Packers at Bears preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (5-7-1) vs. Chicago Bears (9-4).
WHEN: Noon Sunday.
WHERE: Soldier Field, Chicago.
TV: Fox with Chris Myers (play-by-play), Daryl Johnston (analyst), Laura Okmin (sideline).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 97-94-6.
LINE: Bears by 5 1/2.
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, high of 45.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Joe Philbin (25-28) vs. Chicago's Matt Nagy (9-4).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively discussion
5 THINGS TO WATCH
EQ SNEAKS AHEAD: Marquez Valdes-Scantling had been ahead of Equanimeous St. Brown in the rookie receiver rotation all season, but St. Brown had more snaps than MVS against the Atlanta Falcons and probably will play more against the Bears. Valdes-Scantling seems to have hit a wall while St. Brown seems to be gaining momentum. Both receivers had two receptions last week, but the reason St. Brown is playing more is that he can be an effective blocker in the run game. The Packers have lined him up tight to the line and had him pull in front of running back Aaron Jones and used him to block down on linebackers. The one area he hasn’t seemed to master is the scramble drill. He and quarterback Aaron Rodgers haven’t been on the same page several times, leading Rodgers to scold him.
HITTING THE SLOTS: The Bears will be without slot corner Bryce Callahan, who was put on injured reserve after breaking his foot against the Los Angeles Rams. His replacement will be Sherrick McManis, a nine-year veteran who plays mostly on special teams. However, he played 56 percent of the snaps against the Rams and has a sack and interception this season. The logical move for Packers interim coach Joe Philbin is to get Randall Cobb matched up on McManis and see if he can force defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to devote help over the top. That would open up other things for the Packers. Cobb appears close to full strength after missing six games with a hamstring injury. He had five catches for 43 yards and a touchdown against Atlanta and will play a key role in drawing attention away from Davante Adams.
CHANGING HANDS: The Packers rank tied for 27th with seven defensive interceptions and are threatening to set a club record for fewest in a season (eight). Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine has been preaching turnovers, but either because he doesn’t have enough ballhawks or his young corners are still adjusting to the pro game, picks have been few and far between. Bashaud Breeland returned his second for a TD against Atlanta, but that’s it since the San Francisco game Oct. 15. “When you look at how this game will likely play out with our offense on the road against one of the best defenses in the league, the turnover battle will be huge in this game,” Pettine said. “As always for us, it’s a point of emphasis, but it has to be even that much more because for us to win we’re going to have to take the ball away. We’re going to have to steal some possessions and we know that.”
MITCH MATCH: In the season opener between the two teams, Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky completed 25 of 31 passes for 171 yards, good for a 77.2 rating. Trubisky has thrown five interceptions in his last two games and threw for just 110 yards against the Rams last week. He missed two games with a shoulder injury prior to last week, so it’s possible he’ll be healthier. Still, the Packers must make his day miserable if they’re going to win. “He’s a big, athletic quarterback,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “They try and find him with the first read, get the ball out quick. He’s effective when that’s the case.” He also can run. He ranks sixth among quarterbacks in rushing yards with 386.
TOUCH FOOTBALL: Last week, Philbin introduced a backfield with both Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams. It’s possible he’ll use it again this week. Williams was the lead blocker on that particular run, but in other cases both could release into the flats for a pass or one could stay in and one could go out. The main objective is to get the ball in Jones’ hands with room to run. He ranks tied for second in yards per carry (5.6). “For him, it's more about touches more than just straight off handoffs,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “We’re trying to find ways to get him in space besides just getting him in pounding. He can even do that when called for or needed.”
Packers interim coach Joe Philbin can come up with the best game plan ever, but he still can’t suit up and help block the Bears. It would be a big surprise if the Packers didn’t battle the Bears the entire way, but there’s a reason they are 5-7-1 and the Bears are 9-4. Bears 23, Packers 21
Chicago just might have the best defense in the NFL (No. 3 in points allowed, No. 1 in defensive passer rating), and unlike when these teams faced off in Week 1, Khalil Mack is in shape to play the full 60 minutes. If starting RT Bryan Bulaga (doubtful, knee) can’t play, blocking Mack only gets tougher. The guess here is that unless Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky turns the ball over several times, the Packers will find points a little too tough to come by. Bears 24, Packers 17
Win this game, and the Packers’ playoff picture might become more interesting than anyone could have imagined just a couple weeks ago. Behind its top five teams, the NFC appears to be coming undone at the seams. The Packers’ problem: They’re included in that group. They haven’t won a road game, and now comes the daunting challenge of trying to score enough points to win against the same defense that shut down the Los Angeles Rams last Sunday. Win this game and, yes, there could be reason to believe in miracles. It’s just hard to see the Packers winning this game. Bears 20, Packers 13
The Packers have had the Bears’ number for the better part of Aaron Rodgers’ career, but I’m not sure the issues on third down or the ability to play 60 minutes of solid defense are behind them. Bears 23, Packers 16
A year ago, Aaron Rodgers came back from a broken collarbone with three games remaining and the Packers' flickering playoff hopes on life support. He came up short in a 31-24 loss at Carolina that ended Green Bay's eight-season playoff run. These Packers can't be resuscitated, either. Bears 30, Packers 17