The Chicago Bears (8-5) will host the Green Bay Packers (9-4) at Soldier Field in Week 15 in each team's biggest game of the season.
Everyone knew this game would carry playoff and divisional implications, and that prophecy has certainly become a reality.
Green Bay is riding a hot hand right now, winning seven of its last eight games. The Bears, on the other hand, have hit a rough spot. Chicago has dropped five of its last six games to give the Packers a window.
A win here for Green Bay would be the dagger to the Bears' division title chances and a blow to their playoff hopes in general.
If Chicago can fend off the Pack, it has winnable games against Arizona and Detroit to finish the season. The Packers will play Tennessee and then Minnesota to end the season.
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
When: Sunday, Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket on DIRECTV
Betting Line: Green Bay (-3), according to Covers
Green Bay Injury Report via CBS Sports (as of 12/9/2012)
|WR Donald Driver||Thumb||Unk.|
|G T.J. Lang||Ankle||Unk.|
|LB Terrell Manning||Shoulder||Unk.|
|LB Clay Matthews||Hamstring||Unk.|
|DE Mike Neal||Shoulder||Unk.|
|WR Jordy Nelson||Hamstring||Unk.|
|C Jeff Saturday||Foot||Unk.|
|CB Sam Shields||Ankle||Unk.|
|RB James Starks||Knee||Unk.|
|DE C.J. Wilson||Knee||Unk.|
|S Charles Woodson||Collarbone||Unk.|
|DL Johnny Jolly||Suspension||Unk.|
Chicago Injury Report via CBS Sports (as of 12/9/2012)
|DL Henry Melton||Shoulder||Unk.|
|WR Earl Bennett||Concussion||Unk.|
|RB Michael Bush||Ribs||Unk.|
|T Gabe Carimi||Hamstring||Unk.|
|QB Jay Cutler||Upper body||Unk.|
|WR Devin Hester||Concussion||Unk.|
|WR Alshon Jeffery||Knee||Unk.|
|CB Tim Jennings||Shoulder||Unk.|
|DT Stephen Paea||Foot||Unk.|
|G Chris Spencer||Knee||Unk.|
|LB Brian Urlacher||Hamstring||Unk.|
What's At Stake?
As mentioned, the stakes couldn't be higher for these two NFC North teams. A win all but locks up the divisional title for the Green Bay Packers. If the Bears find a way to win, they will have to hope the Packers lose another game. Green Bay holds the tiebreaker over the Bears in the event both finish with the same record, even if Chicago wins this game.
The Packers are positioning themselves for a first-round bye in the playoffs. They need to keep winning and hope the San Francisco 49ers drop a game in order to earn that critical free pass to the divisional round.
Green Bay WR Randall Cobb
Let's face it, the Packers are a crapshoot when it comes to predicting which wide receiver is going to get the most love from Aaron Rodgers on any given week. Cobb has shown, though, to be one of the most consistent on the team. His 71 catches and 91 targets are well above the next highest on the team (46 catches, 74 targets). James Jones' nine touchdowns is the only mark higher than Cobbs' seven.
Even with Greg Jennings back in the lineup, Cobb has continued to shine. The Bears kept him relatively in check in Week 2, but he's been consistent, averaging 9.9 fantasy points per game this season. He should get some better looks against the Bears this time around with Tim Jennings possibly out again this week.
Chicago WR Brandon Marshall
Brandon Marshall is second in the NFL in receiving yards with 1,342. He trails only Calvin "Megatron" Johnson who is having yet another prolific season. Marshall also comes in second in total targets and red-zone targets. No matter what the matchup, he's one of the surest plays each week at the wide receiver position.
Like Cobb, Marshall was also shut down in these two teams' Week 2 matchup. However, with so much on the line, expect him to be a big part of what the Bears try to do to knock off the Packers.
What They Are Saying
Jay Cutler should be ready to go for this critical matchup, according to Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com:
Jay Cutler said he "should be ready to go later in the week." #JayCutlerShow— Michael C. Wright (@mikecwright) December 10, 2012
He left the team's Week 14 loss to Minnesota after suffering a neck injury in the fourth quarter.
The Packers have been plagued by injuries all season, but their head coach, Mike McCarthy, sees that as a positive according to Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune:
You can't just say, 'We have to be better at the end of the year after going 15-1 and losing in the playoffs. How the hell are you going to do it? You have to have a plan to make your team better at the end of the season. ... I feel that investment we made along the way of our younger players gives us a chance to be a more well-rounded team. That's my vision and my hope.
Having depth is critical in the NFL and the Packers could be dangerous in the playoffs thanks to having to test those rookies and youngsters throughout the season.
Key Matchup: Green Bay's pass rush against Bears offensive line
Green Bay's pass rush sacked Cutler and harassed him all game during the Packers' 23-10 Week 2 drubbing of the Bears. That pressure also helped force Cutler into four interceptions. Of course, Green Bay has been without Clay Matthews for much of the season since. The dominant linebacker recorded 3.5 sacks in that game but has been ailing from a hamstring injury.
Chicago's offensive line will still struggle with the Packers' front seven even if Matthews doesn't suit up again in Week 15. Cutler has been dropped 31 times, tying him with Tony Romo, Joe Flacco, Sam Bradford and Cam Newton for the fifth most in the league.
Green Bay is sixth in the NFL with 35 sacks this season, but has only recorded two over the past three games.
Both teams are feeling the effects of the grueling 16-game NFL season. Injuries aside, both teams will come to play with the intent on winning and taking one more positive step toward the playoffs. The successful team is going to be the Packers.
Green Bay's defense is too imposing for Cutler and the Bears' offensive line. Despite injuries in the secondary, it has still persevered. It's thrown youngsters to the fire and got surprising success as a result.
Expect the Packers to move the football and contain the Bears' offense for much of the game by pressuring and disrupting Jay Cutler throughout the contest. Cutler and the Bears will keep it close but won't be able to win with the game on the line in the fourth quarter.
Packers 23, Bears 17