Opening weekend of the 2012 season was kind to the Chicago Bears, and not so much to the Green Bay Packers.
Jay Cutler and the Bears struggled early against rookie Andrew Luck, then took control as Cutler heated up and Chicago tagged the visiting Colts for 41 points.
The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, did not fare as well on their home turf.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers were stymied most of the evening against what might be the league’s best defense, and the 49ers had their way on the ground and through the air against the still maligned Green Bay defense.
The Bears-Packers match-up already had big implications prior to each team’s Week 1 outcome.
The longtime rivals will meet for the 185th time, and both are expected to battle for the NFC North crown. The game now also takes on additional stakes, as Green Bay can ill afford a second straight loss at home to begin the season.
Chicago, by contrast, has an opportunity to strike an early and swift blow to their northern rivals’ divisional hopes. While it certainly would not be a death blow, a two game lead with a win in Green Bay would bode well down the stretch for this Bears squad.
My three predictions for the game at Lambeau Field on Thursday:
1. The combination of Matt Forte and Michael Bush will surpass the 150 mark in total yards. Forte and Bush ran for 122 yards together against Indianapolis, with Forte adding 40 yards in the passing game.
This tandem will reach that again on Thursday against a Green Bay defense that had no answer for Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in Week 1. While Chicago’s offensive line has been suspect in the passing game, their run blocking and the shiftiness of Forte and Bush will give Dom Capers fits as he tries to play the numbers game with his nickel and dime defense.
The outside receiving threats the Bears now possess will almost certainly force Capers into bringing an extra defensive back into the mix, which will create lanes and blocking mismatches along the second level which the Bears can exploit.
2. Aaron Rodgers will right the offensive ship in this game. While the Bears' defense is experienced and savvy, head coach Mike McCarthy has had much success in finding ways for Rodgers to find advantages against Lovie Smith and company. One of the best ways to beat the cover 2 defense is to find the open area down the seam just beyond the linebackers.
Rodgers and tight end Jermichael Finley will expose this flaw, and it will open up the rest of the offense. McCarthy also added a new wrinkle on Sunday with some success. Wide receiver Randall Cobb was positioned pre-snap in the Green Bay backfield, sometimes splitting out wide, sometimes finding a short safe outlet route for Rodgers.
The possibilities out of this formation will serve to give defensive coordinators even more to think about when trying to defend this already potent passing game. Look for better and more effective numbers from No. 12 in this game, as Rodgers will do damage to an aging Bears' secondary.
3. A game-changing/winning play will be made in the return game. For years, Devin Hester has given opposing special teams fits with his dazzling ability. He holds the NFL record for combined punt/kick returns for touchdowns with a remarkable seventeen in his career, and he shows no signs of slowing down.
But the Packers believe they have found their own answer to Hester, in the second-year receiver Cobb. With Sunday’s controversial punt return for a score, Cobb now has three trips to the house in just 16 career games, and only seems to be approaching his full stride in terms of learning the intricacies of the game.
While special teams are often overlooked in having impact on games, Hester and Cobb will prevent that early trip to the frig this Thursday, lest you gamble on missing what could be the play of the game.