Christmas Night In Green Bay

There’s going to be a shortage of peace on earth and goodwill towards me on Christmas Night in Green Bay, as the rival Bears come to Lambeau Field. Chicago is 7-7 and playing for its survival. By the time kickoff comes, we’ll know if Green Bay is playing for the NFC’s #1 seed. If San Francisco loses in Seattle on Christmas Eve day, the Packers clinch the top spot. Regardless, I believe Green Bay needs to play a good game and win, so as to expunge the taste of last week’s loss in Kansas City from their mouths and then take Week 17 off and rest.

With Jay Cutler still out, there’s little reason to think the Bears can win this game. After Caleb Hanie didn’t work out, the team will now turn to Josh McNown, making his first start since 2007. The Bears are also down to third string at running back, with Matt Forte out and Marion Barber nursing calf problems and listed as doubtful. Kahlil Bell will likely get the bulk of the carries. This is on top of the fact that Chicago’s offense wasn’t that good to begin with.

What the Bears do have going for them is their defense and any upset hopes are predicated on Julius Peppers spending as much time in the Green Bay pocket as Aaron Rodgers. With a vulnerable offensive line and battered by injuries, it’s certainly reasonable to expect a big night from Peppers and Chicago also desperately needs fellow end Israel Idonjie to control the edges and deny Rodgers any escape routes when the heat comes. The downside? While Peppers is a great talent, the Bears as a team do not rush the passer well. Their strong numbers on pass defense come from coverage and that’s an ideal matchup for Green Bay, where Mike McCarthy spreads the field and Rodgers invariably picks the right man to throw to. For the Packers, the concern has to be that in the absence of Greg Jennings last week, there weren’t as many open men and the team saw just how vulnerable they could be if Rodgers was anything less than razor-sharp.

If Cutler were healthy, if this game were in Chicago, maybe it would be a game. There’s too much going against the Bears here. They don’t have the weapons to take advantage of a Green Bay defense that surrenders a lot of yardage and McNown is going to be very susceptible to an aggressive D that covers its flaws by forcing turnovers. To me, the question is not whether Green Bay will win, but will they play an efficient offensive game against a quality defense.