Aaron Rodgers and the Packers look to continue their recent dominance of their NFC North archrivals
The NFL’s longest-running rivalry takes center stage tonight when the Chicago Bears take on the Green Bay Packers on NBC. Both teams are coming out of their bye having lost their last game, but the Bears (3-5) are in a bigger funk than the Packers (5-3). Chicago has lost four of its past five games after getting bludgeoned by Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and rest of the Patriots 51-23 in Foxboro in Week 8. Green Bay also lost big, 44-23 in New Orleans, prior to going on bye, but had won its previous four games, including a 38-17 victory in Chicago back in Week 4.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Green Bay -7.5
Three Things to Watch
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1. Aaron Rodgers Bearing Down
This represents the 190th meeting in the regular season between Chicago and Green Bay. The Bears hold a slight 93-90-6 lead, but the Packers have dominated the proceedings with Aaron Rodgers under center. Since becoming Green Bay’s starting quarterback in 2008, Rodgers is 11-3 against Chicago, including a road win in the 2011 NFC Championship Game. The only game Rodgers has lost to the Bears since that 21-14 win on Jan. 23, 2011 was last season’s 27-20 defeat on “Monday Night Football” to close out Week 9. Rodgers started that game, but he didn’t finish it, as Chicago’s Shea McClellin sacked him on the first series, breaking his collarbone. Otherwise, Rodgers has owned the Bears, posting a 25:8 touchdown-to-interception ratio in 13 regular season games, while completing 69 percent of his passes and compiling a 105.0 passer rating. He was practically flawless (22-of-28, 302-4-0) in the 38-17 Week 4 win in Chicago, and it’s not like the Bears’ defense has gotten better since that game. Rodgers injured his hamstring two weeks ago in the loss to New Orleans, but he got the bye to recover and wasn’t limited at all in practice this week. This doesn’t bode well for Chicago, whose last win against Green Bay came in a game in which Rodgers was on the field for a total of seven plays.
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2. Can Cutler Make the Lambeau Leap?
Aaron Rodgers’ success against the Bears has come, fair or not, at the expense of Jay Cutler. A 38-17 loss at Solider Field in Week 4 dropped Cutler’s career record, including playoffs, against the Packers to 1-10. His lone victory over Green Bay came back in the 2010 season and not surprisingly; Cutler’s numbers against the Packers haven’t been pretty. In 10 games with the Bears, Cutler has thrown more interceptions (20) than touchdowns (12) against Green Bay and is averaging exactly 200 yards passing per contest. If that’s not bad enough, the picture is even uglier when you look at how he has fared in three games at Lambeau Field: 0-3, 49-of-102 (48.0 percent), 571-2-10. Ouch. So far this season, Cutler is completing 67.2 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and eight picks. He has played pretty well (11 TDs, 3 INTs) on the road, where the Bears are 3-2, but Lambeau has always been a house of horrors for him. Adding to the degree of difficulty is the fact that the Packers are 33-5-1 at home since Week 10 of the 2009 season. The good news is that one of those losses (Nov. 4, 2013) was to the Bears. The bad news is that Josh McCown was the starting quarterback, as Cutler was out with a groin injury. A victory tonight would not only represent a breakthrough of sorts for Cutler, it also could set the tone for the second half of the season, as Chicago desperately needs a win to keep any playoff hopes alive.
3. Bears Get Defensive?
Entering this season expectations were high for Chicago’s offense, given its success last season and the quantity and quality of playmakers that were returning. To this point, it’s certainly fair to say that Marc Trestman’s offense has underachieved, but it’s not like the defense has done its job either. The Bears are 21st in the NFL in total defense (372.4 ypg) and 29th in scoring (27.8 ppg). They gave up 51 points to New England in their last game and have held one team (Atlanta) to fewer than 321 yards of offense. Coordinator Mel Tucker’s unit is relatively young and inexperienced, and the growing pains have been obvious, especially given the injuries on that side of the ball. All-Pro cornerback Charles Tillman tore his triceps in Week 2 and is out for the season, as is defensive end Lamarr Houston, who tore his ACL celebrating a meaningless sack in the loss to the Patriots. Linebackers Lance Briggs (ribs) and Jonathan Bostic (back) also have missed significant time and other injuries in the secondary have resulted in a lot of lineup shuffling and several young players getting thrown into the fire earlier than expected. Briggs and Bostic are both expected to play tonight, which should help stabilize the middle of the defense and the back end should be close to full strength as well. The hope is that the combination of better health and the opportunity to work on some things during the bye will lead to better results for Tucker’s unit on the field. Some early returns would certainly be welcome tonight, especially considering the offense’s own struggles and Jay Cutler’s lack of success at Lambeau Field.
Both Chicago and Green Bay lost their last games headed into the bye, but there’s no debate when it comes to which team has been playing better. The Packers started October 3-0, while the Bears haven’t won in nearly a month. Green Bay has won 14 of its last 18 games coming right after a bye and the extra week also gave Aaron Rodgers’ ailing hamstring time to heal. Rodgers has simply owned his NFC North archrival and Jay Cutler has not enjoyed his previous visits to Lambeau Field to say the least. Stranger things have happened this season, but I think there’s just too much history in the Packers’ favor to expect any sort of breakthrough from Cutler and the Bears tonight.