The Chicago Bears, clinging to playoff life after two straight division losses, look to bounce back against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Arizona is hoping to gain momentum from its 38-10 rout of the Lions, a win that snapped a nine-game losing skid for the Cards.
In a battle of two atrocious passing games, which team will come out on top? These three factors will tell the tale:
1. Whose defense will score more points?
The Bears are accustomed to winning with defensive touchdowns, of which they have seven in 14 games this season. Arizona, though, has an opportunistic defense of its own to throw at a struggling Jay Cutler.
The Cards picked off Matthew Stafford three times last week, returning two for scores. Don’t be surprised if the big plays in this game all come from the defensive side of the ball.
2. How sharp will Matt Forte be?
With stalwart backup Michael Bush on injured reserve, Matt Forte gutted out a hard-fought 20 carries in last week’s loss to Green Bay. Add in five receptions, and Forte took an awful lot of punishment against the Pack.
On Sunday, the Green Bay Packers handed Lovie Smith’s Chicago Bears their fifth loss in six games, putting Chicago’s shot at a wild-card berth in jeopardy. With Smith in a contract year, the question needs to be asked as to whether the Bears should re-sign their longtime head coach.
Smith guided the Bears to their second-ever Super Bowl trip, but that was in 2006. In the years since, he’s made just one playoff appearance while finishing at .500 or worse three times.
Another non-playoff season could well be the death-blow to Smith’s Bears career.
Smith has also failed miserably at improving a dismal Chicago offense. Even in the Super Bowl season, the Bears finished just 15th in the NFL in total yards—and that was Smith’s best showing by a wide margin.
For comparison, Mike Ditka—for all his reputation of winning with defense—kept the Bear offense in the top 13 in yardage every year after his debut season in Chicago.
The Green Bay Packers have a great chance to lock up the NFC North title on Sunday as they visit the second-place Chicago Bears. Fittingly for the Black-and-Blue Division in December, both teams come in with an abundance of injury concerns for key personnel.
Here are the three biggest factors that will determine whether Chicago can upset the division leaders and stay in prime wild-card position:
1. Will Jay Cutler last four quarters?
Whether or not Jay Cutler has a knee problem, there’s no dispute about the neck injury he suffered a week ago in Minnesota. The Bears’ quarterback is a warrior, but he’s taken his lumps this season—especially against Green Bay.
The Packer pass rush may not put up the same otherworldly sack numbers it did at Lambeau Field in Week 2, but Cutler’s still going to take his share of hits. Without him on the field, Chicago’s chances would drop from slim to none.
2. How much can Green Bay expect from Clay Matthews?
The Green Bay Packers (8-4) need to find a solution for the problems they are having on their offensive line.
Struggles last week in a win against the Minnesota Vikings and the week before in a loss to the New York Giants have exposed a distinctly average offensive line that has struggled to protect quarterback, Aaron Rodgers.
When the Detroit Lions (4-8) come to town, they will look to exploit this with a defensive line that has amassed 27 sacks thus-far this season. The Lions season is basically over so it only remains to be seen whether the motivations of knocking off a division rival is enough to see them through. If they want to come away with the win, getting after Rodgers is essential.
Three weeks ago, the Lions gave the Packers significant trouble at home but ultimately fell short late in the game. This time, coming into Wisconsin, the Lions will have significantly more trouble. Packers coach, Mike McCarthy will look to keep his quarterback safe by passing quickly and keeping extra blockers in.