Expect Pack to Dump Coal on Bears' Playoff Hopes

Suddenly, it seems, the Packers have something to prove. Less than one week after their first loss in 12 months, they are no longer being considered by many to be the team to beat in the NFC.

When the Packers take the field at Lambeau on Christmas night they may have already locked up the #1 seed in the conference. If the 49ers lose at Seattle on Saturday, the Packers will own home field advantage and will have nothing of note to play for against the Bears. Nothing except a chance to remind their doubters that they are still the class of the league, despite last week's hiccup and a handful of significant injuries.

Expect the Packers to go after this one hard. The momentum of last year's team will not be forgotten and there is no reason to let up on the gas when your oldest rival is in your house with flickering playoff hopes themselves.

The Pack will take the field without defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, who will miss his second straight start with a concussion. His absence was felt last week for a unit that is still without a healthy Michael Neal and is now dealing with a foot injury to Howard Green (he's probable). In addition, Bryan Bulaga will miss this game which causes shifts on the offensive line. TJ Lang moves from left guard to right tackle and Evan Dietrich-Smith slides in at guard. Chad Clifton has been ruled out as well--expect him to get a few snaps in the season finale next Sunday.

As for the Bears, they will be without three of their top four playmakers and the fourth, Devin Hester is questionable with an ankle injury and did not practice all week. With Cutler, Forte and Knox out, the Bears' offensive arsenal is the weakest in the league right now. The Caleb Hanie experiment is officially over so here comes Josh McCown to make his first start, out to try to make an Orton-like statement. McCown has had very little time to get to know his receivers (though he played for Mike Martz in Detroit, so he's familiar with the system).

After giving Orton entirely too much time to find his receivers last week, the Packers will throw the kitchen sink at McCown, gambling that the pressure will force him into mistakes and that the rapport with his receivers won't be good enough to handle a lot of quick reads he'll need to make. With Marion Barber doubtful, the Bears turn to Kahlil Bell to handle the ball carrying duties. Expect a lot of screens to him as well--he's a good receiver and the Chiefs made the Packers change their scheme because the screen game was so effective.

The Packers' offense will again be without Greg Jennings and will be challenged to rebound against a Bears defense that always plays tough against the Pack. Linebacker Lance Briggs is questionable with an ankle injury. That's a big loss if he can't go--he didn't practice till Friday and was limited. With Starks and Saine back, expect the Packers to pay more attention to the running game. The makeshift line could use a break and the Pack should be able to move it on the ground.

The Packers are looking to become just the second team ever to beat a team four times in a calendar year and the Bears are the perfect victims. After starting out 6-2 against Green Bay, Lovie has dropped six of eight since Rodgers took over. He has never lost five straight games and faces that prospect unless his team can get off the mat after last week's 38-14 home loss to Seattle. Injuries have robbed this team of the great promise it had through ten games.

So they limp into Lambeau on Christmas night, with the Packers miffed, steamed and disappointed that they let a chance at a perfect season slip through their fingers. With or without a playoff seed on the line, the Pack will rise up with the defense leading the way and remind the supporters of the current flavors of the day (Saints and Niners) that they'll have to win on this field against this team to move on to the Super Bowl. The Packers' 11-game home winning streak is the league's longest and it doesn't figure to end anytime soon.

Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah, Bears:

Packers 24 Bears 6

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