With the NFC North and a postseason berth on the line, quarterback Aaron Rodgers makes his return from a broken collarbone as the Green Bay Packers tangle with the Chicago Bears on Saturday afternoon at Soldier Field.
The Packers survived the second half of the season with Scott Tolzien and Matt Flynn under center, but will now go with the former MVP Rodgers to secure a third straight post season appearance. The Packers and the team medical staff hesitated to clear Rodgers to play for the last couple of weeks while the squad found its groove under Flynn.
Without Rodgers Green Bay went 2-5-1, including the Week Nine 27-20 loss to Chicago when he went down in the first quarter. Rival Detroit’s late season struggles and the Bears horrendous 54-11 loss to Philadelphia last week have kept the NFC North in play.
Before he went down, Rodgers was on pace for another stellar year completing nearly 67 percent of his passes for a 108.0 passer rating, 2,218 yards and 15 touchdowns to four interceptions.
Going through their own quarterback controversy late in the season, Chicago let up 289 yards rushing to Philadelphia, and 514 yards total, while going 5-for-14 on third down and failing to score a touchdown until the end of the third quarter.
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The return of veteran linebacker Lance Briggs from a fractured left shoulder was expected to give the Bears defense a boost, and while the team was encouraged he played 59 of 65 snaps, Briggs only managed one total tackle, according to the Chicago Sun Times.
Coming back from a groin injury quarterback Jay Cutler re-entered the starting lineup back in Week 15 for the streaking Josh McCown, and after finally settling back into his old spot under center led Chicago to a 38-31 victory over Cleveland.
Cutler’s completed 42 of 66 passes for 487 yards and four touchdowns to two interceptions since returning, and has arguably the best receiving duo in the league in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. The pair have combined for 180 receptions, 2,562 yards and 18 touchdowns this year, thriving under both Cutler and McCown.
What really hindered Chicago was a season-low 29 rushing yards from running back Matt Forte, though falling behind 21-0 on the first three possessions of the game can’t be placed on Forte’s shoulders. The sixth-year back has totaled 1,229 yards and seven touchdowns, averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season.
Rodgers will also have the benefit of a top tailback in rookie Eddie Lacy. A second-round pick earlier this year, Lacy’s gained 1,112 yards and 10 touchdowns this season, with 33 catches out of the back field. Lacy has the potential to pound a Bears defense letting up an NFL worst 161.5 rushing yards per game.
An ankle injury cast some doubt over Lacy’s status, but head coach Mike McCarthy said he expects lacy to suit up, according to ProFootball Talk.
The Packers also activated receiver Randall Cobb off the injured reserve list on Saturday. Cobb last played against Baltimore in Week Six when he fractured the tibia in his right leg. It’s a solid sign for Rodgers that one of his top targets may return, but for now Cobb is listed as questionable.
Green Bay’s defense has also stayed afloat despite numerous injuries along its frontline, and will once again miss linebacker Clay Matthews, who underwent a second surgery on his right thumb after suffering another setback against Pittsburgh.
It will be the fifth game Matthews misses this year, but he still led Green Bay with 7.5 sacks. The Packers will rely heavily once again on Mike Neal and Nick Perry at linebacker, with Andy Mulumba and Nate Palmer behind them.
Betting Odds: Green Bay -3
Over/Under: 53.5 points
Time: Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Online Stream Info: NFL Sunday Ticket
Prediction: Green Bay 27, Chicago 24