The Packers beat the Bears 23-10 back in Week 2 and a win Sunday would lock up a second straight NFC North title for Green Bay. It would also help them keep pace with the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) for the second bye in the NFC.
A win would keep Chicago in the hunt for the NFC North title. The Bears are currently the sixth seed in the NFC. The Seattle Seahawks (also 8-5) are fifth, while the Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings are just a game back at 7-6.
The Packers have won seven of their last eight games, while the Bears have dropped four of their last five.
Aaron Rodgers has yet to throw for 300 yards or three touchdowns in a game since Green Bay’s bye in Week 10. In fact, the reigning MVP has thrown a total of four touchdowns, three interceptions, rushed for one touchdown and fumbled three times in those four games.
However, the Packers are 3-1 over that stretch.
If Rodgers can limit the turnovers and make good on the majority of third-down situations, Green Bay’s running backs should give them the edge.
Averaging 107.7 rushing yards on the season, Green Bay's rushing attack has come alive of late, gaining over 130 yards in each of the last two games. Alex Green and Dujuan Harris combined for 100 yards and a touchdown on just 20 carries last week against the Lions.
Last week also marked the return of veteran running back Ryan Grant, although he had just one carry. Look for Grant to get more opportunities this week, specifically in the closer role.
For a team that often lives and dies by the pass, a balanced attack could serve Green Bay well heading into the postseason, as it did in 2010.
Like Rodgers, Cutler hasn’t played his best football over the past four games, throwing four touchdowns and five interceptions. With so much on the line Sunday, however, Cutler should be expected to deliver his best performance of the season, if he's healthy.
With that said, Brandon Marshall will need to deliver in a big way and the receiving core as a whole has to step up. Marshall has had a remarkable season and is second to only Calvin Johnson in receiving yards, with 1,342.
Matt Forte and Michael Bush have provided the Bears with the 10th most rushing yards in the NFL (122.4 yards per game). With Bush injured, Forte will carry the bulk of the load and will likely be key to the passing game as well.
The Packers and Bears are both dealing with injuries on defense.
Charles Woodson has already been ruled out, while Clay Matthews and Mike Neal were limited and C.J. Wilson did not practice on Thursday.
Cornerback Sam Shields made his long awaited return last week and played well, registering four tackles and an interception. With Shields back, the absence of Woodson doesn’t loom as large in the secondary.
The pass rush, however, needs Clay Matthews to return. Matthews had nine sacks in nine games, including 3.5 versus the Bears, before going down with a hamstring injury. Like Green Bay, Chicago’s offensive line has had trouble keeping Cutler on his feet this season. An effective pass rush could be the difference for the Packers in this game, as it was in Week 2.
Chicago’s defense has been among the best in the NFL all season. It allows just 16.8 points per game and even in Chicago's recent slide, it has only once given up more than 24 points.
The loss of Brian Urlacher is huge because of both his talent and leadership abilities. No one can replace Urlacher, although Nick Roach will give it his best. The 27-year-old linebacker has 44 tackles, 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble this season.
The Bears hope cornerback Tim Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, can return Sunday from a shoulder injury. Jennings is a crucial part of Chicago’s defense, which leads the league with 35 takeaways and seven touchdowns off interceptions this season.
Forcing a couple turnovers against the Packers could be key to giving the offense the opportunities it needs to win the game for the Bears.
Randall Cobb has firmly established himself as Green Bay’s return man, while Devin Hester’s ability to impact the game on special teams is second-to-none.
What’s less certain is the ability of the kickers, Mason Crosby and Olindo Mare, to come through in the clutch.
Crosby is having his worst season as a pro, making just 63 percent of his field-goal attempts. Mare, age 39, is replacing the injured Robbie Gould and has not played since last season when he was a member of the Carolina Panthers.
The Packers proved during their Super Bowl run in 2010 that they can consistently win despite injuries and they’ve done it again this season. The Bears have yet to prove that they can do the same. Expect a strong performance from both teams and a much closer game than in Week 2.
Packers 28, Bears 24