The NFC North crown is on the line when the Green Bay Packers (7-7-1) take on the Chicago Bears (8-7) at Soldier Field on Dec. 29. The winner will head into the playoffs as the division winner, while the loser's season will come to an abrupt end.
Green Bay will be thrilled to have quarterback Aaron Rodgers back in the starting lineup. He's been out of commission since breaking his collarbone in Week 9 against Chicago, but Mike McCarthy announced Rodgers would start in Week 17, as noted by Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
McCarthy further elaborated on the decision, as relayed by Vic Ketchman of Packers.com: “We feel it’s time for Aaron to play. We need to go down there and win this game as a team. This is a decision everyone was waiting for. We wanted to get this done on Tuesday."
The Packers lost a tough one to Pittsburgh in Week 16 after winning two games in a row. Remarkably, this team still has a chance to get into the postseason after losing four of five in the wake of Rodgers' injury. Now that he's back, this is a dangerous team that could get hot in the playoffs.
But Chicago will have something to say about the outcome.
The Bears also lost in Week 16—an embarrassing 54-11 shellacking by Philadelphia that saw Jay Cutler get pulled in favor of Josh McCown in the fourth quarter when the outcome was beyond saving.
It's do-or-die time for both these clubs. Here's a look at the details you need to catch every minute of the action.
When: Sunday, Dec. 29, at 4:25 p.m. ET
Where: Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Betting Lines (via Covers)
- Over/Under: Off
- Spread: Chicago (-7)
Team Injury Reports (via ChicagoBears.com)
|Bennett, Earl||WR||not injury related||DNP||-||-||-|
Will Green Bay's Defense Be Able to Slow Chicago's Offense Down?
Chicago's offense is capable of putting up huge totals through the air and on the ground.
Whether it's Cutler or McCown behind center, the Bears can move the ball at will against most defenses thanks to the league's best duo at the receiver position and the continued stellar play of veteran running back Matt Forte—not to mention a vastly improved offensive line.
Green Bay's defense ranks in the bottom half of the league against the run (125.3 yards per game), the pass (248.8 yards) and as a scoring defense (26.7 points). The last time the two teams met, at Lambeau Field in Week 9, the Packers allowed 442 total yards, 25 first downs and 27 points.
Making things more difficult for this upcoming game, All-Pro linebacker Clay Matthews has been ruled out with a broken thumb, as Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported:
The #Packers simulated injury report listed LB Clay Matthews as OUT already. He re-broke his thumb on Sunday. A big loss.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 25, 2013
The Packers have given up an average of 33.75 points the past four games. When asked about what—specifically—is wrong, Bleacher Report's Aaron Nagler not-so-subtly hinted that there is a myriad of issues facing the team's defense:
Yes. RT @VinnyM7 Do you think the packers issues on defense are more from personnel? Or execution? Or Dom?— Aaron Nagler (@Aaron_Nagler) December 23, 2013
If Green Bay can't slow down Chicago's offense on Dec. 29, then Rodgers' return won't likely spark a win.
As good as Rodgers is, it's hard to imagine he'll come back and play like he did before getting injured. He hasn't seen any in-game action since the first week of Nov., and there's a chance he'll show signs of rust.
Who you got?
Furthermore, Packers running back Eddie Lacy had yet to practice as of Dec. 26, thanks to a bum ankle that he suffered in Week 16. He wasn't able to finish that game, and even if he suits up, it's foolish to think Lacy will be at full strength.
With Green Bay's offense operating at less than 100 percent, the Bears should win at home.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery both caught touchdown passes the last time they played against the Packers, combining for 12 catches and 167 yards.
Chicago's offense should have another big game against the Packers at home in Week 17. The Bears will close out the season with a record of 9-7 to claim the NFC North crown.
Bears win, 35-27.
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