As we rapidly approach the kickoff for the Bears-Packers Monday Night Football game, I’m still amazed at the large contingent of fans and analysts who think it’s inevitable that the Packers will run away with this game.
I picked a Bears loss. I won’t run from that prediction. But I’m not about to say that the Bears cannot win this game, nor can I predict a Packers rout.
The Packers have been playing better than the Bears lately. And even though the Packers have some injuries, the Bears have a couple more critical ones in Jay Cutler and Lance Briggs. Combine those two facts with the homefield advantage the Packers will be enjoying, and that’s what my prediction is founded upon.
But by no means do I think the Packers will score 50 points in this game. And I don’t expect the Bears offense, led by backup quarterback Josh McCown, to flop and fail to score points.
The Bears have a legitimate chance to win this game, and here are a few reasons why.
1. The “Any Given Sunday” truth
Okay, so this is a Monday game, but you get the point. Bad teams can beat good teams on “any given Sunday (or Monday)” and the Bears are most certainly not a bad team. The ball can take funny hops sometimes and so you cannot discount the element of luck, or a team that makes its own luck. Which brings us to…
2. The turnover battle
Even without Lovie Smith on the sideline preaching takeaways, this Bears defense has still been flocking to the ball and trying to continue the same mentality their previous head coach taught for nine seasons. Do teams that win the turnover battle always win? Of course not. But statistics show that with each additional takeaway a team has, the greater their chances of winning grow.
3. The Peanut Punch
Continuing from the previous item, Charles Tillman should be good to go — we hope — against the Packers after much rest. Tillman is the best in the league at forcing fumbles with his famed ball punch. The Packers have some replacement weapons on offense due to all the injuries on that side of the ball. Sure, those players can catch and run and are benefiting from having a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to them. But do they have good ball security? Have they faced anybody like Tillman, taking swings at the ball? We’ll find out.
4. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball
It’s a simple matter of ball security and time of possession. When the Bears offense takes the field, they have to convert first downs. With each additional play they run, and each new set of downs they get, the chains keep moving and the clock keeps ticking — and Rodgers and the Packers offense remain on the sideline. Could the Packers still score without their offense? Sure. That’s where takeaways come into effect and if McCown throws a pick six or a fumble is returned for a touchdown, the Packers don’t need their offense. So, that’s where the other part of the equation comes in: ball security. If the Bears chew up the clock and protect the football, the Packers won’t be scoring 40 points, even against a defense that has struggled mightily this year.
5. The diversity of the Bears’ large receiving targets
Last year, Brandon Marshall spoke boldly and dared the Packers defense to play physical with him. They did that, they neutralized him, and unfortunately the Bears did not have any other receiving weapons step up and take the pressure off him. Fast forward a year and now the Bears have three huge targets that can cause matchup nightmares for opposing defenses. Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett are fast enough to beat linebackers and tall enough to out-duel cornerbacks and safeties. With a receiving corps like that, paired with a good receiving back like Matt Forte out of the backfield, the Packers will have their hands full.
6. The Hester effect
The glass-is-half-empty among us would point to the relative ineffectiveness that Devin Hester has had this season returning kickoffs and punts. However, the optimists will point to what he still can do, what he has the potential to do, when kickers or punters make a mistake and give him a shot. Could the Packers theoretically take him out of the game by directional kicking? Yes. Will they do it? We will see. But if they make a mistake, Hester still has the ability to change a game. And at worst, his presence on the field gives the Packers one more thing to think about, perhaps causing a bad kick that gives the Bears good field position anyway.
7. The element of surprise
When all else fails, you always have one more idea on which to pin your hopes. And that’s the element of surprise. The Bears, with their bye week last week, have had two weeks to rest and prepare a game plan for the Packers. They know the urgency of this game and they know if they want to make the playoffs, they can’t afford to lose too many divisional games. With that much preparation, and that much urgency, don’t discount either the offense or the defense throwing some different looks at the Packers that they have not yet put on game film this year. How well can the Packers adjust in-game? I guess we could find out if Marc Trestman indeed pulls a rabbit out of his hat.