It's Bears-Packers week, and our panel has plenty to discuss as the rivals meet sporting two of the best offenses in the NFL.
So who's attack is better? We'll have a better idea after Thursday night, but for now our panel weighs in on that and more:
Fact or Fiction: The Bears’ offense is more potent than Green Bay’s.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. It's impossible to declare the Bears' offense superior over the Packers after only one regular season game. But the Bears have closed the gap significantly, and if Green Bay wideout Greg Jennings is sidelined Thursday night due to a groin injury, then perhaps the Bears will have the edge. There is no question the Bears are the better running team with Matt Forte and Michael Bush in the backfield, but the Packers still have Aaron Rodgers, the best quarterback in the division and arguably the best QB in the NFL. Expect both teams to score their share of points in the first meeting of the year, but to call the Bears' offense more potent in Week 2 is a bit premature, and kind of disrespectful when you consider everything Rodgers and the Packers have accomplished the last couple of seasons.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. One game against what appears at this point to be a bad Indianapolis Colts team isn’t a large enough body of work to convince me the Bears are the real deal. The verdict is still out, but the Bears definitely caught the attention of other teams around the league with the way they performed in the opener. Still, Green Bay’s offense features one of the league’s top three to five quarterbacks in Rodgers -- who let’s not forget owns a Super Bowl ring -- and a talented group of receivers with plenty of experience. So while Chicago’s offense appears to be a on the verge of something special in 2012, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Scott Powers: Fiction. The Bears certainly have that potential, but I need to see more than a single performance against the Colts. If Cutler, Brandon Marshall and the passing game can keep it up, the Bears can overtake the Packers’ offense because Forte is a far superior back than Cedric Benson.
Jon Greenberg: Fact. Crazy to say, isn’t it? But all things staying constant, the Bears are more balanced with the one-two punch of Forte and Bush edging new arrival Benson. I still trust Rodgers much more than Cutler to lead an offense, but the arrival of Marshall and to a slightly lesser degree, Alshon Jeffery, has definitely shortened the gap between the two passing games. I’m betting the Packers offense will still be high-flying this season, but for once, the Bears will be competitive with them, and yes, slightly better.
Fact or Fiction: Brian Urlacher’s injury will make him a liability on Thursday.
Jeff Dickerson: Fiction. Urlacher isn't close to 100 percent, but he's not going to be a liability. Sure, the Packers will test Urlacher in ways the Colts were unable to, but the Bears won't lose the game based on the performance of their star middle linebacker. The knee will be better Thursday night than it was in Week 1, although there is a part of me that wishes the Bears didn't have to play the Packers until Week 3 to let the knee heal for an extra week. But you can't fight the schedule. Urlacher will no doubt have a respectable performance. It won't be his best work, but nothing that makes you consider him a liability on the field.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. Granted, Urlacher didn’t play his best game as a Bear in the opener, but he definitely didn’t play badly. If anything, having Urlacher in the lineup is a major plus for the Bears because of his ability to diagnose schemes and relate the information to the rest of the defense, not to mention the linebacker’s penchant for playing mind games at the line of scrimmage with Rodgers. Urlacher’s injury situation is definitely a concern though because he’s coming off a short turnaround as he continues to recover from surgery. But having Urlacher in the lineup should help Thursday more than hurt.
Scott Powers: Fiction. This is sort of fact and fiction. What’s important is if Urlacher or the team doesn’t feel like he can keep up with the speed of play, someone needs to make the decision to take him out. The Bears are going to give to him some input on this matter, so he has to be honest about it for the Bears’ defense not to suffer.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. I consider his inauspicious opener to be Urlacher’s preseason game, and I think he’ll get his name called a few more times in Lambeau. I’m still not convinced of him being the same old Urlacher, as has been sold to us. While I don’t trust the Bears on most news, I can’t imagine the Bears would play him if he wasn’t capable of performing somewhat close to his potential. As Urlacher said the other day on ESPN 1000, Lovie Smith wants to win, and not just because it’s his job. His future with the Bears could be written with this season.
Fact or Fiction: This is the year the Bears shift the balance of power in the North.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Green Bay will not finish seven games ahead of the Bears in the standings like they did last year. The Packers may very well qualify for the postseason, but if two teams make the playoffs out of the NFC North, the Bears will likely be one of them. Detroit is still dangerous and Green Bay is still Green Bay, but the Bears made the most improvements in the division during the offseason. Throw in a healthy Cutler and Forte, and it's clear the balance of power has shifted in the North in the Bears' favor.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. It’s still too soon to make that determination, but the sense from this vantage point is that “fiction” could turn into “fact” by 2013 if the balance of power doesn’t shift even sooner than that. The Packers entered 2011 coming off a Super Bowl victory and come into 2012 fresh off a 15-1 regular-season record. So although Chicago has put together some strong performances against the Packers during this series, the Bears haven’t shifted anything just yet. That’s not to say the Bears won’t do it eventually. They’re certainly built to win now. So if there’s a year for the Bears to shift that power, 2012 is certainly the one to do it.
Scott Powers: Fiction. The Bears are gaining ground, but I’m not convinced the Packers aren’t still the team to beat in the North.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. The Bears look great after one week, but I can still see both Green Bay and Detroit being competitive with the Bears. All three could easily be playoff contenders. I’m not quite ready to hand the NFC North crown to Chicago for a few more weeks.
Fact or Fiction: Clay Matthews will get at least two sacks.
Jeff Dickerson: Fact. Matthews is an elite pass rusher coming off a 2.5 sack-game in Week 1 against San Francisco. He knows how to get to the quarterback. Although the Bears' offensive line did a nice job against the Colts, the Packers defense presents a step up in class. The Bears will try to control the game on the ground with Forte and Bush, but given Green Bay's ability to score points on offense, Cutler will probably be forced to throw. That will allow Matthews to do what he does best -- come after the QB. Because of that, two sacks doesn't seem out of the realm of possibilities.
Michael C. Wright: Fiction. The struggles of this team’s offensive line are well documented, but it’s certainly not the same unit we’ve seen throughout most of Cutler’s time in Chicago. It’s an improved group that will continue to put together solid performances in part because of the new scheme, which is designed to take pressure off the protection with shorter drops, quicker throws, and fewer five-man protections. Besides that, recent history hasn’t been too kind to Matthews in the sack department. Matthews didn’t produce any sacks against the Bears in 2011. In fact, all three of the sacks the Packers generated against the Bears in 2011 came in the first meeting (Week 3).
Scott Powers: Fiction. I’ll give him one and a few other Packers a couple more sacks, but Matthews will be held to one sack on Thursday.
Jon Greenberg: Fiction. Maybe one. The Bears offensive line got a break when Dwight Freeney left with an injury, but Cutler seemed to have solved his own problems with footwork as the game progressed, and the quick-hitting plays certainly erase the problems of yesteryear. Good footwork and bang-bang passing can do more to alleviate the sack problem than any new tackle signed off the scrap heap.