MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
Packers DEs and LBs vs. OTs Frank Omiyale and J'Marcus Webb
The one curious thing about the Week-17 game was how the Bears used Matt Forte, who finished with 15 carries for 91 yards. All but two carries and six yards of that production came in the first half, and he had back-to-back runs of 27 and 21 yards. With a trip to the Super Bowl at stake, the Bears figure to stick with Forte – meaning the defensive line must be better at setting the edges and taking away the cutback lanes.
TE Greg Olsen and WR Earl Bennett vs. CB Charles Woodson
In 2009, when the tight end was a bigger part of Ron Turner's passing attack, the Packers had so little respect for the Bears' wide receivers that they moved Woodson, who ended up being the Defensive Player of the Year that season, into one-on-one coverage on Olsen. Because Mike Martz has never gone out of his way to throw the ball to tight ends, Olsen's numbers have taken a hit in 2010, but there he was having a monster first half last week in the playoff win over Seattle: three catches for 113 yards and a 58-yard touchdown. So if Woodson again shades Olsen's direction, that leaves opportunities for Bennett, who is at his best working out of the slot, to catch some passes in the hash-mark area.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON DEFENSE
LB Brian Urlacher vs. RB James Starks
When the Packers beat Chicago at Soldier Field late last season, it was in large part due to Ryan Grant's big day against the Bears' defense. In the loss to Chicago in Week 3, the Packers ran it 15 times for 63 yards (with 20 of those by Aaron Rodgers). In the win over Chicago in Week 17, the Packers ran it 23 times for 60 yards (with 21 by Rodgers). The Bears run their Cover-2 scheme so expertly that the only way to make any big plays through the air is to run the ball with some effectiveness. Starks doesn't need 123 yards, like he had against Philadelphia, but if he can consistently get positive yards, like he did against Atlanta, he'll keep Urlacher honest, which will open up things behind him.
DE Israel Idonije vs. OTs Chad Clifton and Bryan Bulaga
Look for the Bears to play a ton of Cover 2 in this game, as they're willing to let the Packers drive coast to coast 10-12 plays at a time as opposed to giving up a long strike downfield, which means it's up to the front four to get consistent pressure on Rodgers. Like Green Bay's Clay Matthews, Peppers is a Defensive Player of the Year candidate and should be amped up enough to be a major factor, but Chicago fans aren't so sure about Idonije. Overall, he's had a fantastic year as a first-time starter, so if he can be a disruptive bookend opposite Peppers against either Clifton or Bulaga, then the Bears won't have to sacrifice coverage by bringing blitzers.
RB James Starks
THE PACKERS WIN IF...
... they continue playing better than anyone in the league, plain and simple. Offensively, Rodgers is on top of his game, and the Bears' D has struggled at home. Defensively, Dom Capers' group has played outstanding for the last four games. It sounds cliché, but Green Bay looks like a team on a mission.
THE BEARS WIN IF...
... they find a way to slow down Rodgers, as they have done in each of the first two matchups this year. No question about it, the reason Green Bay is in this position is Rodgers and the pinpoint passing he has displayed thus far in the playoffs, putting together a passer rating of 134.5 and a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 6-to-0 in road victories over the higher-seeded Eagles and Falcons. His 91.4 passer rating facing Chicago this season is still quite good, although it's noticeably lower than the 103.0 he posted in the other 14 games during the regular season.
THE PACKERS LOSE IF...
... they fail on special teams again. the Packers have a slight edge on offense and maybe even on defense, though Soldier Field nullifies some of that. Special teams, however, is no contest. Devin Hester was the overwhelming difference in Week 3, and Green Bay's kicking units just can't be trusted.
THE BEARS LOSE IF...
... they not only fail to neutralize Green Bay's blitz packages, but they fail to exploit them. Martz's offense is designed to have an answer for any blitz it sees from any defender at any angle, that is if both the quarterback and his pass catchers recognize it in time and react accordingly. Just as important as the offensive line, tight ends and running backs having their best day of the season blocking is Jay Cutler's ability to see the blitz coming, his receivers to be in the right place at the right time and for big plays to result against what is then thin coverage in the Packers' secondary.
Bill Huber: How great is this, Packers and Bears for the NFC championship? Big games come down to quarterbacking and defense. Statistically, the Packers' defense is better. QB is a big advantage for Green Bay. Cutler is a talented player. but if it comes down to avoiding that critical mistake, Rodgers will be the quarterback hoisting the Halas Trophy. ... PACKERS 20, BEARS 13.
John Crist: The Bears and Packers have played each other twice this season, with Chicago winning a close game at home in Week 3 and Green Bay doing the same in Week 17. Logic suggests the Bears hold serve at Soldier Field and advance to Super Bowl XLV, even if nearly every so-called expert is picking the Packers to be making reservations for Dallas some time Sunday evening. While Lovie Smith and Co. put together an admirable run in 2010, yet another so-called expert sees their NFC North rivals emerging victorious in this one. ... PACKERS 21, BEARS 20.
To go back and read Part I of this Behind Enemy Lines series, where Bill answered five questions from John, Click Here. To read Part II, where John answered five questions from Bill, Click Here.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport.com.