NFL Preview - Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5)|
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A reeling Chicago Bears team is all that stands between the
Green Bay Packers and a second straight NFC North Division crown.
The Packers enter Week 15 with a one-game lead over the beleaguered Bears and
searching for their sixth straight win over Chicago as well as their 12th
consecutive triumph in division play.
"We're 9-4 right now and we're in first place in the division by a game," said
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "We've put ourselves in good position,
not only for the division, but potentially a first-round bye. The division is
the first goal."
The Pack put themselves on the precipice of NFC North bragging rights by
winning for the seventh time in eight games last Sunday after DuJuan Harris
rushed for a tiebreaking touchdown in the fourth quarter, as Green Bay earned
a 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Rodgers also ran for a score while completing 14-of-24 passes for 173 yards.
The Green Bay quarterback did not throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field for
the first time since Sept. 21, 2008, snapping a streak that had reached 35
"It's going to be ugly at times, but the main thing is the wins," Rodgers
Randall Cobb had 102 yards on seven receptions for the Packers, who moved one
game ahead of Chicago in the North standings after the Bears fell to the
Vikings earlier in the day.
Adrian Peterson had a pair of first- quarter touchdowns in Minneapolis as the
Vikings handed the Bears a 21-14 loss at Mall of America Field.
Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 160 yards and a score in the losing
cause while Jay Cutler threw for 260 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-44 passing
but was picked off twice as Chicago fell for the fourth time in the last five
"We knew we had to play our best football on the road in hostile environments
such as this place," said Chicago head coach Lovie Smith. "If you want to be
successful in the NFL you have to do that, and we didn't."
Cutler also had to leave the game late after being high-lowed by Minnesota's
Jared Allen and Everson Griffen. Cutler suffered a neck injury but is expected
to play on Sunday for the Bears, who still currently hold one of the two NFC
Wild Card spots despite their recent struggles.
Chicago will be without defensive leader Brian Urlacher (hamstring)
and proven kicker Robbie Gould (calf) this week, however.
"It's now about a three-game season and this next game," said Smith. "That's
going to dictate what happens with us. We're still in position to accomplish
all of our goals that we set out early on."
The Packers have dominated the Bears in recent years, winning two straight at
Soldier Field and trouncing Chicago by a margin of 116-65 during their current
winning streak in the series.
This is the longest and most extensively played rivalry in NFL history, dating
back to 1921 with the Bears leading overall 91-84-6. The Pack won at Lambeau
back in Week 2, a 23-10 decision where Rogers threw for 219 yards and a score,
while Cutler was picked off four times.
"If you need a game coming up to really motivate you to play your best
football, it should be your rival with Green Bay coming in," Smith said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Many have chalked up Chicago's recent woes to injury concerns but Green Bay
has had similar problems and handled them much better. Urlacher is likely out
for the rest of the regular season, while Gould, one of the steadiest kickers
in the NFL, was placed on injured reserve this week and replaced by veteran
The Bears have also lost key special-teams players Craig Steltz and Sherrick
McManis but star cornerback Tim Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight
interceptions, hopes to be back this week after sitting out in Minnesota with
a shoulder issue.
The Packers have had as many if not more key injuries and could get defensive
back Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) and linebacker Clay Matthews
(hamstring), along with receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) back this week.
Matthews returned to practice for the first time in more than a month on
Wednesday but Nelson and Woodson were still absent.
Injuries have also mounted at running back for the Packers with both Cedric
Benson and James Starks gone for the season. Alex Green, however, has stepped
up, running for 127 yards on 25 carries over the last two games and old
standby Ryan Grant was brought back.
Early in the season Chicago was relying on its opportunistic defense, which
scored seven touchdowns in the first eight games but has gotten none since.
The Bears run defense has also faltered badly recently, allowing 141 yards
over the last seven contests.
"The pressure we're feeling right now is on our performances," Smith said.
"Improving, it's on us."
Since Rodgers is likely play a clean game, Cutler and the Bears offense must
find a way to get things clicking. Chicago has scored just 72 points overall
in five games since racking up 51 in Tennessee on Nov. 4, thanks in large part
to a shaky offensive line.
The Bears' Brandon Marshall leads the NFL with 101 receptions and is second
with 1,342 yards, but rarely gets any help outside the numbers.
Green Bay last won consecutive division championships during a three-year run
from 2002-04 but that's likely to change this weekend.
Rodgers has thrown nine touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last
three games versus Chicago. Conversely Cutler has thrown seven touchdowns and
16 interceptions while compiling a dismal 53.1 passer rating and 1-6 record
against the Packers since arriving in the Windy City.
Translation -- another NFC North title belt for Mr. Discount Double Check.
"The division is the first goal," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We can
wrap things up (Sunday). It's a tough opponent, a tough place to play, a lot
on the line."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 24, Bears 14
12/13 13:30:04 ET