After giving their fans a lump of coal last week in Kansas City, the Green Bay Packers look to make amends and stuff Packer Nation’s stockings with home field advantage for the playoffs as well as beating their despised archrival.
A week after suffering their first loss of the season, the Packers return to the friendly confines of Lambeau Field to take on the Chicago Bears Christmas night on national television. Should the San Francisco 49ers lose on Saturday to the Seattle Seahawks, the Packers will have home field wrapped up before they take the field and there is the possibility Mike McCarthy could rest his starters.
Should the 49ers win, the Packers can secure the NFC number one seed with a win over the Bears. The game plan could go one of two ways depending on Saturday’s outcome.
Regardless, the Packers come into the game with a battered offensive line. Bryan Bulaga is out this week with an ankle injury and Derek Sherrod, Bulaga’s replacement, broke his leg in gruesome fashion and is out for the remainder of the year. Throw in an off day by Aaron Rodgers and his receivers in Kansas City, and the Packers have plenty of motivation to play well even if they have the top seed locked down.
The Bears meanwhile are looking like they could be in a complete tailspin. With top offensive players Jay Cutler and Matt Forte sidelined, the Bears turn to Josh McCown at quarterback after Caleb Hanie stunk up the joint the past few weeks. Marion Barber carries the load on the ground. The Bears also lost Johnny Knox to a scary injury last week, though Knox fortunately was able to gain feeling back in his extremities.
Let’s look at the key Bears to watch on Sunday.
QB Josh McCown
I would normally say this should be all too easy with the Packers facing a quarterback that is out of practice and having one the best ball hawking secondaries in the league. After watching their performance against a supposedly rusty (and injured) Kyle Orton a week ago, I’m not taking anything for granted.
McCown is already a legend to Packer fans after he led the Arizona Cardinals to a comeback victory over the Minnesota Vikings in 2003 that clinched the NFC North for the Packers, and fans hope he wraps a few more gifts on Sunday in the form of interceptions.
He’s by no means a stellar quarterback, but he can get the job done. He doesn’t turn the ball over, but with a severe talent deficiency at receiver for the Bears, will he be able to get any help?
RB Marion Barber
If McCown’s a hero, then Barber would definitely be a goat.
Two weeks ago, the Bears seemingly had a win in the bag against the Broncos until Barber inexplicably ran out of bounds on a play which stopped the clock and gave Tim Tebow time to do what he does and the Broncos stole a victory.
Still Barber is a talented and bruising running back. He was effective in Dallas as part of a two-headed attack and can still be a primary running back. With Forte out with an injury, Barber is the main guy on the Bears offense until McCown gets his legs under him.
Martz likes to pass but until McCown can get in a rhythm look for heavy doses of Barber.
DE Julius Peppers
The Packers’ thin offensive line is about to get one doozy of a test.
Peppers is incredibly disruptive to any offensive line, let alone the patchwork group the Packers are putting together for this game. With another solid season of 10 sacks and three forced fumbles under his belt, Peppers will be the player to watch if the Packers want to keep Rodgers upright and get their offense back in sync.
Getting Clifton and his experience back for this game would help the Packers tremendously, but should the veteran not be able to go then Marshall Newhouse will face the biggest test of his professional career. After struggling last week, Newhouse must bounce back quickly or Peppers will eat his quarterback for lunch.
LB Brian Urlacher
Urlacher always gets fired up for Packers week and with his team’s playoff hopes dwindling fast, this week will be no exception.
The veteran linebacker will be part of a pass rush that will test the Packers line early and often. Urlacher’s task will be trying to keep Rodgers in the pocket where he surprisingly struggled with his accuracy last week against the Chiefs.
Urlacher and Peppers make a potent one-two punch for the Bears defense that makes up for a weak secondary. You can’t forget about Lance Briggs either. With the Packers wounded on offense, this defense will provide a difficult challenge for the defending Super Bowl champions.
Three matchups to watch
Bears pass rush vs. the Packers leaky offensive line The game very likely will come down to this. With Evan Dietrich-Smith likely to play than he has in a long time, there is a great deal of concern how well the Packers offensive line will be able to protect Rodgers from what will very likely be a very aggressive Bears pass rush.
Thankfully Rodgers has some of the best footwork in the league and can throw on the run better than anyone so in a sense his athletic ability will offset the potential problems on the line. If the Bears keep Rodgers in the pocket however, there could be some problems.
Jermichael Finley vs. himself It’s been well-documented this week about Finley’s struggles and with Greg Jennings still out with a knee injury, Finley will get another chance to be the playmaker in the passing game.
Of course, the questions remain. Was Finley able to get his head straightened out this week? Did the coaches figure out what was wrong? Finley has had success against the Bears and now would be as good a time as any to reassert himself as a dominant tight end in front of the hometown fans.
Josh McCown vs. the Packers secondary The Packers pass defense last week was eaten alive by a rusty quarterback in Orton. This week, they face the same kind of situation with McCown. Will the Packers again underestimate the opposing quarterback?
I would have to think they won’t. After getting burned by the likes of Orton and partially by Christian Ponder in his first start, the secondary surely has learned its lesson and will be on its toes against McCown.
With Knox out of action, McCown doesn’t have many targets to throw to and this could be the key part in the Packers defense regaining valuable confidence heading into the playoffs.
Packers 27, Bears 21
Many people are thinking blowout for this game and I initially leaned the same way as well. However, I don’t think the Packers patchwork offensive line will do too well against the Bears defense.
When you also consider that the records must be thrown out the window when these two teams meet, this could be another close game.
I think the Packers get out to fast start and then the Bears close the gap late to make it interesting as McCown settles in. However, too little too late as the Packers secondary makes another of its patented game-saving interceptions in the fourth quarter.
The Packers get their mojo back as they prepare for the regular season finale next week against the Lions.——————
Kris Burke is a sports writer covering the Green Bay Packers for AllGreenBayPackers.com and WTMJ in Milwaukee. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) and his work has been linked to by sites such as National Football Post and CBSSports.com. Follow @KrisLBurke