Five questions for NFC title game
More: AFC title game questions
If you take a good look at the two Chicago-Green Bay regular-season games, you can’t help but think that the Packers got the better of the contests.
Much better, actually.
If not for 18 penalties and two huge fourth-quarter mistakes – a punt return for a score and a turnover – in the first game (played in Week 3 at Soldier Field), Green Bay would’ve walked away with victory. Instead, the Bears won on a late field goal and that game has come back to haunt the Packers, who are playing in Chicago because of that loss.
With that in mind, here are the keys, issues and questions to consider:
This is the central question for the Bears and their fans. In the season finale against the Packers, Cutler was ineffective, throwing for only 168 yards on 39 attempts, getting intercepted twice and sacked six times. Overall, the Bears had nine of 13 possessions that went for less than 10 yards. Even in the Week 3 game, Cutler was just OK, completing 16 of 27 for 221 yards, one interception, one touchdown. Overall, the Bears have had 21 possessions against Green Bay, the Bears have one offensive TD.
That’s going to be a popular thought, but here’s how Rodgers has played in 10 outdoor games played in December or January since taking over as Green Bay’s starter in 2008, all of which were in cold-weather spots: Rodgers has completed 209 of 330 passes for 2,857 yards, 22 touchdowns and only five interceptions. That’s a quarterback rating of 106.8 and the Packers are 8-2 in those games.
Again, that does NOT include his game Saturday night at Atlanta or his playoff game at Arizona last year.
3) What is the Packers’ biggest obstacle?
Aside from playing on the road, the Packers have had some yips covering kicks and punts. In the first game against Chicago, the Packers allowed a 62-yard punt return for a score. On Saturday, they allowed a playoff-record 102-yard score to the Falcons. With Chicago having Devin Hester(notes) on its side, the Packers better be extremely careful.
4) Aside from Cutler and Hester, who is the most important player for Chicago?
Everybody knows about Julius Peppers(notes), Brian Urlacher(notes), Lance Briggs(notes) and the rest of the Bears’ defense, which is going to have to be at its best to win. But the key to this game is whether the Bears can be good on offense and tight end Greg Olsen(notes) is the guy to look at.
While a lot of people say that running back Matt Forte(notes) stirs the drink for the Bears outside of Cutler, Forte’s numbers this season against the Packers (26 carries for 120 yards rushing and 10 catches for 74 yards receiving) meant almost nothing. In fact, Forte’s best day was in the second game, when the Bears had only a field goal. Thus, Olsen becomes the focus. While he had only 41 receptions during the regular season, it’s obvious that Cutler likes to throw to him, particularly once the Bears get to midfield or better. In two games against Green Bay, Olsen had 10 catches overall, including the only offensive TD by the Bears. However, in the second game, Olsen was limited to only 29 yards receiving. If the Bears’ passing attack is going to do anything of substance, Olsen must expose the middle of Green Bay’s defense.
5) Aside from Rodgers, who is the most important Packer?
Well, we’ll cheat here and say it’s the combination of cornerbacks Charles Woodson(notes) and Tramon Williams(notes). Between them, they have one sack and three interceptions in the playoffs. At 34, Woodson shows zero signs of slowing down in what is becoming a possible Hall of Fame career. Just as with Rodgers, a Super Bowl victory would be a huge step in Woodson cementing his legacy. For Williams, his three interceptions in the postseason have been a great display of his diverse skills. It has taken Williams awhile to get to this point, but he has clearly arrived.