On Sunday at Noon CT, the Bears and Packers will kick off the 186th meeting between the two bitter rivals, and this one has a lot riding on it. A win by the Packers and they clinch the division, leaving the Bears in a must-win situation over the final two games of the season just to make the Wild Card.
But a win by the Bears and the cloud of negativity that's been following this team around like a plague will be lifted. In fact, the momentum could carry them right into the Super Bowl.
But I'm getting ahead of myself with the Super Bowl talk. Right now the Bears hardly look like a contender, having lost to every good team they've played this season and coming off of a stretch where they have lost four of five games.
Yet it's funny how a win against the division leader, especially a hated rival like Green Bay, can do wonders for the psyche of a football team. Yes, this is a big game for both teams, but in many ways it's much bigger for the Bears.
So join me as I look at the top five keys to Sunday's contest.
1. Can anyone block Clay Matthews?
Matthews is expected to return to action versus the Bears on Sunday, and that is not good news for the Bears offensive line, especially left tackle J'Marcus Webb. Matthews sometimes moves around, and the right tackle last time was Gabe Carimi, who was not playing well.
But Carimi has since moved to guard with Jonathan Scott playing his former position. However, Scott suffered a shoulder injury in last Sunday's game and did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Matthews is coming off of a hamstring injury, but if he can participate in Thursday's practice he will start on Sunday. In the first game between the teams, Matthews had a field day against the Bears battering ram of a line, registering seven tackles and 3.5 sacks.
2. Can Jay Cutler start and finish this game?
Cutler is coming off of a neck injury against Minnesota so he is questionable going into Sunday, although he says he will likely play.
However, even if he does play, the line must play better than they did in Week 2 or the Bears could be one Cutler hit from Jason Campbell time again. Not that Campbell can't get it done, it's just that Cutler probably gives the team its best chance to beat Green Bay.
They will need to roll him out a lot in order to enable him to escape the inevitable pressure from the Packer's front four, although that may be rough if his neck is still sore. If he's a sitting duck in the pocket due to his neck taking away his mobility, that will be a tough thing to overcome.
3. Can the Bears get their running game going?
As I've written before, I believe that Matt Forte is not running as hard as he did last year. I have no data to back up this claim, but I feel he may be hurt. He has had numerous physical ailments during the season and that was the reason he failed to hit the holes in 2010, though we only found out about his nagging injuries after the season.
Michael Bush is supposed to be the guy the Bears brought in for short yardage and goal-line situations, yet we've watched as Cutler has attempted a pass on third-and-one. That doesn't make sense to me.
Of course, it's much harder to get the running game going when a team is trying to come back from an early deficit, so the Bears need to start out stronger defensively against Green Bay so that they can commit to the run.
4. Will Brandon Marshall bounce back from his Week 2 performance?
There is no doubt that Marshall is fired up for this game, as his recent comments would suggest. But the fact is, the Packers scheme limited him severely the last time these teams met. For the Bears to have success on Sunday, they need to get Marshall going, or some other wideout needs to step up.
Look, if Marshall is double-teamed, someone has to be open. It's time for Alshon Jeffrey to step up. I know he's a rookie with a promising future, but the Bears can't wait; they need his production now.
And if they are going to throw to Devin Hester, at least do it in the slot and hit him in stride so he can use his great speed to make plays. Earl Bennett will not play on Sunday due to his recovery from a concussion, so the Bears even may need Dane Sanzenbacher to step it up.
However, Packers rookie Casey Hayward has done a terrific job defending in the slot.
Marshall leads the league in catches (101), ranks second in receiving yards (1,342) and has caught nine TD passes, but if the Packers know Cutler will target him all the time, it will make their job easier on defense.
In their first matchup, the Packers employed a lot of “one man” coverage, primarily using Tramon Williams. In addition to limiting Marshall, Williams was responsible for two of the four Packers interceptions in that game.
Williams got help from his safeties, including Woodson, who won't play. He allowed 10 catches for 118 yards to Calvin Johnson last week,
5. Can the Bears' beat-up secondary stop Aaron Rodgers?
Safety Craig Steltz is on IR, Tim Jennings has a bum shoulder and didn't play against Minnesota, and Charles Tillman also has a hurt shoulder, so the Bears aren't exactly in good shape to face Aaron Rodgers on Sunday.
Chris Conte left Sunday's game with an illness, though he is expected to play.
The Bears defense couldn't stop a Vikings offense that is one dimensional, albeit that one dimension, Adrian Peterson, is pretty damn good. Once again, they face a team that is mainly one dimensional except that one dimension is passing, not rushing.
The loss of Henry Melton is another key blow to the Bears defense for Sunday.
With Robbie Gould on IR, the kicking game may be another key to this game, especially if it's close enough to come down to a field goal.
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