Packers vs. Bears preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch
TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (10-3) vs. Chicago Bears (7-6).
WHEN: Noon CST Sunday.
WHERE: Lambeau Field.
TV: Fox with Kevin Burkhardt (play-by-play), Charles Davis (analyst), Pam Oliver (reporter).
RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, FM-101.1 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.
SERIES: Packers lead, 98-95-6.
LINE: Packers by 4½.
WEATHER: Mostly sunny, high of 18.
SURFACE: SIS Grass.
COACHES: Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur (10-3) vs. Chicago's Matt Nagy (19-11).
LIVE GAME BLOG: Join Tom Silverstein for analysis and lively conversation.
5 THINGS TO WATCH
1. BEAR KILLER: Following in the footsteps of his predecessor Brett Favre, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has dominated Chicago. Favre was 22-10 against the Bears as a Packer while Rodgers is 18-5. Rodgers has won six of his last seven against Chicago and 10 of his last 12. He has won three straight at home and is 9-2 overall at Lambeau Field. In the three meetings since the Bears obtained Khalil Mack, Rodgers is 2-1, including a 10-3 victory in Week 1. He has completed 63 of 102 passes for 763 yards and four touchdowns with one interception (93.7 rating) in those three games. He was sacked 12 times. The Bears are looking to swing the rivalry back in their direction. “It’s nice to be on the other (winning) side now,” Rodgers said of the Packers being up 98-95-6 in the all-time meetings. “I know when Favre-y started back in the early ‘90s, I think we were on the other side of this rivalry. Now, it’s nice to be up by three.”
2. HOT HAND AT CORNERBACK: In the very near future – possibly Sunday – defensive coordinator Mike Pettine must decide whether to keep veteran cornerback Tramon Williams in the starting lineup opposite Jaire Alexander or go back to Kevin King. After sitting out the Washington game with a shoulder injury, King should be ready to play this week. But he hasn’t been 100% a good portion of the season, battling groin, knee, hamstring, chest and shoulder injuries. Pettine’s best bet might be to play Williams full-time and use King in the sub packages only. “We’ve talked through all the possible scenarios, and that’s where a guy like Tramon, his flexibility allows you to where he can play in a variety of spots,” Pettine said. “He’s had just so much experience that you can put him in a certain spot, similar to what happened last weekend, that he was able to step in and do some good things for us without really getting that many practice reps. We’ll see how it plays with Kevin.”
3. EXPLOITING HOLE IN BEARS' MIDDLE: Injury has robbed the Bears of two of their top defensive players, inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan. Smith was placed on injured reserve this past week with a torn pectoral muscle and Trevathan is out with an elbow injury. The Packers will probably try to stress the position with their inside-zone runs and passes to their running backs. However, Chicago’s backups have been solid. Nick Kwiatkowski, a free agent after this season, has made himself some money with 35 tackles, a sack and an interception in five starts in place of Trevathan. “I know where 44’s at most times when he’s in the game,” Rodgers said. “I have a lot of respect for him, the way he’s played and his approach to the game. He’s been backing up both Danny and Roquan this season and he does a hell of a job.” Kevin Pierre-Lewis takes over for Smith. He has been a four-year backup and special teams player but played well after Smith went down against Dallas.
4. BEARS' NEW LOOK ON OFFENSIVE LINE: In the Week 1 meeting, the Packers made life tough for Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky, sacking him five times and knocking him down five more. Since then, the Bears have retooled their offensive line and protected Trubisky better. In the last four games, Trubisky has been sacked eight times. Only one starter on the offensive line – left tackle Charles Leno – is in the same place as he was Week 1. Cody Whitehair moved back to center after second-year pro James Daniels struggled. Daniels moved to left guard and former defensive lineman Rashaad Coward replaced injured Kyle Long at right guard. Right tackle Bobby Massie went down with an ankle injury three weeks ago and has been replaced by Cornelius Lucas, who has filled in admirably. Pettine will try to make life difficult for the group by moving Za’Darius Smith around and trying to create some mismatches.
5. SEEKING A SPECIAL TEAMS ENCORE: A big part of the reason why the Packers won at Chicago in Week 1 was the kicking game. Punter JK Scott nullified returner Tarik Cohen by averaging 47.6 yards per punt and landing five of nine inside the 20. He limited Cohen to four returns for 36 yards. Crosby nailed all three of his kickoffs deep, forcing dangerous returner Cordarelle Patterson to take touchbacks and finish without a return. The weather conditions were a lot better in September, so keeping the ball out of Cohen and Patterson’s hands will be no easy chore. “You’re looking at two of the premier returners in the game,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “Both those guys are electric. Anytime they get their hands on the ball, they’re capable of taking it the distance. So, we have to make sure we do a great job.”
Neither of these teams has beaten anybody of significance in a while so it’s hard to say which team is playing better of late. This game may come down to a field goal, and if that’s the case, the Packers have the edge. Packers 19, Bears 17
The Bears have won four of their last five because Mitch Trubisky is playing better by running more. But the Packers are as healthy as can be, whereas the Bears just lost one of their best players, inside linebacker Roquan Smith, for the season. The guess here is the Packers’ good health and efforts to hem Trubisky in the pocket prevail. Packers 21, Bears 17
There will be more offense than the slugfest on opening night, but not by much. The Bears have a formidable defense and, with quarterback Mitch Trubisky’s recent uptick, pose a legitimate threat. But this game is too important for the Packers to not show up. If they do, they’ll eke out a close one at home. Packers 17, Bears 13
Mason Crosby might solidify a Pro Bowl nod in Sunday’s game, as the Packers should be able to move the ball enough to give the veteran several chances. Meanwhile, the Bears’ kicking game may hurt them. Defensively, the Packers won’t be surprised by the run action of Bears QB Mitch Trubisky and should turn him over at least once. Packers 19, Bears 12
If the Packers can commit to running the ball like they did last Sunday, the Bears’ defense will crack. This isn’t going to be a high-scoring game, but the Packers can get the job done. Packers 20, Bears 17
The Bears are starting to look more like the team that won the NFC North a year ago, and are expected to get star defensive tackle Akiem Hicks and cornerback Prince Amukamara back from injuries for this must-win game. The Packers will need to be at their best after uninspired wins over the Giants and Redskins. Bears 22, Packers 20