Time To Zip It: Pack Must Match Bears' Urgency to Win North on SundayPosted:Dec 14th, 2012 5:28 pm
There's been plenty of yappin' this week by players new to the NFL's oldest rivalry (Brandon Marshall) and veterans (Lance Briggs and Jemichael Finley). None of that will matter on Sunday when the Pack looks to invade the Bears' den and leave with the NFC North title for a second straight year. But from a fan's perspective, it's nice to see the players hate each other as much as we hate the Bears and their fans (OK, hate may be a little strong, but you get my drift).
From the outside they look like two ships passing in the night. The Bears are a mess, losers of four of five, with a banged up offensive line and missing two key defensive starters. Lovie Smith's seat is getting hot. A loss on Sunday would be his eighth in the last nine meetings and from Day 1 he has said his team's number one goal each year is to beat the Packers.
Green Bay, meanwhile is starting to heal up. We hope to get the return of Clay Matthews to invigorate the pass rush against the Bears' leaky line. We also expect to see TJ Lang back at his best position, left guard--no doubt strengthening the Pack's O-line and giving Don Barclay a chance to hold down the right tackle spot.
Unfortunately, Charles Woodson has not been cleared by doctors, despite returning to practice last week and Jordy Nelson will miss another game.
Both teams will try to run the ball. Mathews' expected return would be a shot in the arm for the Pack's run D, which has been hit or miss of late. If they can contain Matt Forte on early down and force Jay Cutler into second and third and long situations it will only force him to run for his life and force things as usual. Cutler is expected to start despite the neck injury he sustained last Sunday; but he'll be without possession guy Earl Bennett, who will miss another game with a concussion.
The Bears' passing attack obviously revolves around the vocal Brandon Marshall who caught just two passes in the first matchup and seems to want to dare Dom Capers to change the coverage against him. But with 101 catches and the second most receiving yards in the league, the Packers will attempt to take him out of the picture and make rookie Alshon Jeffery try to beat them.
The Packers' running game has roared to life of late, averaging 135 per game over the past five. The signature drive of the Lions win featured seven out of seven plays on the ground with DuJuan Harris cashing it in. The new three-headed monster should have its way with the Bears, who are giving up 141/game over the past seven and are now without Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher.
Aaron Rodgers is 8-2 against the Bears, but rarely throws even two TD passes in Bears games. He's been efficient and takes care of the football, which is what you need to do against the opportunistic Bears defense. Their 7-1 start was fueled by turnovers, forcing 28 and scoring eight times. They've come back to earth in their recent skid, meaning the older defenders are spending more time on the field and it's taking its toll.
The Bears will be weakened further if CB Tim Jennings misses another game. The biggest ballhawk remains Peanut Tillman, who's having an All Pro year with 13 takeaways and nine forced fumbles. Green, Grant and Harris have to be especially secure with the football. If the Packers don't turn the ball over, it's hard to envision them losing this game.
The biggest intangible to me is the sense of urgency. Yes, if the Packers win, they win the division and that's obviously a big incentive. But to the Bears, this will be a playoff game. Granted, with remaining games against the Cards and Lions they could still get to 10 wins and get into the post-season as a wildcard, but a win over the Pack would change everything. Suddenly the division would still be up in the air and the perception around the country would be that the Bears are still dangerous and a team to be reckoned with.
But the Packers have won 11 straight division games, seven of eight overall and despite slow starts the past two weeks, have looked like playoff contenders since the loss at the Giants. With the Bears' key injuries, including the loss of kicker Robbie Gould, and Mike McCarthy and Dom Capers' track record in this series, it feels like the Pack will take care of business, win the division and keep a first round playoff bye in their sights.
Packers 20 Bears 14
Reminder: KFAN Viewing Party: I'll be watching Sunday's game at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park, longtime sponsor of "Packer Preview." As a bonus, if you bring an unopened toy or a cash donation for Toys for Tots, you'll be eligible for a couple of special Packer prizes. Twin Cities artist Michael Birawer, whose "Sunday Afternoon at Lambeau" is featured on this site, will be on hand to sell small versions of this awesome piece. We'll also give a few way after each quarter of the game. Hope to see some of you at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park to watch the Pack take home the North!