BEARS' IMPROVED 'O' WILL GET 'W'
Spare me the storyline about Green Bay having more at stake Thursday night because the Packers desperately want to avoid starting the year 0-2.
We're talking about Bears versus Packers; if you can't get motivated for this game then you shouldn't play in the NFL. Believe me, the Bears will have just as much on the line when they arrive at Lambeau Field, starting with the fact they can jump out to a two-game lead over Green Bay in the division.
Don't get me wrong, the Packers aren't pushovers. Expect Green Bay, with all those high-powered skill position players, to score plenty of points. But after watching the Bears hang 41 on Indianapolis, it seems plausible that Jay Cutler & Co. could keep pace with Aaron Rodgers.
Let's face it, both teams have a few question marks on defense. Perhaps this turns into a track meet.
In past years, that would've spelled trouble for the Bears and their average offenses. But I'm convinced this group led by Cutler, Brandon Marshall, Matt Forte, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett and Michael Bush will find the end zone early and often versus the Packers. The Bears putting up 30-plus points is not out of the realm of possibilities.
If that happens, the game could hinge on which defense/special teams forces the most turnovers and generates the most pressure on the opposing quarterback.
In that case, I'm going to lean toward the Bears -- a franchise that has forced an NFL-best 271 takeaways since Lovie Smith became head coach in 2004.
And when the Bears force turnovers, they win. The Bears are 43-9 under Smith when they finish a game with a positive turnover margin.
Under Smith, the Bears are 61-12 when the team scores 18-plus points.
I like those odds.
Jeff Dickerson covers the Bears for ESPNChicago.com.
LAW OF AVERAGES FAVORS PACKERS
BREAKING: The Chicago Bears aren't going to go 16-0 in the regular season. At least that's what my sources tell me. The Bears will lose games, I'm guessing five in the regular season, and the first one will be this Thursday in Green Bay. And that falls in line with some other breaking news: The Packers won't lose every game at Lambeau Field.
Call me a slave to the law of averages, but I think the Packers even their season record this week with a close win over the Bears.
The Bears' offense looked great against the Colts, at least after Dwight Freeney left the game, and I think the Jay Cutler aerial show will continue apace with big plays and a big ol' target on No. 15, Brandon Marshall. But I'm not sold on the Bears' defense shutting down Aaron Rodgers, even if Greg Jennings is out.
Last week, against a good 49ers defense, Rodgers had a decent game: 303 yards, two touchdowns, one interception in a 30-22 loss. In his last game against the Bears, Rodgers threw five touchdown passes. Expect more of that. Cedric Benson didn't have a rousing debut in green and yellow, but I imagine he'll be a little more inspired against his former team. He just has to hope he still has some burst, like when the then Bengal ran for 189 yards in a blowout win in 2009.
Green Bay has tried to shore up a defense that gave up chunks of yardage last year, but the 49ers handled it pretty well. I think Cutler will have another big game, but I also expect him to play a little loose with the ball, as is his style.
All this adds up to a shootout in Lambeau. Sounds like fun to me.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.