4:25 PM ET, December 29, 2013
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
The day after Christmas provided the Green Bay Packers with a huge present.
Rodgers missed his seventh straight game last Sunday as Green Bay (7-7-1) fell 38-31 at home to Pittsburgh. That put the Packers on the brink of elimination, but Chicago (8-7) failed miserably in its first attempt to clinch the division with a 54-11 loss at Philadelphia later that night.
It means that Sunday's winner will capture the North.
Green Bay is in search of a third straight division title and have Rodgers back under center after recovering from the broken collarbone he suffered in the first meeting with Chicago, a 27-20 home loss Nov. 4.
"We're talking about the best player in football. I feel good about it," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers' return.
Rodgers has 15 touchdowns to four interceptions and 2,218 yards passing. His replacements have eight TDs to 10 picks and 2,002 yards.
He also might be getting one of his top offensive weapons back for the first time since Oct. 13. Receiver Randall Cobb had what McCarthy, who has missed the past 10 games with a fracture right fibula, was activated from injured reserve Saturday and is listed as questionable.
One player who won't be available for Green Bay is linebacker Clay Matthews, who is out after aggravating a right thumb injury. He looked to be in extreme pain on the sideline Sunday after getting injured on a sack.
Linebacker Mike Neal will replace the Packers' top defensive playmaker.
"I'm not Clay Matthews, I've said that before," Neal said. "I'm not trying to fill Clay's shoes, I'm trying to fill Mike Neal's shoes."
Matthews' absence is good news for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who missed the first meeting with a groin injury. Cutler owns a 1-8 career record against the Packers, including a 21-14 home defeat in the NFC title game three seasons ago when he was forced to leave early with a knee injury.
Cutler's Bears enter off their worst performance. Chicago fell behind 21-0 in the first quarter and finished with a season-low 257 yards in a game that was never competitive.
First-year coach Marc Trestman told the team immediately after the mismatch to forget about the blowout loss and says the Bears need to have "good amnesia."
"I've got to be the voice of reason," Trestman said. "I've got to see the big picture. Every coach handles themselves differently in these situations, and there's no right way to do it for coaches because they all handle them differently. This is the way we've done it, trying to maintain some practicality works in this case."
What works versus Chicago is running against a defense allowing a league-worst 161.5 yards per game on the ground -- 25.6 yards more than the next-closest team. The Eagles gained 289 rushing yards for the second-highest total by a team all season.
Chicago is yielding 5.4 yards per carry -- the NFL's worst mark since the 1961 Minnesota Vikings were at that figure.
Rodgers' injury has transformed the Packers into a better rushing team than it has been recently. Green Bay ranks seventh with 131.7 run yards per game, with rookie Eddie Lacy also seventh while averaging 79.4.
Lacy is averaging 96.7 yards over the last three games on 56 total carries with four touchdowns. He hurt his ankle against the Steelers, but McCarthy seemed optimistic about his chances of facing the Bears.
"I feel Eddie is in good place," McCarthy said. "I expect him to play."
If Lacy can't play, James Starks will start.
Chicago is hoping Lance Briggs will be better in his second game back in the lineup. Briggs returned last Sunday and saw action in 57 plays after missing seven games because of a fractured shoulder, getting credited with just one tackle.
"Lance is going to get better the more he plays," embattled defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said.
The Bears ended a six-game slide in the series last month and seek to sweep the Packers for the first time since 2007.
This marks the first season since the NFL realigned into eight divisions in 2002 that the North champion will not win at least 10 games. Chicago wins the division if this contest ends in a tie.
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|Avg Points Allowed||26.8||29.9|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||GB|
|Rush Yds Allowed||GB|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Green Bay leads 18-9|
|Nov 4, 2013||GB 20, CHI 27|
|Dec 16, 2012||GB 21, @CHI 13|
|Sep 13, 2012||GB 23, CHI 10|
|Dec 25, 2011||GB 35, CHI 21|
|Sep 25, 2011||GB 27, @CHI 17|
|Jan 23, 2011||GB 21, @CHI 14|
|Jan 2, 2011||GB 10, CHI 3|
|Sep 27, 2010||GB 17, @CHI 20|
|Dec 13, 2009||GB 21, @CHI 14|
|Sep 13, 2009||GB 21, CHI 15|
|Dec 22, 2008||GB 17, @CHI 20|
|Nov 16, 2008||GB 37, CHI 3|
|Dec 23, 2007||GB 7, @CHI 35|
|Oct 7, 2007||GB 20, CHI 27|
|Dec 31, 2006||GB 26, @CHI 7|
|Sep 10, 2006||GB 0, CHI 26|
|Dec 25, 2005||GB 17, CHI 24|
|Dec 4, 2005||GB 7, @CHI 19|
|Jan 2, 2005||GB 31, @CHI 14|
|Sep 19, 2004||GB 10, CHI 21|
|Dec 7, 2003||GB 34, CHI 21|
|Sep 29, 2003||GB 38, @CHI 23|
|Dec 1, 2002||GB 30, CHI 20|
|Oct 7, 2002||GB 34, @CHI 21|
|Dec 9, 2001||GB 17, CHI 7|
|Nov 11, 2001||GB 20, @CHI 12|
The Packers look to be getting Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb back for Week 17. No quarterback-wide receiver combo has connected on a higher percentage of passes since Cobb entered the NFL in 2011.[+]
Best Comp Pct - QB-WR Duos Since 2011
From Elias: Green Bay didn't have any Pro Bowlers named. There's still a chance some could be chosen to go as injury replacements, but as it stands they would join the 2010 Seahawks as the only division winners since 1970 without any Pro Bowlers on the roster with a win on Sunday.
Jay Cutler's 15.4 Total QBR Sunday was his worst in a start since Week 15 last season against the Packers (7.9 - min 10 action plays). Bad news for Cutler, he plays the Packers in a "Win-or-go home" game next week. Cutler has a 24.3 career Total QBR against the Packers, his worst against any opponent with a minimum of 100 action plays. Not only that, he has NFL Total QBR leader Josh McCown (85.0) breathing down his neck.[+]
Jay Cutler Worst Career Total QBR by Opponent (Including Postseason)
Aaron Rodgers has a 70.3 Total QBR, 5th best in the league. All other Packers QBs have combined for a 25.5 Total QBR this season.
Jay Cutler's performance Sunday was efficient and effective, and he helped guide the Bears into a position to beat the Packers. - For the first time in his Bears career against the Packers, Cutler threw more touchdowns than interceptions (2-1). - Cutler threw only one incomplete pass due to an under- or overthrown pass Sunday, tied for his fewest in a game with the Bears (min. 15 attempts). - Cutler completed multiple passes more than 30 yards downfield for the fourth time in his Bears career.
This is the first time (in the regular season) that Aaron Rodgers has thrown multiple interceptions in a game against the Bears.
The Bears were beaten by Rodgers and Cobb on pass that traveled 38 yards past the line of scrimmage. It was Rodgers' first attempt 30 yards or more on the game. This season, the Bears have allowed 8-of-15 passes (53.3 percent) thrown 30-plus yards to be completed. The league average on those passes is 29.6 percent.
Both of Rodgers' touchdown passes to Cobb Sunday were thrown from outside of the pocket. Since the start of 2011, Cobb's first season with the team, Rodgers has thrown a team-high five touchdowns to Cobb outside the pocket, and has targeted him more than any other wide receiver. - Rodgers was only 2-of-2 targeting Cobb Sunday, but the duo have connected on 77.1 percent of their passes since 2011, best of any QB-WR duo with 150 attempts.
The Bears sent five or more pass rushers on 40 percent of Aaron Rodgers' dropbacks Sunday. The strategy worked early on as Rodgers threw both his interceptions against such pressure. However, on 4th-and-8 the Bears brought seven and Rodgers was able to escape and find Randall Cobb deep. - Rodgers was put under duress on the touchdown pass to Cobb. Rodgers was 0-of-4 with an interception when pressured prior to the play.[+]
Aaron Rodgers Facing 5+ Pass Rushers, Sunday
With the news that Aaron Rodgers will make the start this Sunday against the Bears. One might think the Packers QB will look to throw the ball downfield a little. Judging by how well Green Bay has run the ball this season, and how BAD the Bears are at stopping the run, Eddie Lacy and James Starks should get a healthy amount of running opportunities..[+]
PACKERS RUSH OFFENSE vs BEARS RUSH DEFENSE
The Packers' win probability rose from 40.7% to 99.5% after Aaron Rodgers' 48-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb on 4th-and-8. It was the biggest play in terms of win probability added in Rodgers' career and one of the biggest plays of the year. The Packers converted three times on 4th down on their final drive, becoming the 2nd team to convert three 4th-down plays on a drive this season (the Saints did so in Week 15 vs Rams in the 4th quarter).
Randall Cobb's touchdown reception in the 3rd quarter was the first time he was targeted in the game.
Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have taken the field as opposing quarterbacks 8 times and Rodgers has won 7 of them. Cutler's thrown 9 more interceptions than touchdowns. Cutler's only win playing against Aaron Rodgers came in week 3 on Monday Night Football in 2010...[+]
HEAD TO HEAD AS STARTING QUARTERBACKS
ESPN Stats & Information