It might be a bit too early to talk about critical division games, but the Bears and Packers are both 2–0, and with the Vikings struggling at 0–2, the winner of this game will have the upper hand in the NFC North. While the Packers were expected to be a playoff and Super Bowl contender, the Bears surprised last week with a 27–20 road victory over the Cowboys. Adding to the drama is the national stage of a Monday night game.
This is the most frequently played rivalry in NFL history — the 180th meeting — and it has regained some of its luster in the past few years, following a decade in which the Packers totally dominated. From 1994-2003, the Packers and Brett Favre won 18 of 20 meetings. But since Lovie Smith took over as the Bears’ coach in 2004, the Bears have won seven of 12 games. Even though the Packers swept last year’s series, both games were close, with Green Bay winning 21–15 at Lambeau Field and 21–14 at Soldier Field.
Keys for the Bears
• The Bears need to do a better job getting after the quarterback. Last week, they allowed Tony Romo to throw 51 passes without being sacked. And Romo was rarely hit or pressured, which was not supposed to be a problem for the Bears with the addition of defensive end Julius Peppers, who had one sack in the season opener. The Packers allowed a league-worst 51 sacks last year, and left tackle Chad Clifton is less than 100 percent and could be replaced by rookie Bryan Bulaga.
• They must provide help in passing situations for tackles Frank Omiyale and Kevin Shaffer. With starting left tackle Chris Williams (hamstring) not expected to play, Omiyale will again switch to the left side, with swing tackle Shaffer replacing him on the right side. The Bears survived DeMarcus Ware last week with that alignment, but Packer linebacker Clay Matthews has six sacks in two games and will come from both sides.
Keys for the Packers
• When they blitz, the Packers must get to quarterback Jay Cutler before he finds his hot receivers. Cutler did an outstanding job of that last week vs. Dallas, in particular hitting tight end Greg Olsen for a 39-yard TD on a Green Bay blitz.
• Without at least the threat of a run game, quarterback Aaron Rodgers will find it more difficult to attack the Bears. With Ryan Grant lost for the season, the Packers do not have a proven featured runner. In addition, the Bears are No. 1 in the NFL in rushing yards allowed (28.0 ypg) and average gain per rush (1.4 ypc).
Even without the running threat of Grant, who has shined against Chicago in the past, the Packers still have more weapons than the Bears. As long as they can protect Rodgers, the Packers are the better team. Packers 24–17.