Bears offense vs. Packers defense
When these teams met in Week 11, it was Kyle Orton’s first game back from an ankle injury, and you could see the struggles he had playing on it. There were some questions as to whether the Bears rushed him back too soon because he just didn’t look like the same quarterback we had seen during the first half of the season. Things are different now and I think we’ll see a much more efficient offense than the one that managed a meager 3 points in a 37-3 loss at Lambeau Field. Since that game, the Packers have dropped four straight, mostly because of their defense. They got torched in Week 12 by the Saints’ prolific offense, were upended by the Panthers in Week 13 behind 128 rushing yards from DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, were defeated by the Texans in Week 14 thanks to Steve Slaton’s 120 yards and the Texans’ improved passing attack, and lost last week to a dismal Jaguars team, not by anything in particular but simply because their team broke down. Matt Forte and the run game need to ram it down the throats of the No. 26 run defense in the same manner in which the Packers did it to the Bears in Week 11. Green Bay has had trouble stopping teams on the ground, and I think that gives the Bears the edge in this matchup.
Bears defense vs. Packers offense
In bitterly cold weather, offenses are clearly limited in what they can do. Look back at last week’s game against the Saints for proof. What that does is take the Bears’ pass defense out of the equation, improving their chances greatly of stopping the Packers’ offense. But even though the temperature will probably be in single digits at kickoff — if not colder — I don’t expect to see the same Packers team we saw last year at Soldier Field in Week 16. This one, although out of the playoff race, has every intention of playing spoiler — if the Vikings don’t clinch the division on Sunday. And an interested Packers offense has been a dangerous one this year. Aaron Rodgers is eighth in the league in pass yards, seventh in passing touchdowns, and ninth in the league with a 91.8 rating. He’s an efficient quarterback with a deep and solid receiving corps that has helped him expedite his learning curve as a starting quarterback. If the Bears don’t get pressure on him, he will find the open receiver and make them pay. While I don’t expect Ryan Grant to run for 145 yards as he did last time, you can expect to see the ball in his hands quite often. He has been known to put the ball on the ground, as he’s done it three times already this year, so the Bears need to try to punch the ball out of his hands and get takeaways. If the Packers come to play, as I’m expecting they will, then they have the slight edge here.
It’s been a long time coming for the Bears as they finally got a kickoff return touchdown last week, and it wasn’t Devin Hester who did it, either. Danieal Manning, who you can tell was on the verge of breaking several returns for touchdowns since taking over the return duties a month ago, finally broke into the open field and got the Bears off on the right foot last Thursday. He possibly could have had a second one, but while battling an illness, he was clearly fatigued and just couldn’t get away from the coverage team on his second return. Nevertheless, his second return put the Bears in scoring position and they took advantage of it. In conditions such as the ones the Bears and Packers will face Monday night, the importance of special teams becomes magnified. I think Manning will give the Bears good field position, but, obviously, the less we see of him the better, because that means the Bears are keeping the Packers off the scoreboard. As long as Hester doesn’t trip over himself or put the ball on the ground on punt returns, it’s a plus for the Bears. Kickers Mason Crosby and Robbie Gould are about even in field goals made and missed, although two of Gould’s three misses were blocked. As efficient as the Bears offense has seemed this year — at least in the first half of the year — it seems odd that Brad Maynard has the second-most punts in the league behind Cincinnati’s Kyle Larson. Let’s hope he has the second-most punts on Monday night, and that would be a good sign for the Bears’ offense and a bad one for the Packers. Maynard still leads the league with 34 punts inside the 20. As usual, the Bears get the edge on special teams.
At 6 p.m. Central time on Sunday, we should know what Monday night’s game means to the Bears for playoff purposes. It’s more than likely that one of the Bears’ playoff windows will close this week, but because the Cowboys lost Saturday night, one window will remain open for Week 17 as long as the Bears win. A Falcons win and a Buccaneers victory over San Diego closes the window on the wild card and a Vikings win shuts it on the division title. But even before we know the Bears’ playoff fate, we do know what Monday’s game against the Packers means. It’s a chance for some payback for the drubbing the Packers handed the Bears five weeks ago. It’s also disturbing to see Packers fans infiltrate Soldier Field like cockroaches — cockroaches wearing foam blocks of cheese on their heads and orange hunting suits. It’d be nice to send them home with lumps of coal in their stockings on their long rides back to cheeseland. While I don’t foresee a repeat of last year’s game, when the Bears trounced the Packers in similar fashion to what the Packers did to the Bears in Week 11 this year, I do think the Bears will come out extra motivated and gain some measure of revenge on Monday night.
Final Score: Chicago 23, Green Bay 17