FOX NFL Game of the Week preview for the Week 17 matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears.
By Joel BeallFoxSports
A Packers-Bears rendezvous hardly needs added gravitas. The Black and Blue battle is one of the most heated (God help Shea McClellin if he ever wonders into Wisconsin) and balanced (Chicago leads by a thin margin of 93-86-6) in league history.
Yet Week’s 17 rendition of his rivalry holds a gridiron gratuity: whoever emerges victorious claims the NFC North division title, punching their ticket into the postseason.
It’s the simplest concept in sports: win and you’re in. This Windy City showdown between the Bears and Packers serves as our WhatIfSports.com Game of the Week.
Historically known for their aerial acrobatics, the Packers have been making their offensive bones on the ground this season, ranking seventh in team rushing at 131.7 yards per contest. The spark plug for this endeavor has been rookie rusher Eddie Lacy. A concussion in early September put his debut on hold, but since his return in October, few have been better in the backfield than Lacy, averaging 88.4 terrain yards per outing. Additionally, the Alabama product has been sound in the receiving arena, hauling in 33 balls for 242 yards, and has notched 10 trips to pay dirt this season. Initially viewed as a complementary piece, Lacy is proving his merit as the focal point of the Green Bay attack.
This matchup does not bode well for the Chicago defense, which has resembled a revolving door rather than a roadblock. “Monsters of the Midway” this unit is not, allowing 29.7 points per game (third-most in the NFL). Worse, the defensive front has been anything but, with adversaries logging a league-high 161.5 yards per appearance. Besides lighting up the scoreboard, this apathetic display against soil ventures keeps Matt Forte and the Bears offense on the sideline. For the Bears to come out on top, a semblance of push is imperative from the Chicago resistance.
Player Spotlight: Aaron Rodgers
Despite Green Bay’s running prowess, all Cheesehead eyes will be on No. 12 come Sunday, as “RODGERS WATCH” enters its eighth week. Since Chicago’s McClellin fractured Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone on November 4, the Packers are a feeble 2-5-1. Aside from a comeback against the Cowboys, the signal caller position has struggled mightily in Rodgers’ absence. (And even the Week 15 victory could be attributed to Dallas’ secondary woes.) Any hopes of a Green Bay venture into the postseason reside in a Rodgers’ revival. Given his lack of recovery in Week 16, it’s an aspiration that’s ominous at the moment.
Which leads us to the following…
Is Ted Thompson being too cautious?
Make no mistake, its Thompson pulling the trigger on this call. In one regard, Thompson deserves a level of acclaim for not rushing his franchise star back, keeping the organization’s long-term interests in mind rather than the instant gratification. Sounds bizarre, although it’s reasoning that’s not universal in the NFL. Right, Washington?
On the other side of that spectrum, Thompson is basically telling his roster to get lost, a mindset that I can’t get behind. As we’ve seen with the Ravens and Giants the past two seasons, it’s not necessarily the best teams that win the Super Bowl, but the ones that are riding hot. Once you get into January, anything can happen, and a team with Rodgers at the steering wheel has a fighting chance.
Fantasy Impact: James Starks
Lacy has been nursing an ankle injury for most of this season. This ailment was aggravated last week against the Steelers, bestowing the fourth quarter action to the second-string Starks. With Lacy likely missing all of practice this week, even if the rookie rusher suits up, Starks should see an allotment of caries on Sunday. Taking into account the vulnerable state of the Chicago rush defense, a handful of touches is enough juice to make Starks a viable flex option in Week 17.
The Packers win if…
Lacy and Starks goes nuts on the Chicago front seven, Jay Cutler struggles in front of the home crowd, Rodgers delivers a Christmas miracle to Cheeseheads by putting on the pads…
Assuming that Rodgers will be in the saddle, let’s go with…
Prediction: Packers 27, Bears 23
Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall