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Week 7 NFL Picks: A Rivalry in Decline

Aaron Rodgers looks to silence the doubters against a struggling divisional foe.

Each week Zac Hirschbeck will look at the betting odds for each NFL game and then share his pick for each matchup. While hopefully it goes without saying, please don’t hold him accountable if you gamble away your retirement savings or child’s college fund based on his picks.

After going 6-6-2 in his Week 6 picks, Zac’s season-long record stands at 45-43-4 heading into Week 7.

Here are his thoughts on tonight’s game, which sees the Green Bay Packers (3-2) host the Chicago Bears (1-5)

Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers (-7.5)

While this NFC North matchup stands as the NFL’s most played rivalry with 192 regular-season and post-season games since 1921, the 193rd meeting does not look set to be a classic. With each team coming off disappointing Week 6 defeats, both the Bears and Packers will be looking to get back in the win column while playing on short rest.

The Bears had a miserable start to the 2016 season with three consecutive losses under head coach John Fox. Then, after notching their first win of the year with a 17-14 home win over the Detroit Lions, Chicago has since lost two straight games that they very capably could have won. Despite a string of encouraging performances (four consecutive 300-yard games) from Brian Hoyer, who replaced Jay Cutler in Week 3 after a thumb injury sidelined the Bears starting quarterback, Chicago looks destined to compete for a top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

On paper, the Bears offense should fare well against the Packers defense. Under Hoyer’s direction, Chicago has moved the ball efficiently through the air and on the ground. Through six weeks, the Bears rank seventh in the league in total offense, and fourth in passing offense. Hoyer has distributed the ball efficiently to Chicago’s trio of talented receivers (Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Cameron Meredith), and rookie fifth-round pick Jordan Howard has accumulated 335 total yards and two touchdowns since taking over as the team’s starting running back in Week 3. With that success in mind, and when considering that Green Bay will likely be without their top three cornerbacks (Sam Shields, Damarious Randall, and Quinten Rollins) due to injuries, Chicago should have an opportunity to move the ball against the Packers defense.

On the other side, despite continued confidence from quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay offense has struggled in 2016. Rodgers in particular has failed to display the career-long prolific form that has already placed among the all-time greats at his position. Through six games, the Green Bay quarterback ranks 20th in the league in passer rating (88.4) and 26th in completion percentage (60.2%) and yards per attempt (6.46). His passer rating and completion percentage are career lows since he became a full-time starter in 2008. To make matters worse, Rodgers will likely be without a reliable running game against the Bears. Much like their depleted secondary, Green Bay will rely on third-stringers to carry the running attack. With Eddie Lacy and James Starks both out indefinitely due to ankle and knee injuries, the Packers will turn to a combination of recently-acquired former Chief Knile Davis, and wide receivers Ty Montgomery and Randall Cobb. With such limited options, Green Bay will likely rely mostly on Rodgers to move the ball and put up points offensively.

Despite Green Bay’s offensive struggles, and their consistent inability to cover as favorites in 2016, I can’t help but like the Packers in this matchup. While the Bears have moved the ball effectively with Hoyer under center, they still rank 31st in offensive scoring with 16.8 points per game through six weeks. With Chicago’s secondary also banged up (starting cornerbacks Tracy Porter and Bryce Callahan are both iffy to play), Rodgers has a great opportunity to at least momentarily silence his critics.

Although it’s growing increasingly difficult to believe in a Mike McCarthy coached team, I’ll take the Packers in this one.

Pick: Green Bay (-7.5)