25

December

Packers vs. Bears Preview: 5 Things to Watch

Jermichael Finley caught three touchdowns back in Week 3.

The Green Bay Packers (13-1) and Chicago Bears (7-7) face off in Week 16 of the NFL season Sunday.

The basics 

When: 7:20 CST, Sunday, December 25, 2011.

Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI.

TV: NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. Also streaming online at NBCSports.com and NFL.com.

Radio: 620 AM WTMJ (Milwaukee); Packers Radio Network; Westwood One, NFL Sunday Drive.

Series: Bears lead, 85-92-6 (Packers won last regular season game, 27-17, on Sept. 25, 2011 at Soldier Field.)

Five things to watch

1. Banged up offensive line
Matching up against the Bears’ defensive line is a task in itself, but doing so with a makeshift offensive line only compounds the difficultly. The Packers will be without Bryan Bulaga (sprained knee cap) on Sunday, and other injuries to Chad Clifton and Derek Sherrod have forced the Packers to shift T.J. Lang to right tackle and replace him with Evan Dietrich-Smith at left guard.
Understandably, the Packers shifting offensive line had its share of problems against Kansas City. How they handle a Bears defensive line that has 28 total sacks, including 10 from Julius Peppers and seven from Henry Melton, will be a focal point on Sunday. Another rough performance could make scoring points a struggle.

2. Not Cut-ting it

While the Packers are dealing with injuries on both lines, the Bears sustained a knockout blow when both Jay Cutler and Matt Forte went down with long-term injuries in consecutive weeks. Cutler has proven to be irreplaceable with the quarterbacks currently on the Bears roster. Caleb Hanie, who nearly brought the Bears back in the NFC Championship game against the Packers, threw nine interceptions in four starts with a 41.8 passer rating. The Bears lost all four games and have all but eliminated themselves from the playoff picture.

Now, Lovie Smith is turning to Josh McCown, a nine-year NFL veteran who hasn’t started a game since 2007. For the Bears to have a chance at beating the Packers at Lambeau Field, McCown needs to play a lot better than he did the last time he was there. In ’07, McCown was just 7-of-15 for 115 yards and two interceptions for the Raiders in a 38-7 Packers win.

3. Bouncing back

1

December

Around the NFC North: Bears Hanging in, Lions’ Attitude, Vikings Irrelevent

Caleb Hanie takes over for Jay Cutler in Chicago.

For a while, it looked like the NFC North might send the Packers, Bears and Lions to the playoffs. There’s a chance that still could happen, but it’s a longshot. With the Packers cruising, the Bears and Lions have some work to do if they want to grab a wild card slot.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Vikings are holding down the bottom of the division while trying to get a new stadium.

It’s time for a trip around the NFC North.

Chicago Bears

Remaining schedule: Chiefs, at Broncos, Seahawks, at Packers, at Vikings.

Biggest issue: Making adjustments. Jay Cutler is out for at least the rest of the regular season, leaving Caleb Hanie to try and lead the Bears to the playoffs.

Analysis: The challenge the Bears face is actually twofold: Is Hanie capable of taking the Bears to the playoffs and is offensive coordinator Mike Martz capable of adjusting his gameplan to maximize Hanie’s strengths and mask his weaknesses?

Hanie was bad last Sunday against the Raiders, but Martz’s gameplan was worse. You know how Mike McCarthy refuses to adjust his gameplan when an offensive lineman goes down, even if the backup lineman is struggling? Martz is the same way, only he is refusing to adjust to a backup quarterback. There’s a big difference between a backup offensive lineman and a backup quarterback.

The Bears have Matt Forte, a great defense and dangerous special teams. They’re more than capable of making the playoffs if Martz does a better job adjusting his offense to the reality of having a backup quarterback instead of Cutler.

Prediction: 10-6. Even if Martz keeps his head buried in the sand, the soft schedule and the aforementioned defense, special teams and Forte result in another playoff berth for the Bears.

Detroit Lions

Remaining schedule: at Saints, Vikings, at Raiders, Chargers, at Packers.

Biggest issue: Attitude. It’s not often you want a football team to relax a little bit, but head coach Jim Schwartz and the Lions need to chill out.

Analysis: When the Lions were rolling early this season, their swagger and bravado appeared to represent a new era of toughness in Motown. No longer were the Lions the doormat of the NFL.