Sunday, December 29, 2013

Week 17: Packers vs. Bears Preview and Prediction

It's now less than two hours to kickoff of the final game for the Green Bay Packers' 2013 NFL regular season. In fitting form, it's against the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, it's at the "Mistake by the Lake," otherwise known as Soldier Field. Fortunately for the Packers, however, for the first time since the last meeting between these teams seven games ago, QB Aaron Rodgers will return to the field. Oh, yeah! And, despite going 2-4-1 without Rodgers, both Da Bearz and the woeful Detroit Lions conspired to hand the Packers a chance to still win the division. Imagine that! And believe it or not, whether the Packers or Bears win today, this will be the first time in 30 years that the division will be won by a team without double-digit victories. Yowza. A down year for the NFC North -- primarily due to injuries to the two top teams -- would be an understatement.

Still, here we are, Packer fans: poised on the brink of winning the division and hosting a Wild Card game at Lambeau Field next week should the Packers win today. If things go as expected, that would mean the Packers would likely host the San Francisco 49ers, or perhaps the New Orleans Saints. (OK, Niners wouldn't necessarily be a good match up, but first things today, that's the goal.)

Photo of Randall Cobb by Rick Wood, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

In other good news for the Pack, WR and returner Randall Cobb was activated to the 53-man roster for the first time since breaking his fibula earlier in the season. How much playing time he gets remains to be seen. RB Eddie Lacy is still nursing his sprained ankle but is ready to go, as is James Starks. For the first time in a long time, the Packers will have many of their offensive weapons in play, albeit with some rust in a few spots.

Defensively, however, the loss of LB Clay Matthews in last week's game after re-injuring his surgically-repaired thumb, certainly doesn't help the Packers' anemic pass rush. Somehow, someway the Pack's defenders need to get pressure on Bears QB Jay Cutler. Make him uncomfortable, he'll get happy feet, pout, and start throwing picks. That's what we can hope for. Because we don't want him to have time to throw to Chicago's big receivers. There will be match up problems for the Packers today, no doubt, in the secondary. The way to mitigate that is with pressure on Cutler, and holding RB Matt Forte down. Defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, has always seemed to come up with something to create problems for Cutler, who is just 1-7 against the Pack with Capers commanding the defense, and just 1-8 overall, including playoffs.

The Prediction
We could and perhaps should say more about this game. It's a biggie. But let's cut to the chase: the Packers have their best shot at resurrecting an injury-filled season today, if they can protect Rodgers and open lanes for Lacy and Starks.

Make no mistake, both defenses are shadows off their former selves at this point. Points will be scored. Who scores more? The oddsmakers have the Packers favored by 3 points, courtesy of the return of Aaron Rodgers.

Me? I'm calling it 34-24 Packers over Da Bearz.

Go Pack Go!!!