About a month ago, Bears vs. Packers at Lambeau Field on Christmas Day looked like a home run for the NFL. Green Bay was undefeated, playing like a juggernaut that was destined for a 16-0 regular season and another dominant playoff run. Chicago, with an improving offense, dominating defense and a resurgent Devin Hester, looked like one of the few teams that could give the Packers trouble. Combine that with the pageantry and emotion of the best rivalry in the NFL and it couldn’t have been set up any better for Roger Goodell and the NFL.
But oh how that has changed since the calendar turned to December. The Bears have been decimated by injuries, losing their star quarterback, running back and wide receiver in a four-game stretch and have now lost four games in a row to drop to 7-7. The Packers inexplicably lost to the Chiefs in Week 15 ending their shot at a perfect season.
Yet there’s still much to play for in the Bears – Packers game on Sunday. For Bears fans that still posses a shred of optimism or have had too much eggnog, Chicago is still alive for a wildcard playoff berth (as of Saturday afternoon). Green Bay needs a victory in one of its final two games to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.
While Green Bay’s first loss of the season won’t bring too much concern to the Packer faithful, the health of key players is a bigger worry. WR Greg Jennings and RT Bryan Bulaga will miss Sunday’s game with knee injuries. Bulaga’s absence will be a bigger loss for the Packers, who have had some trouble keeping Rodgers upright recently. Oakland and Kansas City each sacked Rodgers four times over the last two games. Rodgers hasn’t had his best statistical games of late, but Green Bay’s offense still revolves around his ability to make plays in the passing game. If the Bears want to hold down the Packer offense, Julius Peppers and Henry Melton will have to get consistent pressure on Rodgers.
The Bears offense is in such disarray that Josh McCown is now the starting quarterback. McCown has not started a game in the NFL since 2007 when he was on the Raiders. McCown recently left his job working as a high school football coach to join the Bears. Now he comes in to lead an offense that was outscored by Seattle’s defense last week in a 38-14 loss. It’s a tall task for anyone that hasn’t had much playing time, but it’s made even tougher with the injury to Johnny Knox. The Bears will likely keep the ball on the ground and test Green Bay’s run defense with a heavy dose of Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell. If the Bears fall behind early, however, they’ll be forced to rely on McCown.
Even with the playoffs being a long shot, the Packers game is still a big win for Chicago. Green Bay has beaten the Bears five of the last six times, including last year’s NFC Championship game and Chicago fans don’t want to see Green Bay have an easy path to another Lombardi Trophy. Even if the Bears were playing for the 2012 season, a win over Green Bay would give Chicagoans at least something good to remember about the 2011 season, even if it’s not what they imagined a month ago.
Game time -
The Chicago Bears will be visting the Green Bay Packers on Christmas day. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. Central Time and 8:30 p.m. Eastern Time. The game will be aired nationally on NBC.