When the NFL schedule was revealed, the Packers’ was about as quirky as could be: Green Bay opened with two on the road, then returned home for four in a row with a Week 4 bye mixed in. That stretch ends tonight against the Bears, and then it’s back on the road. On the plus side, even with the early bye, Green Bay gets 10 days off to gear up for playing four of its next five away from Lambeau Field.
The bad news is, the Packers are battling injuries, and lots of them. Their bye was nearly a month ago, and while a couple extra days before next week’s game at Atlanta will be nice, it doesn’t help with a division rival coming to town on three days rest.
Seven Packers were officially ruled out a day before the game, including their top two running backs (Eddie Lacy and James Starks) and their top three cornerbacks (Sam Shields, Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins). Can the Bears take advantage?
That’s a good question. Chicago ranks seventh in total offense and 11th in total defense, not horrible numbers. Yet the Bears are 1–5 because they have a negative turnover differential and can’t finish drives (they rank 31st in points). They have had some recent success in Lambeau, winning two of the last three meetings there, but it’s tough to win if you don’t score more than 17 points. The Bears have done that just once this season — and lost.
Chicago at Green Bay
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 20 at 8:25 p.m. ET (Thursday Night Football)
Broadcast Channels: CBS, NFL Network, Twitter
Spread: Packers -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will the real Aaron Rodgers please stand up?
Most quarterbacks would take Rodgers’ numbers this season: 60.2 completion percentage, 10 touchdowns, four interceptions, on pace for more than 3,700 yards. But the fact is that Rodgers is not most quarterbacks. An average full season from 2008-14 for Rodgers meant connecting on better than 65 percent of his passes for nearly 4,300 yards, 35 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. But last season his completion percentage was a career-low 60.7, and it’s not getting better. No one wants to bet against him, but something has changed. Given all the injuries, the Packers need the old Aaron Rodgers back, and fast.
2. Brian Hoyer vs. the Packers’ secondary
Just like it is odd to think that the play of Rodgers might be a problem for Green Bay, it’s not often that the thought of Brian Hoyer has struck fear into an opponent. But perhaps the Packers should be a bit scared. With their top three corners out, they can’t take anything for granted against the pass. And Hoyer has been hot: In four starts since Jay Cutler was injured, Hoyer has thrown for more than 1,300 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. His streak of four straight games with 300-plus passing yards is a career high; in fact, he had only five such games before this season since entering the league in 2009. Hoyer is missing some targets — wide receivers Kevin White and Eddie Royal are injured — but Alshon Jeffery (29 rec., 487 yards) and tight end Zach Miller (31 rec., 265 yards, 3 TDs) could do some damage against Green Bay’s depleted defensive backfield.
3. Bears RB Jordan Howard vs. the Packers’ run defense
While Hoyer should be able to exploit the Packers’ secondary, the Bears have been at their best this season when Howard gets going. The rookie is averaging 5.0 yards per carry despite having his worst game as a pro (15 att., 34 yds.) last week against Jacksonville. Before that, he had back-to-back 100-yard efforts, in which Chicago beat Detroit and blew a fourth-quarter lead against Indianapolis. But running on the Packers is a tall task. Green Bay ranks second in rushing defense at just 72.4 yards per game and has allowed just one rushing touchdown all season. And no team is allowing fewer yards per carry (3.0).
While the injuries — and Aaron Rodgers’ relative struggles — point to Chicago pulling an upset here, there is a reason Vegas still favors Green Bay by more than a touchdown. While the Bears’ offensive numbers look good, they can’t seem to score. Unless the Packers giving the ball away — they have seven turnovers in two losses and just two otherwise — Chicago can’t squander scoring chances. And then there’s this: Rodgers has historically killed the Bears to the tune of a 12–4 record and a 107.3 passer rating. Maybe he’s not what he once was, but he’ll beat the Bears this week.