The Green Bay Packers (13-1) and Chicago Bears (7-7) face off in Week 16 of the NFL season Sunday.
When: 7:20 CST, Sunday, December 25, 2011.
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.
TV: NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Also streaming online at NBCSports.com and NFL.com.
Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive.
Series: Bears lead, 85-92-6 (Packers won last regular season game, 27-17, on Sept. 25, 2011 at Soldier Field.)
Five things to watch
2. Not Cut-ting it
While the Packers are dealing with injuries on both lines, the Bears sustained a knockout blow when both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte went down with long-term injuries in consecutive weeks. Cutler has proven to be irreplaceable with the quarterbacks currently on the Bears roster. Caleb Hanie, who nearly brought the Bears back in the NFC Championship game against the Packers, threw nine interceptions in four starts with a 41.8 passer rating. The Bears lost all four games and have all but eliminated themselves from the playoff picture.
Now, Lovie Smith is turning to Josh McCown, a nine-year NFL veteran who hasn’t started a game since 2007. For the Bears to have a chance at beating the Packers at Lambeau Field, McCown needs to play a lot better than he did the last time he was there. In ’07, McCown was just 7-of-15 for 115 yards and two interceptions for the Raiders in a 38-7 Packers win.
3. Bouncing back
It has been a rare sight to see the Packers’ offense struggle this season, but they are coming off what was their worst performance of 2011 against the Cheifs. The entire group, starting with Aaron Rodgers at the top, needs to play a more clean game Sunday. Rodgers completed just 48 percent of his passes, and his 80.1 passer rating was far and away the lowest of this season. His receivers didn’t give much help with their inconsistencies catching the football.
Can the offense get back on track against a Bears’ defense that has historically contained them well? The 27 points the Packers scored back in Week 3 was the most against Chicago since Rodgers took over the starting role in 2008. They may not need to get over 27 to win this game, but it’d be comforting to see a better all-around performance in a game that the Packers need to clinch home field advantage in the NFC. This could be the final time the offensive starters play a full 60 minutes together during the regular season.
4. Clock control
A big part of the Chiefs’ win on Sunday was their ability to pick up first downs and control the clock on offense. Kansas City had 23 first downs and held the ball for almost 37 minutes, which allowed them to run 13 more plays than Green Bay (70-57). That included 39 running plays. Expect the Bears to attempt that same strategy. The Packers defensive line is also beat up, with Ryan Pickett already ruled out and Mike Neal questionable.
Could that give the Bears’ much-maligned offensive line an edge in the running game? Marion Barber isn’t expected to play, but Kahlil Bell has a little wiggle to his game. If the Bears can run the ball well on first and second downs, even McCown can keep the chains moving on third downs. It will be important Sunday night for the Packers to stop the run well on early downs to keep McCown behind the sticks. A big reason why the Chiefs didn’t turn the ball over against the Packers was because Kyle Orton wasn’t forced to take a lot of chances on third-and-long. The Packers’ defense can get back to forcing turnovers if McCown is looking at tough down and distances throughout the night. The defensive front, no matter who the Packers throw out there, needs to play well.
5. Don’t give up on the Big Fella
Despite some games where Jermichael Finley has struggled to catch the football, the Packers can’t give up on giving him targets on Sunday. Finley had his best game of 2011 against the Bears in Week 3, catching seven passes for 87 yards and three touchdowns. He simply is a tough matchup for the Bears’ mostly Cover-2 defense, and Chicago’s safeties really struggled to rotate over to stop him. 14 weeks later, the Bears still have plenty of problems at the back end of their defense.
We know that Rodgers is going to throw to whoever’s open, and I think Finley is going to be that guy on Sunday. A clean game from him catching the football would do wonders for the 24-year-old’s confidence heading into the playoffs.
Prediction: Packers 23, Bears 10
A makeshift offensive line is bound to have a couple of lapses, and sacks can kill a drive against the Bears’ defense. I’m not confident that the Packers will score a ton of points. On defense, the Packers better be able to corral a Josh McCown led offense. Allowing more than a couple of scores to a team without their top two players on offense would be a worrying sign.
Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.
You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.Follow @zachkruse2