Rarely have the Chicago Bears played a game like they will play on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Not only will the Bears be playing for their playoff chances, but the team will likely be playing for the future of head coach Lovie Smith. Smith has faced a lot of scrutiny this past week after the Bears have gone 1 and 4 in their past five games, and the team went from being in first place in the NFC North division and the second seed in the NFC conference to now being the second wild card team in the NFC while being the sixth seed in the NFC conference.
Today’s game against the Packers is a must win for the Bears. A win against the Packers would put the Bears back in a position to win the NFC North division. However, a loss to the Packers could be a devastating blow for the Bears. If the Bears lose to the Packers, then the team may be outside of the playoff picture at the end of the day. That scenario would include the Washington Redskins defeating the Cleveland Browns, and the New York Giants defeating the Atlanta Falcons. Though, there is a scenario where the Bears could remain in the sixth seed even if they lose to the Packers. That scenario has the Bears losing to the Packers; the Redskins defeating the Browns; and the Giants losing to the Falcons. Under that scenario, the Redskins would be the fourth seed as the NFC East division winner, and the Bears would remain as the sixth seed in the NFC conference despite losing against the Packers. But make no mistake about it, a loss to the Packers may be the knockout punch not only to the Bears’ season but to Smith’s tenure as head coach of the Bears.
Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler will play through an MCL sprain against the Packers on Sunday. Though that may not bode well for Cutler, who has struggled in his career against the Packers. Cutler’s struggles against the Packers continued earlier this season in Green Bay when the quarterback was sacked seven times while throwing four interceptions. It goes without saying that Cutler can not have the same effort against the Packers today. Though, the Packers’ defense–featuring a returning Clay Matthews–will already have the advantage as Cutler’s mobility will be hindered by his sprained MCL. The Bears can take the advantage back from the Packers’ defense if offensive coordinator Mike Tice shows a commitment to the run. There has been no short of criticism for Matt Forte this season, who has averaged 4.3 yards per attempt this season. The problem is that Forte only has a total of 192 rushing attempts for the Bears this season. Forte was running well last week against the Minnesota Vikings before the Bears essentially abandoned the run, but hopefully the Bears can establish a consistent running game against the Packers. Doing so would take pressure off Cutler as well as keep Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers off the field. Expect Cutler to target wide receiver Brandon Marshall against the Packers on Sunday. That is certainly not breaking news considering that Marshall has defined the Bears’ passing game this season, but the receiver was only targeted five times in the previous game against the Packers this season.
Historically, the Bears’ defense has matched up well against the Packers’ defense. Though, with injuries to Tim Jennings; Brian Urlacher; and Henry Melton, the Bears’ defense certainly will have to come together as an unit in order to contain the efforts of the Packers’ offense. Unlike when the two teams first played each other this season, the Packers’ may have found a sustained running game. That has come in the form of three running backs. Rookie Alex Green, DuJuan Harris, and Ryan Grant have provided an effective rushing game for the Packers’ offense that they have been lacking for most of the season. The Packers have rushed for a total of 140+ yards in each of their past two games this season. Though, the Packers’ offense still revolves around Rodgers and the passing game. The Bears’ defense may be best characterized as high risk, high reward; but that type of style likely will play right into the hands of Rodgers. Rodgers does not take unnecessary risks, though the quarterback likely will look to take advantage of the Bears’ defense.
Smith was able to sidestep any discussion about his contract status this past week leading into today’s game against the Packers, though if the Bears lose today, then the discussion over whether or not Smith will remain the team’s head coach after the season will be louder than ever. The prediction here is that the Bears’ free-fall continues as they lose to the Packers.