Early Preview: Packers-Bears

It's only Tuesday, but it's never too soon to examine keys to the game, big individual matchup and much more for the Christmas night showdown between the Green Bay Packers (13-1) and Chicago Bears (7-7).

Chicago at Green Bay

Kickoff: Sunday, 7:20 p.m., at Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.

TV: NBC. Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya

Keys to the game: The Bears will be without RB Matt Forte (knee) and QB Jay Cutler (broken thumb). In place of Cutler, Caleb Hanie has thrown three touchdowns with nine interceptions in four starts, and the pass protection is struggling to hold up without the versatile threat Forte provides out of the backfield. Green Bay's weakness lies with a secondary that gives up a ton of yards, although the Packers do have 27 interceptions and will attempt to bait Hanie — or whoever is under center for the Bears — into mistakes. With winter weather starting to become a factor and the offensive line dealing with multiple injuries, Green Bay needs to show it can move the ball more consistently on the ground. QB Aaron Rodgers shredded Chicago's pass defense in a 27-17 win at Chicago in Week 3 that included three touchdown catches by TE Jermichael Finley. But minus WR Greg Jennings (knee), Rodgers needs to get Jordy Nelson involved early — his first catch last week didn't come until the fourth quarter.

Matchup to watch: Bears DE Julius Peppers vs. Packers offensive tackles: With the offense in shambles, Chicago is desperate for big plays from its veteran-laden defense. Peppers had a strip-sack that led to a touchdown last week. Who he'll line up against is anyone's guess. Packers RT Bryan Bulaga hurt his knee last week and backup Derek Sherrod was lost for the season, although LT Chad Clifton, who has been out since suffering a hamstring injury Oct. 9, is getting close to returning. Chances are, it will up-and-down left tackle Marshall Newhouse and left guard-turned-right tackle T.J. Lang.

Player spotlight: Bears DT Stephen Paea: After a slow start, the second-round pick has come on extremely strong down the stretch. He has shown excellent short-area quickness and is earning more snaps with Anthony Adams generally ineffective.

TRENDING BEAR: In each of the past two games, quarterback Caleb Hanie has completed just five passes to wide receivers. On Sunday, wideouts accounted for 55 yards; a week earlier they totaled 70 yards. And now wide receiver Johnny Knox has been lost for the season.

LINEUP WATCH: It would not be a surprise to see Kahlil Bell get more touches down the stretch than current starter Marion Barber, who was guilty of three egregious mistakes in the two games prior to Sunday's 38-14 loss to the Seahawks. On Sunday, Barber picked up 33 yards on 11 carries and didn't catch any passes. Bell rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries (4.3-yard average) and caught five passes for 43 yards, both team bests.

Fast facts: Chicago's defense scored as many points, seven, as the offense last week. ... Rodgers has 19 touchdown passes with four interceptions at home this season. ... Maybe the Packers will be OK against Chicago's rush. In seven career games against the Bears, Rodgers has been sacked 11 times, a rate of 1.57 per game. In 61 career games against everyone else, he's been sacked 149 times, or 2.44 per game.

Who will win and why: If Cutler could return, the Bears might have had a chance to be competitive. But with the Bears' playoff chances on life support, there's little reason for him to rush back. Combine that with injuries to Forte and speedster receiver Johnny Knox, the offense lacks any dynamic element. The Packers, fresh off their first loss of the season, will be motivated to sew up homefield advantage.

TSX pick: Packers 24-14.

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