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The NFC North rivals will battle tonight at Lambeau Field.
The Thursday night game will feature the NFL’s oldest rivalry, with the Green Bay Packers hosting the Chicago Bears at 8:20 p.m. EST on the NFL Network. These two NFC North foes had very different experiences in their openers, as the Bears easily handled the Colts while the Packers ran into the juggernaut defense of the 49ers — losing 30-22 at home. After going 15-1 last season, it would be almost unfathomable for Green Bay to start the 2012 campaign with two Lambeau Field losses. Chicago will bring an improved offense to Wisconsin, and Lovie Smith’s club will be looking for revenge after losing to the Packers twice last season
When the Green Bay Packers have the ball:
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers still ended up with 303 passing yards and two touchdowns against the tough 49ers defense, but he was sacked three times and threw a costly interception. To get back to last year’s incredible offensive rhythm, the Packers must protect Rodgers and improve greatly in the run game. Green Bay managed only 45 yards rushing against the Niners, with Rodgers accounting for 27 of that meager total. Another concern is the health of top receiver Greg Jennings, who is battling a groin injury. Green Bay should still be explosive, however, with weapons like Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Jermichael Finley and Randall Cobb.
The Bears intercepted rookie quarterback Andrew Luck three times in the opener, but they will obviously face a much greater challenge against the NFL’s reigning MVP. Rodgers lit up the Chicago defense for five touchdown passes last December, so the Bears must find a way to get into the Green Bay backfield. Linebacker Brian Urlacher was able to start against Indianapolis after offseason knee surgery, and he will need a big game in Lambeau. Cornerback Charles Tillman is listed as questionable for this contest after suffering a leg injury in the first quarter of the Colts victory.
When the Chicago Bears have the ball:
After a slow start last week, quarterback Jay Cutler finished with 333 passing yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Brandon Marshall thrived in his first game back with his former signal caller, catching nine balls for 119 yards and a score. Additionally, the Bears got 122 yards and three touchdowns from the rushing tandem of Matt Forte and Michael Bush. Chicago has to be fired up about its offensive potential this season, and protecting Cutler plus avoiding turnovers will be the key on Thursday night.
The Packers were gashed for 186 rushing yards last week by San Francisco, and they caused zero turnovers after tying for the league lead in takeaways last season. The Green Bay defense has been able to force Cutler into throwing interceptions in the recent past, and that trend will need to continue for the Packers to get back on track. In addition to stopping the Chicago run game, Green Bay will face a tough new challenge in having to cover the physical Marshall.
I think this game will be decided on how well the Packers offensive line plays. The Green Bay running game does not have to be a catalyst, but it needs to be effective enough to back off Julius Peppers and the Bears pass rush. If Rodgers is protected, he can carry the team and mask over some defensive deficiencies. While the Bears looked strong in Week 1, I’ll take the Packers to rebound at home and avoid an 0-2 start to the season.
Green Bay 30 Chicago 24
---By Patrick Snow (@AthlonSnowman)