It's Thursday Night Football time. The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have met 192 times in the regular season and twice more in the postseason. The series is deadlocked at 94–94–6, and one would think the series has seen it all.
But this will be something new: Both teams are coming off overtime victories four days ago. The Packers beat Cincinnati to keep pace with the Vikings and Lions atop the NFC North, while the Bears stunned the Steelers to stay just one game behind. While few expect the Bears to be a real threat, they were one dropped pass from upsetting Atlanta in the season opener, so perhaps this game means more than most thought when the schedule came out.
In fact, Bears head coach John Fox is a bit behind his usual schedule for turning things around after taking a job. In his second year with Carolina, the 11–5 Panthers made the Super Bowl; in his second year in Denver, the Broncos went 13–3. Last year, his second in Chicago, the Bears went 3–13. Another season like that, and Fox may be out of chances to turn things around in the Windy City.
Chicago at Green Bay
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 28 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Packers -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Can the Packers protect Aaron Rodgers?
Green Bay has allowed 13 sacks through three weeks; only Houston has allowed more. Last week against the Bengals, Rodgers was dumped six times, his most ever in a game the Packers actually won. And he could be on the run again Thursday, because Green Bay is likely to be without its top five offensive tackles. Starters David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and Bryan Bulaga (ankle) both were listed as doubtful as of Wednesday. Kyle Murphy, who had started all three games at one tackle or the other, was placed on injured reserve this week, joining backups Jason Spriggs and Don Barclay. The Bears’ pass rush hasn’t been especially fierce (seven sacks, 19th in the NFL) so far, but they ranked 12th in the league last season. Second year linebacker Leonard Floyd, who had 7.0 sacks in 2016, is still looking for his first this season. This may be his best chance to get it.
2. Ground game key for Bears
Will the real Chicago Bears running game please stand up? Three weeks into the season, it’s been a mixed bag; but when it is working, it is very good. Chicago rushed for 125 yards against Atlanta, but 46 of that came on one play, and the Bears came up short. In Week 2, the Bears were blown out early by Tampa Bay and managed just 20 yards on the ground. But last week, the running game bailed out Mike Glennon and the anemic passing game to the tune of 220 yards and two scores on 38 carries. And that came against a Pittsburgh defense that came in allowing 74 ypg on the ground. 138 of those yards belonged to starter Jordan Howard, but rookie Tarik Cohen has been a revalation. The 5’6” change-of-pace back leads the Bears with 283 yards from scrimmage, including 113 in the season opener and 102 last week. Howard and Cohen may find room to run again, because the Packers are banged up at linebacker and often played four safeties at the same time against Cincinnati last week.
3. Rodgers spreading the wealth
Aaron Rodgers may not have much time to throw, but don’t expect him to force the ball to any one receiver under duress. Hitting the first open man he sees may be critical to his survival. So far this season, four Packers have been targeted at least 21 times — and none of them is nominal No. 1 WR Jordy Nelson. Nelson has 13 catches on 17 targets; Ty Montgomery leads the team with 18 grabs on 23 targets, followed by Davante Adams (14 on 23) and Randall Cobb (15 on 22). Tight end Martellus Bennett has 11 catches on 21 targets as well. The Packers are the only team in the NFL to have five different players with 11 catches or more through three weeks. Then again, when Rodgers and Green Bay get into the red zone, keep an eye on Nelson. His three touchdown catches trail only Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs’ four so far this season.
Catching the Packers with so many injuries on the offensive line and at linebacker gives the Bears a chance here. If they can get Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen going and grab a lead, they should be able to put some pressure on Aaron Rodgers. But it’s still hard to bet against Rodgers, especially at home. He is 14–4 as a starter against Chicago, and his willingness to spread the ball around shows he is still on top of his game.