NFL Week 15 odds, picks: The most meaningful Bears game in years, plus five best bets

The heads lining Aaron Rodgers' trophy cabinet stretch from one end to the other, forming a sad but impressive row of Bears that Rodgers has eliminated with the cunning, grace, and skill of a ruthless predator dispatched from a spaceship on a mission of complete and utter devastation.

There's Jay Cutler wearing an aloof expression as if he still can't figure out how the hell he won only twice in 13 tries against the Packers. There's Brian Urlacher wondering how in the heck Rodgers managed to tackle and prevent him from changing the course of the conference title game with what should've been a pick-six. There's Lovie Smith promising to beat Green Bay by getting off the bus running. There's Julius Peppers remembering the time he came inches away from grabbing Rodgers, sacking him before he could launch a miraculous game-winner to Randall Cobb, and winning the NFC North. There's Chris Conte still wondering what coverage he's supposed to be in. There's Alshon Jeffery wishing he had another chance to catch that jump ball downfield. There's Brandon Marshall unable to pick himself off the barren grass of Soldier Field after yet another playoff-less season in an otherwise successful career defined by the absence of a postseason appearance. There's Marc Trestman and John Fox both doing absolutely nothing.   

To Rodgers, the heads of his victims are trophies. To the Bears, they're a long list of demons mistaken for saints.

Photos via USATSI

For so many years, the Bears thought Cutler, Urlacher, Peppers, Marshall, Trestman, and the rest of the heads lining Rodgers' trophy cabinet would eventually solve the problem that's been haunting them for what feels like an eternity, but none of them ended up becoming the cure to the sickness that has plagued Chicago. Since the dawn of the Rodgers era, all Chicago has known is misery.

The list of heartbreak is unending. There was Cutler's first-ever start in a Bears uniform, when he went from the prince that was promised to the most hated and misunderstood Bears player ever with four crushing interceptions against the Packers. There was the Week 17 loss in Green Bay when the playoff-bound Bears, with nothing to play for except the prospect of eliminating the Packers, lost 10-3. There was the conference championship game a few weeks later, which ended with Cutler's infamous MCL injury and a Packers Super Bowl berth that preceded a Lombardi Trophy. There was Rodgers' fourth-down, fourth-quarter touchdown in a Week 17 game that ended the Bears' season and sent the Packers back to the playoffs. There was the 55-14 debacle in primetime that sealed Trestman's fate as a dead man walking. More recently -- as in Week 1 of this very season -- there was Rodgers' return from the dead to turn a 20-0 deficit into a one-point win. Even when Rodgers loses, the Bears lose too. The final week of the 2012 season, the 10-win Bears needed the Packers to beat the Vikings to make the playoffs. The Packers lost on a Blair Walsh walk-off field goal because only when the Bears' playoff hopes are at stake will Walsh make a clutch kick. The Bears haven't reached a double-digit win total since. 

Rodgers is 16-4 against his alleged rivals. He's beaten them in Chicago to steal away a Super Bowl appearance and a division crown. He's defeated them on one leg. He's the recurring nightmare that haunts Bears fans. 

To the NFL, the Packers-Bears rivalry is greatness. To many Bears fans (*raises hand*), the rivalry is nothing more than an eternal sense of doom and dread, a forced trip down memory lane where they relive nothing but painful memories of false hope and broken promises. Until now.

On Sunday, in Chicago, at Soldier Field, the Bears can vanquish Rodgers and the Packers, and in the process, exorcise the demons of their past. It's the most meaningful Bears game in five seasons. When the Bears host the Packers, they won't just have a chance to eliminate the Packers from playoff contention. They'll also have a chance to clinch the NFC North. If they win, it'll be the biggest Bears win since a divisional round playoff victory over the worst playoff team in NFL history.

The last time the Bears were in the playoffs, this happened:

The last time the Bears were in a position to win the division, this happened:

The last time the Bears saw the Packers, this happened:

But things are finally different.

The Bears are actually good. They're 9-4 with a plus-112 point differential. The Packers are actually bad with a healthy Rodgers for the first time since 2008, his first season as a starter. They're 5-7-1 with a plus-eight point differential and an interim coach. The Bears are favored by six points, which seems like too low of a total given how much better these Bears are than these Packers.

It's understandable. The recent history between these two teams is undeniable. And that's what makes it even more fitting that the Bears can both win the NFC North and eliminate the Packers with a win on Sunday. It won't just be the most important win in close to a decade. It'll be the most cathartic win in recent Bears history. 

There really isn't a better way for the Bears to announce their return to prominence -- and make no mistake about it, that's what this Bears team has done. They matter. Their win over the Rams, when they beat a one-loss team by nine points despite Mitchell Trubisky throwing three interception, wasn't fluky. The Bears are one of the league's best teams. The Packers aren't. The Packers have Rodgers, who is often good enough to win games on his own. The Bears don't have Rodgers, but they have the league's best defense by DVOA and takeaways, both by a significant margin. They have a creative, modernized offense that maximizes its talent. The Packers have an offense reliant on an all-time great quarterback to manufacture something out of nothing. The Bears have a good team from top to bottom. The Packers don't. 

It's a result that's years in the making. While the Packers have stayed the course and relied on Rodgers to bail out poorly coached teams with ancient offensive schemes, the Bears built a monster of a team, the sum of which is better than the Packers from top to bottom -- from the general manager and coaching staff to the personnel. They found mid-to-late round gems like Tarik Cohen, Jordan Howard, Eddie Jackson, Adrian Amos, Bilal Nichols, and Bryce Callahan (UDFA). They signed free agents like Akiem Hicks and Allen Robinson. They traded for Khalil Mack. They matched the Packers' offer for Kyle Fuller. They hired Matt Nagy away from Kansas City a year before the assistant coaching ranks dried up. They convinced Vic Fangio to stay. Meanwhile, up in Green Bay, the Packers retained Mike McCarthy and his dinosaur offense, and tried to run it back all over again even after watching Rodgers consistently camouflage bad teams with playoff appearances. Finally, Rodgers couldn't do it entirely on his own. He succumbed to the situation surrounding him. The Packers finally fired McCarthy. But it was too late. The Packers' collapse just happened to coincide with the Bears' ascent.

Quite frankly, the timing and the circumstances surrounding the game make it feel like fate. It's why with the first of my five weekly best bets, I'm taking the Bears to beat the Packers by more than six points. The Packers have the better of the two quarterbacks, but the better of the two quarterbacks will be going up against a defense that just held the Rams to six points. The Bears are the better team. And on Sunday, the Bears will get the huge win that's escaped them ever since Rodgers landed in Green Bay. They'll get the cathartic release that's been building for years. They'll get the division crown they deserve. They'll finally vanquish Aaron Rodgers.

Back in Rodgers' trophy room, as the clock runs out on the Packers' season and signals the beginning of the Bears' playoff run, I hope Cutler smiles. I hope Urlacher rubs his head, now full of hair, and forgives Cutler for never calling him after he retired. I hope Marshall picks up the phone and breathes life back into what was the best bromance in football. I hope the glass ceiling of the trophy cabinet opens and the spirits of past Bears teams float away and find the peace that Rodgers stole from them. Their period of suffering is over. The spell has finally been lifted. The Long Night is over. 

Last week: 3-2
This year: 40-29-1

All odds via SportsLine

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Bears (-6) vs. Packers

The Bears are 9-4 against the spread this season. As the favorite, they're 7-3 against the spread. The Bears are the fifth-best team by DVOA. The Packers check in at 12th. 

Ignore all the history, which paints Rodgers as the ultimate Bears destroyer and the Bears as choke artists. That might all be true, but the pendulum has finally swung back toward the Bears. They're the better team. And if they were going up against any other sub-.500 team at home after a dominant win over the Rams, I get the feeling they would've been favored by more than six points.

Chargers vs. Chiefs (over 53.5 points)

Expect a high-scoring affair between the league's top two offenses by DVOA. The Chiefs are scoring 36.2 points per game. They just dropped 27 points on a Ravens defense that allows the fewest points per game. The Chargers' defense isn't the Ravens' defense. Though they're ninth by DVOA, they're much closer to the middle of the pack than the top of the table. If we assume the Chiefs will put up their normal 30 or so points, the Chargers only need to score 24 or so points for the over to hit. The Chargers are averaging 28.2 points per game and they're going up against a defense allowing 27 points per game. 

Expect a shootout between Patrick Mahomes and Philip Rivers

Seahawks (-4) at 49ers

The Seahawks keep rolling. They've won four straight games. They're 8-3-2 against the spread, including 4-0-1 in their last five games. They get Nick Mullens on Sunday. It's a short trip to Santa Clara. The 49ers are 4-9 against the spread. When the two teams met a couple weeks ago, the Seahawks won by 27 points. Give me the Seahawks in another blowout.

Rams (-10.5) vs. Eagles

The Rams haven't been great at covering this season, evidenced by their 5-7-1 record against the spread. But I think they'll beat up on the Eagles for a couple of reasons. One, after getting taken apart and humbled by the Bears, I think we'll see Sean McVay respond with a masterpiece against an Eagles defense that ranks 23rd by DVOA. Two, there's the Carson Wentz injury, which could force him to sit out the game. Even if Wentz plays, the Eagles look like a team that's on the cusp of spiraling away into the abyss. For three quarters against the Cowboys, the Eagles got utterly dismantled, but were lucky to be in the game due to a number of Dallas mistakes. A team like the Rams won't let the Eagles hang around like that. And Nick Foles won't be able to keep pace with Jared Goff and Todd Gurley.

Saints -6 at Panthers

Speaking of spiraling away into the abyss, the Panthers have already done that. They've lost five straight games, during which Cam Newton has thrown eight interceptions. 

The Saints are one of the surest bets in football. They're 10-3 against the spread. While the Saints have shown a few cracks in recent weeks, there's no reason to jump off the bandwagon. They're still the most complete team in football. And they're going up against a team that hasn't played well in over a month.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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