The Green Bay Packers are used to finding Greg Jennings wide open in the end zone. This Sunday against the Chicago Bears, though, Mike McCarthy isn't in for quite the same picnic.
With the season on the line heading into Week 17, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can grant himself a pat on the back after creating such a riveting schedule six months ago, as one of the league's most exciting games is sure to end the dreams of a few Wild Card hopefuls in the upcoming days.
Unfortunately, one of those teams may be the Green Bay Packers.
Predicting the seemingly unthinkable, Mike McCarthy's team was never envisioned to fall potentially short of their goal this season.
Clocking in at 11-5 in 2009, Green Bay's Wild Card loss to the Arizona Cardinals appeared to have strengthened the Packers, and boost them towards a very promising new year under quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new go-to tight end, Jermichael Finley.
Seventeen weeks later and a handful of injuries, all of that hope may disappear in a plume of smoke against the Chicago Bears this weekend.
Since Jay Cutler's midseason wobbles, the Bears have fought back strong in the later half of the season.
Victories over the Minnesota Vikings, Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Jets all highlight Chicago's resume in 2010, one of which has seen the Bears take over and win the NFC North division.
But the Bears aren't out of the woods just yet.
For once in Chicago's recent history, head coach Lovie Smith has a stressful decision ahead of him this Sunday.
Like many of the league's destined playoff teams, the Bears can choose to rest their starters during their trip to Green Bay, and instead condition themselves for the playoffs in two weeks time.
In the Packers case, they aren't quite in the same boat.
For Green Bay, this weekend is a must-win situation. While the pressure was piled on thick and heavy last week against the New York Giants, the Packers 45-17 win over Big Blue wasn't enough to ensure a playoff appearance in the NFL's Wild Card round.
Now, the Packers must defeat the 11-4 Chicago Bears, or if all else fails, depend on a New York Giants loss to the Washington Redskins and a Tampa Bay Buccaneers slip up to the New Orleans Saints to still make it in.
Still, if Green Bay are to make it in, last weekend is certainly a bright indication as Sunday's game at Lambeau Field quickly approaches.
The John Kuhn Factor
After the Packers steamrolled the Giants in casual fashion, Green Bay fans were quick to label their newfound star fullback, John Kuhn, as the third most valuable asset to Mike McCarthy's deadly offense.
Is this a fair statement?
Taking nothing away from Kuhn's efforts, prior to Week 15, Green Bay's run game was as flat as Wile E. Coyote in a Roadrunner cartoon. But if the Packers are smart, they will stick with what has been working in the past two weeks.
Matching up against the Bears third-ranked rush defense, Green Bay will need to implement Kuhn early on.
Last week, against the Giants Kuhn piled over the goal line for four touchdowns...even though this may be tough against Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher.
However, one gets the feeling that confidence is flowing through Kuhn's veins right now, and as he continues to throw his 250-pound frame around, this is a very favorable advantage for a Packer team that has relied heavily on the passing game.
Don't Place Aaron Rodgers Out of the Pocket
Last week, pushing Rodgers out of the pocket was the logical explanation when taking on the Giants. This weekend though, you only have to take a look back at Week 3 to realize how critical this may be to the Packers chances.
Nearly 14 weeks ago, Green Bay fell to the Bears 20-17. Yes, it was a close game, but throughout the entire four quarters, Chicago persisted with the blitz, forcing Rodgers to miss wide-open wide receivers and ultimately throw his third interception in 2010.
While Green Bay can't totally eliminate the Bears blitzing prowess this Sunday, they can at least remain intelligent enough to not send Rodgers out of the pocket unnecessarily.
Two concussions have already been the result of poor decision making on McCarthy's part, so don't expect the Packers to risk their quarterback with the playoffs potentially in reach with a victory this weekend.
Blitz Jay Cutler
One of the more unnoticed storylines of this weekends affair, is the Rodgers vs. Jay Cutler match up that is sure to steal a few headlines.
But if the blitzing shoe of the Chicago Bears fits Green Bay, why shouldn't the Packers dish out some of their own defensive pressure on Jay Cutler?
For all of the Bears winning ways, Cutler is still questioned as a quarterback. His 3,106 yards and 23 touchdowns have been phenomenal this season, yet many people are still querying when the interception prone No. 6 will return once again.
Maybe that day may never come, or perhaps it is on the horizon this Sunday.
There's one way to find out, and that is to blitz Cutler.
Mike McCarthy's season may not hang in the balance like many other head coaches at this time, but the hot seat will slowly start to warm up should the Packers fall into a complete heap this weekend against the Chicago Bears.
Luckily for McCarthy, he does have an extremely positive quarterback to rely on right now in Aaron Rodgers..
"A lot of things have happened both positively and negatively that we might not have expected, but we go into the last game of the season with a chance to make the playoffs with a win, and that's all we can ask for right now,"
Sure, it's do or die time, and even if the Packers do lose, they may wind up playing through January if the stars align.
Yet a win over NFC North division rivals would really boost the confidence of an already explosive team, that is fresh off an absolute beating of the New York Giants in Week 16 that saw just about every star player make some form of big play.
Experts are granting the Packers a slight edge, so this is a promising factor to consider. Until Sunday is over though, nervous times have struck Lambeau Field for the time being.
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