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Bears-Packers preview and predictions

Expect AarRodgers Jay Cutler air it out.  |  AP

Expect Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler to air it out. | AP

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STAFF PREDICTIONS

RICK MORRISSEY: 31-27, Packers

RICK TELANDER: 28-27, Packers

DAN McGRATH: 34-30, Bears

JOE COWLEY: 27-24, Packers

SEAN JENSEN: 30-20, Bears

MARK POTASH: 31-28, Bears

Updated: September 13, 2012 12:48AM



BEARS AT PACKERS
Time: 7:20 p.m. Thursday at Lambeau Field
TV: NFL, Ch. 50 (Brad Nessler, Mike Mayock)
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM • Line: Packers by 6

WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

The Bears’ running game was a model of efficiency vs. the Colts last week, with newcomer Michael Bush (12-42, 2 TDs) complementing Matt Forte (16-80, 1 TD) just like GM Phil Emery and OC Mike Tice drew it up. With the offensive line still intact — Lance Louis was injured already by this time last year — the Bears should be effective against a Packers defense that allowed 199 yards rushing vs. the Bears in Week 16 last year with Kahlil Bell (23-121) and Armando Allen (11-40) at RB. The Packers allowed 186 yards rushing vs. the 49ers and Frank Gore (16-112, 1 TD) last week.

In the air

Jay Cutler seemed pretty confident the Bears are better-equipped to counter the Packers’ physical CBs, who generally manhandle the Bears. ‘‘Good luck,’’ he said when asked if the Packers would try the same tactics vs. 6-4 Brandon Marshall and 6-3 Alshon Jeffery. The Packers have pressured Cutler in the past, with DC Dom Capers bringing rushers from all angles. How well the Bears counter is an obvious key. Marshall faced the Packers with the Dolphins in 2010 and had 10 catches for 127 yards with Chad Henne at QB in a 23-20 OT victory at Lambeau Field. Bears TEs caught 1 pass last week.

Key matchup

Matthews, who had 21/2 sacks vs. the 49ers last week, always has given the Bears problems. But Rodriguez blocked well last week and has the athleticism to neutralize Matthews more often than the Bears have in the past.

WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL

On the ground

With Aaron Rodgers, the Packers generally don’t need much of a ground game to beat the Bears, but they probably will need more than they got from ex-Bear Cedric Benson (9-18) last week vs. the 49ers. Rodgers (5-27) is effective on the run, but he shouldn’t be the Packers’ leading rusher as he was last week. The last time he faced the Bears, Benson rushed for 189 yards and a TD on 37 carries in a 45-10 Bengals rout in 2009. The Bears held the Colts to 63 yards rushing on 15 carries last week, though RB Donald Brown had an 18-yard TD run. DT Henry Melton had 3 tackles for loss vs. the Colts.

In the air

Though the Bears have fared better than most against Aaron Rodgers, they had no answer for him in 2011. Rodgers threw for 580 yards, 8 TDs and 1 INT and had ratings of 111.4 and 142.7 in two wins. WR Greg Jennings, his best weapon, is doubtful with a groin injury he suffered vs. the 49ers. Bears CB Charles Tillman is questionable with a shin injury he suffered vs. the Colts. Kelvin Hayden replaced Tillman and did well, but he’ll face a much tougher test if he is called upon vs. the Packers. CB Tim Jennings is coming off a two-pick game vs. the Colts.

Key matchup

These two Pro Bowl players seemingly amuse themselves with a pre-snap cat-and-mouse game. But after looking rusty vs. the Colts, Urlacher needs to win more than the chess match vs. Rodgers in his second game in five days.

X-FACTOR

Well-conditioned by forward-thinking Bears fans at Soldier Field last week to handle crowd noise, Jay Cutler and the Bears’ offense nonetheless will be challenged by a frenized crowd sure to be double-amped with the Packers facing the prospect of an 0-2 start at home in a prime-time game. The Bears say their communication is better this year. We’ll see about that.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bears’ coverage teams passed an open-book quiz last week. Now they’ll face a real test against Packers KR Randall Cobb, who had a 75-yard punt return TD vs. the 49ers. Punter Adam Podlesh (35.2 net) was good but not great last week coming off a hip-flexor injury. He might not have much margin for error. Devin Hester had a 23-yard punt return but not much on kickoffs. As always, he’s due.



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