It’s hard to believe that the winner of the NFC North will have less than 10 wins, given the normal strength of the division. But such is the reality this season, as the Bears and Packers square off in a season finale, sending the loser home and the winner on to the postseason.
Eight weeks ago when Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked by the Bears’ Shea McClellin and knocked out of that Monday night matchup, it was hard to see a scenario in which the Packers could make the playoffs. However, due to the Bears playing inconsistently and the Lions — well, being the Lions — along with back-to-back 1-point comeback wins for Green Bay, the Packers have managed to stay alive.
And now, Rodgers comes riding in on his white horse to save the day.
As much as I’d like to use a popular choice phrase of defiance to Rodgers and “the horse he rode in on,” I’m afraid I just don’t have the confidence the Bears will be able to deny what seems to be a destiny.
I’m not alone, either. Various media outlets are suggesting that not only does Rodgers’ return signal that they’re the favorites to beat the Bears this Sunday and win the NFC North, but that suddenly the Packers are the dark horses to make some noise in the playoffs.
And all of this leaves us wondering “what if…?”
The Packers also might benefit from the possible return of wide receiver Randall Cobb and the presence of running back Eddie Lacy. That would leave the Packers with an embarrassment of riches against a Bears defense that was torched for 54 points by the Eagles last week.
The last time the Bears and Packers played, Lacy rushed for 150 yards even with Rodgers out for the game and the Bears knowing that the Packers couldn’t count on backup quarterback Seneca Wallace. Imagine what Lacy will do this week when the defense has to respect the passing game.
The lone bright spot for the Bears is that linebacker Clay Matthews is out for the Packers with a broken thumb. That’ll help create some room and production for the Bears’ offense, but can the Bears offense keep up with the Packers offense?
Statistically, the Bears have been playing as well as any offense in the league outside of Denver. Even the vaunted Eagles were not superior to the Bears prior to this past Sunday night. But if you’re asking Jay Cutler to go tit for tat with Rodgers in a high-scoring shootout, that’s asking an awful lot.
I think what you’ll see is a last stand of sorts for the Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field. They’ve surpassed expectations this season in many regards because a lot of pundits didn’t expect them to compete for the divisional crown and a playoff spot. They’ve also possessed an offense that nobody predicted would have had as much success as it did. But they also have one of the league’s worst defenses and their offensive magic appears to be running out.
I expect the Bears to put up a fight and keep the game interesting for a while. Is there a chance that Rodgers will be rusty in his return to action? Absolutely. He hasn’t played in over two months. But with a poor pass rush from the Bears, even Brett Favre could return to the field from his lengthy absence and have success against this defense.
As much as I’d like to say the Bears will triumph over their smelly, cheese-eatin’, jumpsuit-wearin’ neighbors to the north, I just don’t see that in the cards. I don’t want to sound like a fatalist, but rather a realist. I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again, and I have no problem admitting when I am wrong. But right now, I see a painful loss on Sunday and a long, lamentable offseason ahead.
Prediction: Green Bay 30, Chicago 23