MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS ON OFFENSE
TE Jermichael Finley vs. MLB Brian Urlacher
Chicago's corners and safeties will have their hands full with Green Bay's receivers. Which means it will be up to the linebackers, specifically Brian Urlacher, to shut down Jermichael Finley in the middle of the field. Finley is a wide receiver in a tight end's body and can be a nightmare for opposing defenses. Aaron Rodgers trusts his man in the middle. He caught 9 passes for 115 yards in last year's Week 3 matchup between the two teams. If Finley gets in a groove and Chicago can't contain him on the inside, things will open up for the receivers out wide, which will be too much for the Bears' defense to handle.
LT Chad Clifton and RT Bryan Bulaga vs. DEs Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije
While the Packers' rushing attack is off to a strong start, this is an offense that's predicated on passing the ball. The Bears' basic defensive game plan is the same every week — pressure with their front four and allow the back seven to make plays in coverage. Thus, it's vital that Clifton (one-half sack, one holding in two games) protect Aaron Rodgers' blind side against the phenomenal Peppers (two sacks) and Bulaga (no sacks, one holding in two games) to continue his strong play against the hard-working Idonije (one sack). Given time and the weapons at his disposal, Rodgers will pick apart the Bears if he's given time. If the Bears are forced to blitz, Rodgers is the best in the NFL in beating the blitz sine the start of the 2009 season.
LB Clay Matthews
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: BEARS ON OFFENSE
T Frank Omiyale vs. LB Clay Matthews Clay Matthews is banged up with a thigh injury but he's expected to play. The same can't be said for RT Gabe Carimi, who will miss this contest due to a knee injury. This means it will be up to Frank Omiyale to keep Matthews from making Jay Cutler's day miserable. Matthews is lightning quick off the edge, racking up 13.5 sacks last season. Omiyale, a starter the past two seasons, will need to have one of his better games if Cutler's to be given adequate time in the pocket.
KR Devin Hester vs. K Mason Crosby and P Tim Masthay
Hester was the Week 3 hero in last year's matchup with these teams, setting up one touchdown with a long punt return and going the distance with another punt return early in the fourth quarter. Masthay neutralized Hester during the Week 17 game and the NFC Championship Game. Masthay, however, is off to a slow start after allowing Darren Sproles to go the distance in Week 1. In what figures to be the usual defensive slugfest, field position will be critical. Thus, it's up to Masthay and Crosby (six touchbacks) to help keep Hester in check.
THE PACKERS WIN IF ...
... they can find their pass rush. Green Bay is among the league leaders with seven sacks but the consistent pressure hasn't been there, which is part of the reason why they've given up so many big plays through the air. The Packers' besieged secondary needs the kind of help that only Clay Matthews and Co. can provide. Jay Cutler isn't the running threat of Cam Newton and he doesn't have the quick release of Drew Brees. If Cutler doesn't have time to look deep, the Bears probably lack the offensive firepower to consistently march up and down the field with 10- and 12-play drives. Between those factors and a remodeled right side of the line that will be making its first start, the ingredients are there for the Packers' defense to have a bounce-back game.
THE PACKERS LOSE IF ...
... they can't keep Matt Forte in check. The Packers' run defense has been a revelation this season, allowing 3.6 yards per carry even while lining up in nickel most of the time. Forte is clearly the Bears' best offensive weapon and truly one of the league's most underrated players. In two games, he has a team-high 117 rushing yards (4.5 per carry), and his 15 receptions are a whopping 10 more than the Bears' second-leading receiver, Johnny Knox. If the Packers can keep Forte in line, they'll take their chances against Hester, Knox and Roy Williams.
C Roberto Garza
THE BEARS WIN IF ...
... the banged up offensive line can perform better than it did last week. The team has given up 11 sacks and could be without two of its starters. If the Packers, who will assuredly be bringing plenty of blitzes, can rattle Cutler, it will spell doom for Chicago's offense. Yet if he's given time to throw, Cutler should be able to have success against a banged-up Green Bay secondary that is dead last in the league against the pass and just lost Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins.
THE BEARS LOSE IF ...
... the defensive front is unable to get pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Last week, Drew Brees was given far too much time in the pocket, resulting in the Saints' offense posting 30 points. Rodgers is just as good, if not better, than Brees and has just as many weapons at his disposal. Julius Peppers and company will need to apply pressure all day and knock Rodgers around, otherwise he'll slice through the Bears defense.
Jeremy Stoltz: The Bears always play the Packers tough, so this one should be close throughout. If Chicago is able to get relatively healthy by Sunday, I think they have a good shot at taking this one at Soldier Field. But if Barber, Louis, Wright, Harris, Carimi and Bennett all can't go, which is very possible, I'm just not sure the team will have enough to overcome a Green Bay team that is firing on all cylinders. PACKERS 24, BEARS 20.
Bill Huber: It comes down to playmakers, and the Packers have more of them on both sides of the ball. Rodgers is a better quarterback than Cutler, and he has much more firepower at his disposal. The Packers' offensive line is better, too, and they have something resembling a running game. As long as the Packers don't give up 70-yard scores to Hester and Knox, they win this game. It just won't be easy. PACKERS 24, BEARS 17
Follow me on Twitter: @BearReport
Jeremy Stoltz is publisher of BearReport.com. Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com.