The Packers host the Bears on Thanksgiving night.
After three weeks in which they couldn’t gather the necessary consistency to keep their fast start going, the Packers summoned a big-time effort in a huge game. Thursday night, back at Lambeau Field, Green Bay tries to exert its North Division primacy even further against its oldest rival. Another strong outing could prove that the 30-13 win over Minnesota was not a fluke and that the Pack’s three-game losing streak was an aberration.
Meanwhile, the Bears will try to keep their flagging wild-card hopes alive after a crushing, 18-16 home loss to Denver last week. Chicago had won two straight heading into the game and had a late two-point conversion attempt thwarted. The upshot is that another loss could push the Bears onto the extreme outskirts of the playoff race and signal another long offseason of questions.
Chicago at Green Bay
Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 26 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NBC
Spread: Green Bay -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Offensive Maneuvers
It’s a little early to say that Green Bay has solved all of its offensive woes after just one game, but Packers fans had to be quite happy that their team was able to score 30 points against the Vikings. Granted, the team had to settle for five Mason Crosby field goals, rather than cashing in with touchdowns, but big steps were made. “We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said receiver James Jones, who broke out of his own slump with six catches for 109 yards and a touchdown against the Vikings. “We came in, watched the film, and there were a lot of plays we still left out there that we felt like could have really busted that game open. Yeah, it got better, but still a lot of work to do to get to where we’re trying to go.” A big part of the improved offense was the play of Eddie Lacy, who rushed for 100 yards after being demoted to second string. Even though quarterback Aaron Rodgers was just 16-of-34 against the Vikings, Green Bay looked crisper on offense and was more productive.
2. Welcome Back
The Bears faced a stout defense last week, but they were hampered by the absences of wideout Alshon Jeffery (groin, shoulder) and running back Matt Forte (knee). Both are expected to be back against Green Bay, and that means Chicago will be more potent. Of course, it won’t matter whether Gale Sayers and Willie Gault are back if quarterback Jay Cutler doesn’t cut back on the turnovers. Last week, he threw an interception and lost a fumble, key gaffes in a close game.
3. Stuff ‘Em
Even though the Packers have lost three of four, their defense has been stout the past two weeks, allowing just 18 points against Detroit and 13 versus Minnesota. There were those who thought the unit was in big trouble after surrendering plenty of points and yards against San Diego, Denver and Carolina, but Green Bay registered six sacks last week and held NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson to just 45 yards and 3.5 yards/carry. Expect the Pack to give Jay Cutler and the Chicago offense trouble all game long.
It’s too early to say the Packers have returned to the form that keyed a 6-0 start, but they showed plenty of grit in beating Minnesota on the road and grabbing a share of the North lead. There is still work to be done, particularly on offense, but if Lacy continues to run with authority, Jones contributes, and Rodgers regains the accuracy he showed early in the season, a strong playoff run can be expected.
Chicago, meanwhile, has precious room for error. The 4-6 Bears have to stage a big finish to sneak into a wild-card spot, even in the mediocre NFC. As always, much of the game relies on whether Cutler can be consistent and avoid turnovers. It’s unlikely he can do enough of either to beat Green Bay.