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.
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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.
What to Watch: Chicago Bears
Click here for a preview on the Green Bay Packers.
Cutler’s Last Stand?
Chicago can sympathize with Green Bay’s quagmire under center. Envisioned to progress under quarterback guru Marc Trestman this fall, Jay Cutler’s performance has been prosaic. Concededly, the 30-year-old arm has wrestled with a host of injuries this campaign, but with a talented receiving arsenal, a higher level of output is expected. Seconding this sentiment was the impressive showing in relief by journeyman Josh McCown (13 touchdowns, one interception). If Cutler fails to guide the Bears to January, the petulant signal caller could be bidding Soldier Field adieu.
Player Spotlight: Matt Forte
Of course, Cutler could be off the hook if Forte continues his land dexterity. Although head coach Marc Trestman is primarily known for his work with arms, Forte has been the biggest beneficiary of the newly-instilled offensive philosophy, nearing career-bests in rushing and receiving yards, having already notched a personal-high with 70 catches. Before last week’s beatdown at the hands of the Eagles, Forte had been especially hot, averaging 101.8 rushing and 38 receiving yards per contest. Though Chicago has its share of woes against the run (more on this in a moment), Green Bay hasn’t been particularly stout either, relinquishing over 125 yards per game (26th in the NFL). Throw in the fickle Lake Michigan winter weather and it would behoove the Bears to keep the rock in Forte’s hands.
Matchup Watch: Eddie Lacy vs. Chicago front seven
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.
Fantasy Impact: Martellus Bennett
One player that’s in Cutler’s corner is Bennett, as the tight end wasn’t seeing as much love with McCown at field general. Since Cutler has retaken the quarterback reins, Bennett has hauled in 11 receptions for 156 yards in the past two weeks. The Packers have struggled against tight ends this year, ranking 25th in fantasy points allowed to the position. Coupled with Clay Matthews’ thumb likely keeping the All-Pro linebacker out on Sunday, the middle of the Green Bay defense will be extremely vulnerable, bequeathing ample room to roam for Bennett.
The Bears win if…
Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall wreak havoc in the Green Bay secondary, Cutler stays out of trouble, Aaron Rodgers is resigned to a thousand-yard stare on the sidelines as Matt Flynn throws another ill-advised attempt into double coverage…
Unfortunately for the Bears, it appears No. 12 is suiting up for the Cheeseheads, meaning…
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