side, the still-potent Packers offense was slowed by an aggressive 49ers D, but can the Bears duplicate that success? In my mind, there's a magic number for the Bears' to hit, and to hold the Packers under, to give Chicago the best chance at victory. Hit the jump to see what my magic number is for the Bears to win.
I'm pretty sure I've done the "stats don't tell the whole story" speech before, so I'll just get to the coda; stats can provide insight that may or may not be useful, but at least reflect on history from an evidentiary standpoint. With the Bears and Packers playing on a short week, players are less recovered from the previous game, minor injuries have less healing time, prep time is shortened... you get the picture. And since both teams have to deal with these issues - traveling is a relatively minor one in this case - I wanted to see if I could look at some statistics and come up with a number that the Bears need to be on one side of and keep the Packers on the other side.
That key number is 24, and reflects points scored for the Bears or Packers. And before SMD can comment, "the magic number is one more than the Packers," I've brought along some evidence to help explain why if the Bears hit 24, they should win, and if the Packers do, we'll probably lose. All info garnered from Pro Football Reference and NFL online schedules. The math is pretty much mine.
Green Bay is 2-7 over the last three years in the regular season when they score under twenty-four points.
Yes, that includes Sunday's game. And if you're wondering just how good a job the 49ers did, Green Bay scored less than twenty-four points once in 2011. That's right, once, and it just so happened to be their only regular season loss of the year. While the Packers were almost unstoppable last year (35 ppg), their Super Bowl season had them averaging 24.3 ppg, and the team went 2-5 when falling below that number. In review, the Packers are 2-7 when scoring under twenty-four points, and 23-1 when scoring over twenty-four, over the past two-plus regular seasons.
Over the same time period, the Bears are 14-0 when scoring twenty-four or more points.
Yeah, I said undefeated. Last year the Bears averaged 26.8 ppg with Cutler in the lineup (and I'm not even going to mention the games without him) and went 7-3. In those three losses we scored 13 (Saints), 17 (Packers), and 13 again (Lions). In 2010, the Bears only averaged 20.9 ppg, and had a 5-5 record when they scored under twenty-four. Chicago was undefeated (6-0) when they scored twenty-four or more, including wins against the Eagles, Jets, and Lions.
The Bears haven't scored twenty-four points against the Packers in the regular season in four years.
Lovie's mantra upon his hiring was "beat the Pack," and he may want to go back and watch that tape. The Bears are 1-5 against the Packers since 2009 in the regular season, and haven't topped twenty-four points in a Green Bay game since 2007 (when the Bears swept the Pack thanks to a 27-20 road win and a 35-7 drubbing at home). The high water mark in points scored since then? Twenty-one; last year, on the road, without Cutler.
Road teams struggle on Thursday nights... unless they score twenty-four points or more.
Over the past two seasons, road teams are 4-12 on Thursdays. Average points scored by the visiting team was 15.1 ppg in 2011, and 17.1 ppg in 2010. The home team scored 21.3 ppg in 2011, and 25.3 ppg in 2010 (in fact, the only 2010 home team to score less than twenty-four points on a Thursday? The Dolphins, who were goose-egged by... da Bears). Average points scored in the NFL in 2011? Twenty-two.
Okay, that was a lot of numbers, read it again, I'll wait... okay, so teams score less on Thursdays, and road teams really seem to struggle to score points. But, if they can hit twenty-four, things get brighter. Only two road teams won on a Thursday in 2011. They scored twenty-four points and thirty-one points respectively. No other road team hit twenty-four points on a Thursday game, and all six of them lost. In 2010, road teams that scored twenty-four or more points were 1-2, but that still gave them a better chance of winning then scoring less (1-4 record).
In the end, if you hate looking at statistics like this, your mind isn't going to change from "you can use stats to prove anything." But in all honestly, the number 24 jumped out at me; and why wouldn't it? If the Bears hit twenty-four, they win. If the Packers score twenty-four, they almost never lose. Road teams struggle on Thursdays, and their only real chance at winning is scoring twenty-four or more points.
Whether you like stats or not, the ones I've mentioned show that the Bears will have a steep hill to climb Thursday, and while the winner will, yes, score more points than the loser, check out the actual number of each and see the above stats hold true.