USA TODAY Sports
The biggest game of the year has arrived. Fighting for their division lives (and potentially for a playoff spot), the Bears welcome the Packers to Soldier Field.
Wow, so much at stake on Sunday. I feel like somebody's been jumping all over this game for the last four weeks. Eh, maybe it's just me.
Anyway, the Packers want to close the season series against the Bears with a sweep, but moreso, the division crown is in their grasp. With a win against the Bears, the Packers clinch the division, leaving the Bears at 8-6 and scrambling to maintain playoff positioning, particularly with facing the Lions on the road in Week 17. A loss paints a pretty morose picture for the Bears, though it's yet survivable.
But it's certainly, and obviously, in the Bears' best interest to beat the Packers - a win on Sunday evens up the season series, pulls the Bears a game closer, and very nearly locks up a playoff spot, though not quite. Tall order, but let's take a look at the long and winding road between Week 2 and Week 15.
Total Points: 10th
Total Yardage: 17th
Passing Yardage: 12th
Rushing Yardage: 18th
Total Points: 13th
Total Yardage: 17th
Passing Yardage: 17th
Rushing Yardage: 15th
Yeah, look at those rankings and tell me just how in the hell a decidedly-averagely-ranked team is 9-4 and leading the NFC North. The reason has less to do with the stats listed above and more to do with a couple other factors - schedule, and turnovers. Look again at how the Packers opened the year: San Francisco (L), Chicago (W), Seattle (L), New Orleans (W), Indianapolis (L), Houston (W). That six-game stretch accounted for three of their four losses. San Fran is San Fran. Seattle was... well... a thing (although Seattle is not a bad team, not one I'm comfortable with, but they can hold their own in plenty of games). And Indianapolis wasn't supposed to do anything this year, and here they are with nine wins.
But after the win against Houston, they started facing some of the same teams the Bears built their winning streak on - the Rams, Jaguars, their first matchup with the Lions, and the Cardinals (they'll face the Titans next week). Meanwhile, the Bears faced the Rams, Jaguars, the first matchup with the Lions, and the Titans (the Bears get the Cardinals next week).
The other factor has been consistency and a continued lack of turnovers lost. The Packers have lost the ball 13 times on the year - eight of those on Aaron Rodgers interceptions, who hasn't been the same sharp quarterback that he's been in his career (and yet he's still over 100 in season quarterback rating. It's sickening.). They've not given up three or more turnovers in a single game this season. And only twice this season have the Packers been held below 22 points - Week 3 against the Seahawks, and week 12 against the Giants. Both of those games turned into losses.
Speaking of consistency, remember that year when the Packers seemingly lost everyone under the sun and still won the Super Bowl? Yeah, I tried to forget too. Well, it's happening again, as some of the notable names on IR include Nick Perry, Desmond Bishop, DJ Smith, Cedric Benson, and Derek Sherrod. Other names on the injury report this week, ranging from "out" to "Questionable" are James Starks, Charles Woodson, Jordy Nelson, Mike Neal, TJ Lang, Davon House, and Marshall Newhouse. Yes, and they still have those offensive stats I mentioned. That's also including missing Greg Jennings for a nice chunk of the year and playing Randall Cobb to the point of strong fantasy utility.
One guy that's listed as "probable" and expected to play is Clay Matthews, and, well, we know how he did last time these two teams hooked up. He's been in and out and hasn't played since November 4 against Arizona, but that just means he'll go off on the Bears anyway. Five and a half of his career 38.5 sacks have come against the Bears; oddly enough, the 3.5 he picked up in that Thursday Night Suckfest are the first sacks he registered against the Bears since the regular season finale in 2010 (aside from a half-sack in that NFC Championship Game), so apart from one game, it's not like he's murdered the Bears in his career.
You know who else has seemingly murdered the Bears in his career, but not really so much? Jermichael Finley. His career numbers against the Bears look pretty terrifying - 31 receptions, 361 yards, 4 touchdowns in 8 games - but consider when he got some of those numbers. One game alone (Week 3, 2011) netted three touchdowns. Two games totaled 16 receptions, 3 touchdowns, and 200 yards. Week 2 of this year, a pretty pedestrian 4 receptions for 26 yards, 6.50 YPC - not very good. But that doesn't mean that he can't bite you.
If the Bears do this...: Don't allow Clay Matthews to duplicate his Week 2 output, and allow Jay Cutler to take the offense into his own hands. Cutler knows what his best weapons are - Brandon Marshall and himself. But over the last seven games, the Bears have had 14 turnovers - that doesn't help, especially when it leads to losing four of your last five. And getting picked off another four times would be very non-conducive to winning. So pretty much, know where the pass rush is coming from and hit the open man, especially when it's Marshall, who's nearly always open. Drops killed the Bears against the Vikings, and in order to beat the Packers, the drops can't happen.
If the Packers do this...: The defense starts with Matthews, who the Packers will be looking to get a jumpstart from. Barring that, Rodgers doesn't have his best games against the Bears, but he's not exactly helpless and can bide his time with the short, disciplined passes as well as anyone in the league against the Cover Two. That being said, they also actually... won a game... by rushing the ball. Alex Green got 13 carries against Detroit after 12 against Minnesota. And DuJuan Harris, who just signed on with the Packers this year, picked up seven carries and a touchdown against the Lions. Against the Bears' struggling run defense (17th in Y/A Allowed), do the Packers run more or stick with the offensive formula that's won them the last five matchups?
Regardless, the Bears need this one, badly. Let's hope they're up to the task.