Sunday Matchups: Bears-Packers
December, 25, 2011
By Michael C. Wright | ESPNChicago.com
BEARS (7-7) AT PACKERS (13-1) 7:20 p.m., Sunday at Lambeau Field on NBC
|Josh McCown is set to make his first NFL start in four years, and will likely struggle given the lack of weapons surrounding him and the fact he’s been with the Bears just six weeks. Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers needs just 99 yards to break the franchise’s passing record, and has a 114.2 passer rating on third down, which ranks as No. 2 in the league.|| |
|Kahlil Bell will make his second NFL start in the last four games. But with Marion Barber set to miss with a calf injury, the Bears don’t have much firepower behind Bell. Ryan Grant is averaging 4.1 yards per attempt, and has put together strong performances in the past against the Bears. The team’s leading rusher, James Starks is banged up, and has been inactive the last two games.|
|Dane Sanzenbacher led the Bears last week with two catches for 26 yards, which is definitely an indication of the shaky quarterback situation and poor play at the position. Chicago’s best receiver, Earl Bennett, has caught just three passes over the last four games. The Packers, meanwhile, boast one of the NFL’s most dangerous groups even with Greg Jennings expected to miss because of a sprained knee.
| Green Bay is shorthanded on the offensive line because of injuries, and could struggle against Chicago’s front four. Chad Clifton recently practiced for the first time since Oct. 9, but isn’t yet ready to return. Bryan Bulaga is out with a sprained knee. The Bears are fairly healthy up front, but they’ve been plagued by inconsistency in the protection. A new quarterback could only complicate matters for Chicago.
|Israel Idonije, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton have combined for 21 sacks this season, and could play a pivotal role on Sunday given Green Bay’s injury situation along the offensive line. B.J. Raji continues to be a run-stuffing force, but C.J. Wilson, who started in place of Ryan Pickett last week, hasn’t been as disruptive at the left end spot. Howard Green starts on the right side, contributing five tackles over the last three games.
|Lance Briggs has quietly put together a string of strong performances over the past month. Brian Urlacher is coming off a nine-tackle outing, and Nick Roach has contributed five or more tackles in three of the last four games. Inside linebacker Desmond Bishop, the team’s leading tackler, appears set to return to bolster a starting group of linebackers that has posted 15.5 sacks this season.|
|Charles Woodson is tied for the NFL lead in interceptions (7), and is paired with a strong complement in Tramon Williams. Still, Green Bay ranks 31st against the pass, surrendering 289.4 yards per game. The Bears continue to work through shuffling at the safety position due to injuries, and need better play from left cornerback Tim Jennings. Charles Tillman has been the secondary’s most steady player.|
| Return man Devin Hester continues to fight through nagging issues, with the most recent setback being an ankle injury that has neutralized some of his burst on returns. Even a half-healthy Hester is better than most of the league’s returners. Adam Podlesh is on pace to set a franchise record in net punting average, and Robbie Gould's field goal percentage of 89.3 ranks as the second-best in team history.
|Head-to-head record best tells this tale, and McCarthy has gotten the best of Lovie Smith in 12 meetings between the teams. But Smith shouldn’t feel bad. Under McCarthy, the Packers have racked up a 25-9 regular-season record against NFC North opponents, and have won 13 of 16 divisional contests at home over that period. With McCarthy running the show, the Packers have captured at least four NFC North games every season, and are the only team in the NFL to accomplish that feat in each season from 2006-11.|
|Green Bay is the embodiment of the cliché of the NFL being supposedly a quarterback-driven league. Rodgers is putting together a MVP-worthy season, and he’s aided by arguably the league’s deepest receiving corps. Defensively, the Packers are allowing 397.8 yards per game, and no team has ever made it to the Super Bowl giving up more than 360 yards per game in the regular season. Still, the Packers hold the advantage here, which is unfortunate because when Cutler and Matt Forte were healthy in the midst of a five-game winning streak, it appeared the Bears could’ve given the defending Super Bowl champions a serious run.|
|PREDICTION: Packers 34, Bears 10.|
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