Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sacked by Chicago Bears' Shea McClellin during the first half of an NFL football game Monday, Nov. 4, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
RICK MORRISSEY: Packers, 35-21
RICK TELANDER: Bears, 17-16
DAN McGRATH: Packers, 31-24
HUB ARKUSH: Bears, 34-24
ADAM L. JAHNS: Packers, 30-28
MARK POTASH: Packers, 27-24
PATRICK FINLEY: Bears, 31-28
PACKERS AT BEARS
Time: 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Soldier Field.
Line: Packers by 3. Total: 53.
TV: Fox-32 (Joe Buck, Troy Aikman).
Radio: 780-AM, 105.9-FM.
WHEN THE BEARS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Led by Matt Forte (24 carries, 125 yards, one TD), the Bears rushed for 171 yards on 33 carries in their 27-20 victory Nov. 4 at Lambeau Field, and they should be able to do it again against a Packers defense that ranks 26th against the run (125 ypg) and has allowed 151 yards to the Steelers and 134 to the Cowboys in the last two games. Forte figures to be fresh after getting only nine carries in the debacle last Sunday against the Eagles. Forte has 37 carries of 10 yards or more, second in the NFL behind LeSean McCoy’s 42. The Packers have allowed 58 rushes of 10 yards or more, third-most in the NFL.
IN THE AIR
Cutler’s struggles against the Packers and defensive coordinator Dom Capers are well-documented: He’s 1-7 with a 61.5 passer rating (nine TDs, 16 INTs) against them in the regular season. Josh McCown had a 90.7 rating against the Packers in his first start in place of Cutler. The Packers rank 21st against the pass (249 ypg) and 26th in opponents’ passer rating (95.5), but their defense under Capers has a knack for making enough plays to give them a chance. In their last three games, they’ve held Ben Roethlisberger (83.5), Tony Romo (80.0) and Matt Ryan (81.4) below their season average.
Jay Cutler’s goal in this one is simple: Stay as clean as Josh McCown did (two TDs, no INTs, no fumbles) in a 27-20 victory Nov. 4 at Lambeau Field. Packers CB Sam Shields has had success against the Bears, but Brandon Marshall got the best of him in their earlier meeting, with seven catches for 107 yards.
WHEN THE PACKERS HAVE THE BALL
ON THE GROUND
Packers rookie Eddie Lacy (263 carries, 1,112 yards, 10 TDs) could rush for 100 yards against the Bears’ defense on one leg and might get the chance to do it. Lacy, who ran for 150 yards on 22 carries against the Bears on Nov. 4, has a sprained right ankle and likely will be less than 100 percent if he plays. If he doesn’t, James Starks (78 carries, 405 yards, three TDs) is more than capable against the Bears’ 32nd-ranked run defense, which has allowed an average of 201 rushing yards in the last nine games — the most rushing yards allowed in a nine-game span in NFL history.
IN THE AIR
Rodgers will be playing for the first time in eight weeks — since suffering a broken collarbone against the Bears at Lambeau Field — and obviously will be rusty and struggle to regain the timing with his receivers that makes him the best quarterback in football. Yeah, right. Against the Bears, Rodgers is likely to be on fire from the start. He’ll use multiple receivers, including his backs, then hit Jordy Nelson (75 catches, 1,153 yards, eight TDs) for a 70-yard TD in the third quarter. Actually, the Bears haven’t allowed a pass play longer than 45 yards, but they’ve allowed 98 of 15 yards or more, the fourth-most in the NFL.
Aaron Rodgers will be playing in a game for the first time since Nov. 4, but he has been practicing on at least a limited basis since Nov. 26, so he might not be as rusty as it might appear. Bears LB Lance Briggs had one tackle and little impact in his first game since Oct. 20 and likely will have to be much better for the Bears to have a chance of slowing the Packers.
After an uneven performance against the Eagles, special-teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis expects his group to be ready for this one. ‘‘If you can’t get up for this one . . . then you really don’t belong playing in the league, in my opinion,’’ DeCamillis said. Adam Podlesh’s 25-yard punt and Devin Hester’s fumble contributed to the Bears’ demise last week, but the coverage units were solid and will have to be solid again against Micah Hyde (24.4-yard average on kickoff returns, 12.9-yard average on punt returns), who nearly saved the Packers with a 70-yard kickoff return in the final minute last week.
The Bears blew their first chance to clinch the NFC North title when they were embarrassed last week against the Eagles. Now they will have to respond — with no margin for error — in a rivalry game against a Packers team that has a much better record of coming through in these situations than they do. Coach Marc Trestman’s message was simple: ‘‘This week, we’re playing the most important game of the season. But we’ve been saying that for 16 weeks, and hopefully that helps us have the toughness, the backbone, to go out and play what is essentially the most important game of the season.’’