The Bears are coming off a controversial loss to Detroit, while the Packers are riding high after outlasting the Minnesota Vikings. Green Bay has clinched the division, and might not play their regulars for very long. There might also be a revenge factor, since the Bears defeated Green Bay handily (21-10) at Lambeau Field early in the year.
Chad Hutchinson is set to make his fifth start at quarterback for the Bears. He has stabilized the position after the Bears struggled to replace Rex Grossman, who was lost after the third game of the year. Replacements Jonathan Quinn and Craig Krenzel were ineffective. At fullback, Jason McKie gets the start again for Bryan Johnson (foot) who will undergo surgery. McKie has been a pleasant surprise, especially receiving. Guards Terrence Metcalf and Steve Edwards will start again, and have formed a stronger core up the middle the last few weeks. Ruben Brown was a revelation at left guard but was lost to a neck injury. The right side has been unsettled all year, through Mike Gandy and Rex Tucker. John Tait (knee) returned last week and was solid if unspectacular, while Marc Colombo is coming off his first start of the season and had arguably the best game of his brief professional career. He more than held his own against the Lions' James Hall. Colombo and Tait will be challenged by speed rusher Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (9.5 sacks). Green Bay's defensive front seven hasn't had a particularly strong season, and could be the kind of matchup the Bears' offensive line needs to see. The Packers' defense is in relatively good shape for this time of the year, and will seek to rest starters as the game wears on.
The Packers run blitzed the Bears relentlessly in the first matchup. The Bears continually ran into the teeth of the blitz. Eventually, they understood the timing and spacing, made adjustments, and Thomas Jones ran wild in the second half. For whatever reason, the Bears got away from that strategy in future games. Look for the Packers to test the Bears again, but this time with blitzes off the edge instead of up the middle. Expect the Bears to return to a running game emphasis to close out the year, and to keep more of the quick, short passes in the mix to avoid sacks. This will put a premium on the timing Hutchinson can establish with his receivers.
The Bears will be without defensive end Adewale Ogunleye (leg surgery). Michael Haynes will see the majority of reps, while Israel Idonije and Shurron Pierson get some looks. In the secondary, R.W. McQuarters has moved from cornerback to free safety for Mike Brown (Achilles), who was lost in the first contest with Green Bay. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher suffered through injuries all season, before finally being shelved. Hunter Hillenmeyer (once a fifth-round draft pick of Green Bay) has replaced Urlacher in the middle. He rolled his ankle last week but was able to return to the game. Jeremy Cain served as his backup and would see more time if Hillenmeyer can't play. Having wrapped up the division, Green Bay is likely to rest many of their regulars. Running back Ahman Green has been nursing sore ribs and likely will be kept fresh. This means the Bears will enjoy a steady diet of Tony Fisher and Najeh Davenport. Third receiver Robert Ferguson is likely to be limited since he took a vicious shot to the head two weeks ago against Jacksonville. His absence will mean more time for Antonio Chatman.
Look for the Packers to make an attempt to strike quickly with their regulars before eventually pulling many of them out. The Bears will be hard pressed to feel they can win anything in this game. If they beat the Packers, it will be diminished as a meaningless game for Green Bay. If the Bears fall, and the Packers play their backups, it will be a very unkind and insulting way to finish out the season.