A few weeks ago, the Monday game for Week Nine looked like it might go a long way in determining the winner of the NFC North. Now, the matchup between the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers has a much different feel to it.
The Bears will be missing two of their best players when they visit their rivals. Most importantly, quarterback Jay Cutler will be forced to sit out for a few weeks because of a groin injury. In his place, Josh McCown will make his first start of 2013.
"I feel like we'll be ready to put our best foot forward as good as we ever have here in the past," McCown said Thursday. "That obviously gives you a comfort level as a quarterback going into this game."
McCown is a considerable downgrade from Cutler. He’s been in the NFL for 11 years, spending most of his time as a backup. In 51 games, McCown has a 72.0 passer rating, throwing six more interceptions than touchdowns.
The Bears did get some signs of encouragement when McCown took over for Cutler two weeks ago. The veteran kept Chicago in their game with the Washington Redskins, although they eventually lost. He completed 14 of his 20 pass attempts for 204 yards and a touchdown, helping the Bears score 41 points.
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Unfortunately for Chicago, Green Bay’s secondary is better than that of Washington. Brandon Marshall, who hauled in six catches for 75 yards against the Redskins, might have a much tougher time on Monday.
"Green Bay does a good job of taking out the No. 1 guy," said Marshall. "After the first game getting torched by Anquan, no other No. 1 has put up huge numbers, so you have to look at that and respect what they do on defense."
In addition to the loss of Cutler, Lance Briggs will also miss the Week Nine contest. A shoulder injury is expected to sideline him until at least December. The linebacker leads the team in tackles, including eight for a loss.
In previous seasons, the Chicago defense might have been able to withstand the absence of one of their key players. The 2013 Bears, however, have not been the defensive stalwarts that the rest of the league is used to seeing. Only three other teams have allowed more points per game than Chicago.
Aaron Rodgers could have a field day against the Bears, who allow 273.7 passing yards per game. His 108.0 passer rating is fourth in football, and he’s thrown 15 scores compared to just four interceptions.
Jordy Nelson, who leads the Packers with 649 receiving yards, could be asked to play an even bigger role in the coming weeks. Tight end Jermichael Finley is out indefinitely after suffering a neck injury.
"He's just so consistent," head coach Mike McCarthy said, following Green Bay’s defeat of the Minnesota Vikings last week. "I like Jordy everywhere. Jordy just does it right all the time.
Chicago heads to Green Bay as heavy underdogs, getting 10.5 points, according to the betting line at most Las Vegas Casinos. The over/under has been set at 50.
Prediction: Green Bay 37, Chicago 24