MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS ON OFFENSE
DE Julius Peppers vs. RT Bryan Bulaga
Expect Peppers to line up primarily against Bulaga, the Packers' first-round pick. Bulaga had his hands full against Justin Tuck last week, and, if not for Aaron Rodgers' mobility, Tuck might have had three sacks. As it is, Bulaga has allowed 11 sacks, according to STATS. Peppers has eight sacks and staked his claim for Defensive Player of the Year with a productive stretch run. If Bulaga wins this matchup, the Packers' offense should have a productive afternoon.
Ss Chris Harris and Danieal Manning vs. WR Greg Jennings
Even though the Bears don't have a lockdown cover guy anywhere in their secondary, the three-man safety rotation of Harris, Manning and rookie Major Wright has done a commendable job keeping everything in front of them Cover-2 style and not allowing many big plays over the top this season. Harris in particular has really come on strong since the bye in Week 8, now leading the team with five interceptions and laying the wood in run support game after game. Jennings is going to be a challenge, though, as he is one of the best route runners in the NFL and knows how to get open downfield with his signature double and triple moves.
NT B.J. Raji
Rich Ostenski/AP Images
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS ON DEFENSE
C Olin Kreutz vs. DT B.J. Raji
With offenses focusing so much on Clay Matthews, Raji becomes the key front-seven playmaker for the Packers. Raji was a Pro Bowl snub, and he's playing his best ball now that his snaps are somewhat under control. Raji had two sacks two weeks ago against New England and one last week against the Giants, giving him 6.5 for the season. Kreutz is a declining player who Raji should be able to handle, which will be huge since quarterbacks hate pressure up the middle.
WR Johnny Knox vs. CBs Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams
Quietly, Knox is pace to be Chicago's first 1,000-yard receiver since Marty Booker all the way back in 2002, as he currently sits at 960 and should be able to crack the four-figure plateau if he makes just one of his trademark long catches. Averaging 18.8 yards per reception, Knox has made the most of his 51 grabs and is coming off the very first two-touchdown game of his career against the Jets' Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie. He faces another gruesome twosome in Green Bay, although it's Williams who should have gone to the Pro Bowl, not Woodson.
THE PACKERS WIN IF...
... they're focused, and when they're focused, they've been one of the NFL's elite teams. Green Bay was impressive with backup quarterback Matt Flynn against the Patriots, and with Rodgers back, the Packers crushed the Giants in what was basically a playoff elimination game. Rodgers was brilliant last week, and the defense continues to slide under the radar despite ranking second in the league in points allowed.
THE BEARS WIN IF...
... they get an early lead and force the Packers to be totally one-dimensional on offense. Sure, Green Bay is a passing team and only runs the ball enough to keep the defense honest, but take away that honesty by building a double-digit lead, and all of a sudden the opponent becomes more predictable and easier to defend. Rodgers takes care of the ball as well as any quarterback in the league with the exception of maybe Tom Brady, so the Bears will have to be as opportunistic as possible and cash in when they can.
THE PACKERS LOSE IF...
... the Bears show they're for real. This Bears team isn't the same outfit that edged the Packers in Week 3. Chicago is unbelievably healthy, and their fleet playmakers on the perimeter — not to mention Peppers, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs — will love the close-cut Lambeau Field grass. So will Devin Hester, who is the obvious headache against the Packers' suspect coverage units. The Bears have won seven of their last eight overall and are 6-1 on the road, and the Packers have been plagued by injury-induced inconsistency.
THE BEARS LOSE IF...
... they get down early in the first half and the game ends up meaning nothing to them in terms of playoff seeding. Chances are, the Bears are going to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC, unless miracles happen and the Falcons and Saints lose games earlier in the day, games in which both are heavily favored. No matter what coach Lovie Smith said at Halas Hall this week, if Chicago is trailing at intermission, look for starters to be benched and Green Bay to pull away comfortably in the second half.
Bill Huber: Green Bay should be a Super Bowl contender but has done well to be in this position with one game to go, considering it has six starters on injured reserve (compared to none for the Bears). Still, if Rodgers plays like he did against the Giants and the offensive line turns in a second consecutive strong performance against a Chicago defense that was throttled by Brady and Mark Sanchez this month, the Packers will get that much-needed 10th win and be booking a trip to Philly for the wild-card round. ... PACKERS 20, BEARS 17.
John Crist: The Bears are certainly good enough to beat a hot Green Bay team on the road, but I don't see them having much motivation for doing so since all signs point to them being locked into that No. 2 position in the NFC. While Smith loves to talk up the rivalry with the Packers and how beating said rival is his top priority as Chicago's coach, the fact remains that it's more important for his team to stay sharp on both sides of the ball and emerge from the game as healthy as possible. Simply stated, the result means more to the hosts than it does to the visitors, and the final score will likely reflect that. ... PACKERS 24, BEARS 14.
John Crist is the publisher of BearReport.com. Bill Huber is the publisher of PackerReport.com.