Sunday's matchup between the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers and NFC North Champion Chicago Bears has the potential to not only be the biggest game of the week, but one of the biggest games of the 2011 season.
Both teams boast some of the NFL's most talented players, and certainly represent the NFC North well as the two teams met in the 2010 NFC Championship game.
This week's rematch of that infamous game will certainly feature some high tension and fantastic plays from even better players.
Because both teams are off to a relatively good start this season, the game will be even that much more interesting as they take the plunge together into the race for the 2011 NFC North title.
While the Packers will go into the game with a 2-0 record with the Bears at 1-1, this doesn't mean that, at this point, one is clearly cut above the other. This early in the season, the game is completely up for grabs.
That being said, both teams need to have individuals step up to lead their respective squads to victory.
By the time this game is finished, the whole country will know who are the true leaders of these teams, who are the top players in the NFL.
Here are four key players in the NFC Championship rematch.
Whether Bears fans want to admit it or not, Matt Forte is the most important player in Chicago's offense.
Being the team leader in both receptions and carries, it is clear who the top dog is in this struggling offensive unit.
Bears QB Jay Cutler loves to dump the ball off to the reliable running back. Against the New Orleans Saints, Cutler threw the ball to Forte 10 times for a total of 117 yards.
Though Forte hasn't produced much on the ground yet this season, I firmly believe that he is one of the league's most underrated playmakers.
Because Forte and the Bears haven't been able to come to terms on a new contract, the two sides seem uneasy with each other. Pro Football Talk reports that Forte is starting to take the lack of progress personally and that he believes that, "Someone doesn't believe that [he is] an elite running back."
This game will be Forte's greatest opportunity to prove to the Bears front office that he is an elite running back. Chances to make plays will be plentiful for Forte as the Packers have struggled against RBs in the passing game thus far.
With WR Roy Williams questionable for the game, the Bears don't have very many proven receiving targets for Cutler. This means that when the Packers secondary shuts down these inexperienced receivers, the dump-off to Forte will once again be in full-effect.
Forte is the Bears offense's MVP, and he will have to step up in this game—put his team on his back, if you will—to carry Chicago to victory.
I'm not about to sit here and call Chad Clifton one of the league's greatest LTs. Clifton can get the job done, but is adequate, at best, on a league-wide scale.
As the LT nurses a knee injury, Clifton was limited in practice on Wednesday (according to the Packers website) and was a full participant on Thursday. Though he is a "go" for the game, this knee injury could end up slowing him down against a speedy and powerful defender.
Clifton is the most experienced member of Green Bay's offensive line and certainly the emotional leader of that position group. He must step up and be a role model for his teammates as they try to protect Aaron Rodgers from a Bears defense that will definitely be out for blood.
It's pretty simple: If Clifton plays well, the Packers offense should be pretty fluid. If not, if his injury nags him, he could get man-handled and the Pack might lose any and all momentum in their passing game.
I don't know how to define a key player any more than that.
Julius Peppers is a mismatch magician.
This terrifying defensive end combines top speed with absolute raw power. The 31-year-old still possesses one of the highest motors in the NFL.
Peppers was named a captain in his first season with the Bears, and it's no wonder with the way that he and co-captain Brian Urlacher lead their dominant defense.
Though Peppers had no problem getting past the Packers' offensive line during the 2010 regular season, in the NFC Championship game he was limited to a mere two tackles and no sacks. Peppers switched back and forth from the right and left end positions to try to exploit mismatches, but in the end, he wasn't much of a factor in the game.
This week will be very different as Peppers lines up across from an injured Chad Clifton who had a terrible game last week against the Carolina Panthers.
Peppers should be able to overpower or speed past (whichever he chooses) a Packers offensive line and blow up some plays in the backfield.
Peppers is not only one of the leaders on defense for the Bears, he is one of the emotional leaders of the team, and right now one of the most beloved players in the city of Chicago.
During the Packers' 2010 playoff run, Tramon Williams intercepted his way into the national spotlight as one of the NFL's best up-and-coming defensive backs.
He is one of the most exciting Packers to watch and is a very important piece to a traditionally strong Green Bay secondary.
Williams hurt his shoulder against New Orleans and missed the Week 2 game against Carolina. Williams' presence was clearly missed because of how bad Cam Newton was able to light up Green Bay's secondary for most of the first three quarters. Had Williams been healthy against Carolina, the score wouldn't have been nearly as close.
With Williams returning to the starting lineup, Packers fans can rest easy knowing that arguably the best CB tandem in the NFC will be able to shut down a weak group of Chicago Bears receivers.
Jay Cutler is not a gun-shy QB. Though his receivers aren't fantastic, the Bears like to move the ball through the air. This could play to Williams' advantage.
The young corner had six interceptions in 2010, and though he hasn't intercepted a pass yet this season, there is still plenty of room for Williams to have even more production in 2011.
The Packers defense is giving up an average of over 400 yards to opposing QBs. The return of Tramon Williams to the starting lineup will hopefully be enough to contain an unpredictable Bears offense.
If Williams and Charles Woodson can render the Bears' passing game ineffective, the Packers will win this ball game.
To me, Tramon Williams is a key player in this game simply because of how poorly his team played without him. The difference he makes on defense could mean winning or losing for the Packers.
What do you think?
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