NFC Championship Preview: Green Bay Packers @ Chicago Bears

Sunday, January 23rd/ 3:00 pm Eastern

Soldier Field– Chicago, IL

 

 

Green Bay Packers
(10-6/ NFC North Wild Card)

vs.

Chicago Bears
(11-5/ NFC North Champs)

 

The Wild Card and Divisional rounds helped set the table for a pair of conference championship games that few fans could have expected. Each features a 6-seed/ 2-seed matchup; both the Packers and Jets have been road warriors while navigating their way to this Sunday’s title shots while the Steelers and Bears survived at home.  My colleagues John Mitchell and Jacob Vance are back with me once again with a look at this weekend.

When you think football, especially winter football, there’s one rivalry that comes to mind first. It’s only fitting that the Green Bay Packers are heading to Solider Field to face the Chicago Bears this weekend– a game played in the elements with the NFC Championship on the line. Green Bay may have made the playoffs as a wild card team, but since doing so the Packers have looked like the NFL’s best; if the Bears want to defend their home turf, they need to come up with a way to stop Aaron Rodgers and an offense that is doing more or less whatever it wants.

While the Bears held Green Bay to only 10 points in week 17, the Packers' defense forced a pair of picks and harrassed Cutler all game long

Of course, the Packers are about more than just offense.  This is a complete team. Chicago must contend with a defense that has been instrumental in upending 2 NFC heavyweights in their own backyards. Remember that Green Bay limited the conference’s top 2 scoring offenses to 16 and 14 points respectively (remember that one of the Falcons’ touchdowns came on a kick return).  Philly and Atlanta each averaged better than 25 points per game coming into their meetings with Green Bay and were utterly stifled.

The Packers have achieved defensive success by stopping the pass and keeping teams out of the endzone.  Ranking fifth in passing yards allowed, fourth in passing TDs allowed, and third in rushing TDs allowed, this unit knows how to shut down its opponents, particularly in the redzone. For a team like the Bears that has struggled to post consistent offensive numbers, this matchup has to be daunting.  Chicago ranks 22nd in rushing and 28th in passing; that can’t give head coach Lovie Smith much peace of mind knowing what awaits Jay Cutler and company this Sunday.

Both Smith and Cutler will have to rely on Chicago’s #9 defense to limit what the Packers are able to do. Let’s not forget that the teams met twice this year and in those meetings, the Bears held the Packers to 17 points at Soldier Field and 10 points at Lambeau.  That 13.5 average is well below what Green Bay did in its other 14 games (25.8 points per game).  The season series ended in a split with each team losing on the road– rest assured that Lovie will be reminding his players of that very fact all week long.

KEY PLAYERS

Danieal Manning/ Devin Hester (KR/ PR, CHI) – If the Bears have to march the length of the field, it will probably be a very long day for the fans.  This offense doesn’t have the firepower to be methodical and sustain 80 or 90-yard drives.  The Bears need to leverage their excellent special teams to give Jay Cutler short fields to work with.  Effective returns are a must.  Of course, Green Bay didn’t have a single punt last week.

Charles Woodson/ Tramon Williams (CBs, GB) –The Packers’ corners are multi purpose players. They can defends passes and intercept balls just as easily as they can come up in blitz and run-stopping packages. Williams is also the team’s return man, and both have the talent to change the game at any given moment.  In order for Chicago to win, one has to think that Jay Cutler must be successful.  But these guy won’t make it easy.

Matt Forte (RB, CHI) –Forte struggled in the Divisional matchup against the Seahawks and if the Bears want to win, he’s going to need a better effort against the Packers. If Forte struggles on the ground, then that will just put more pressure on Jay Cutler’s shoulders.

KEY POSITIONAL BATTLE

Aaron Rodgers vs. The Bears Defensive Front 

Aaron Rodgers can hurt a defense in multiple ways; will the Bears' front have a plan to stop him?

Julius Peppers.  Tommie Harris. Brian Urlacher. Lance Briggs.  These are names that no quarterback wants to hear.  Aaron Rodgers may be on fire right now, but Chicago’s front seven will make sure that he has to earn every yard he gets on Sunday. They’ll need to disrupt his passing game to keep the score low and within reach. 

They’ll also be looking for opportunities to force Rodgers to pull the ball down and scramble, because those are the moments when defenses get to dish out some punishment.  There’s nothing like a few big hits to get in the QB’s head.  Even a QB as good as Rodgers. 

TALE OF THE TAPE

Packers 

 

Bears 

 

RUN OFFENSE 

 

 

PASSING OFFENSE 

  

  

RUN DEFENSE 

 

 

PASSING DEFENSE 

 

 

SPECIAL TEAMS 

 

push

COACHING 

push 

INTANGIBLES 

 

X-FACTOR

Chicago can't afford any big miscues against a Green Bay team that has had all the answers in this post-season

Turnovers.   In a rivalry this intense, where the teams know each other strengths and weaknesses so well, the numbers go out the window to some extent.  Games like this one often come down to which team gets (and capitalizes on) a big opportunity.  Nothing changes momentum like a turnover, and takeaways could well decide which team represents the NFC in the Super Bowl.

Green Bay ranks near the top of the league in turnover margin while the Bears are in the middle of the pack (no pun intended). Jay Cutler has been hit-or-miss this year, and after playing well last week against Seattle, seeing him “miss” this week wouldn’t be a surprise.  He’s thrown more than his fair share of interceptions in his career, a fact that Tramon Williams, Charles Woodson, and the Packers stout secondary know all too well.  Expect Green Bay to force him into more than few risky throws.

At the same time, don’t count out the Bears’ D.  Green Bay is hardly immune to mistakes, as Greg Jennings fumble in Atlanta will prove.  If self-inflicted wounds become a problem, it can be hard for any team to win.

FINAL PREDICTIONS

Mitchell:  The Packers have played the best football out of any team in the playoffs and Aaron Rodgers has been as close to perfect as you can get in the first two games. I expect the same from him against the Bears and I expect Jay Cutler to have some giveaways.  That should tip the scale in Green Bay’s favor. Packers 23, Bears 16

Strobl: With due respect to the Bears and to the Soldier Field advantage, this Packers team is better and healthier than the one that Chicago beat during the regular season.  The Packers are excelling offensively, B.J. Raji and the d-line are applying effective pressure, the linebacking corps has been outstanding, and the secondary has been shut-down good.  I can’t see how the Bears, with their own offense far from consistent, can hope to come out on top. Packers 31, Bears 20

Vance: These are two teams that are very familiar with each other. Both have strong defenses with good players. That suggests that this will be a low-scoring affair just as it was back in Week 17.  I’ll go with Green Bay to win, but points will be at a premium.  Packers 17, Bears 13

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