Packers vs. Bears: 5 things to watch and a prediction

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Zach Kruse
·4 min read
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The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears had to wait 12 weeks for their first meeting in 2020.

It was worth the wait. Sunday night’s showdown at Lambeau Field is another primetime battle between the two long-time rivals and a pivotal clash in the race for the NFC North title. The Packers, now 7-3, hold a two-game lead over the Bears, who are 5-5 after losing four-straight games.

Here are five things to watch and a prediction for Sunday night’s meeting with the Bears:

Another test

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

The Packers showed, at least for one half, that they can operate at a high level against one of the NFL's best defenses. They shredded the Colts for a good chunk of last week but too often shot themselves in the foot with fluky mistakes. The Bears provide another stiff test but also another opportunity for the Packers to prove this offense can get it done regardless of opponent. The Bears are allowing a passer rating of 85.7 in 2020 and haven't given up more than 26 points in a game this season. Playing efficiently and scoring points won't be easy on Sunday night. This is a battle between an elite offense and an elite defense.

Jaire vs. A-Rob

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Jaire Alexander vs. Allen Robinson could be the best individual matchup of the contest. Alexander is in the midst of a Pro Bowl season, emerging in Year 3 as a true shutdown cornerback who can take away an opponent's No. 1 receiver. The next visitor to Jaire Island is Robinson, who leads the Bears in every significant receiver category and has a special skillset. The Bears' best chance of moving the football on Sunday night is getting Robinson involved. Can Alexander keep him quiet?

Special teams spotlight

Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

The numbers through 10 games tell a familiar tale: The Packers are bad on special teams. Their failures provided a tipping point last week against the Colts, who were vastly superior in the third phase. The Bears are just as good, and they have two good returners – Cordarrelle Patterson on kicks and Anthony Miller on punts – who could make life difficult on Shawn Mennenga's group. The Packers can't let the Bears find an edge on special teams. The priority has to be making a struggling offense navigate the entire field every time. No short fields. That usually means a mistake-free performance on special teams.

Packers OL vs. Bears DL

Green Bay Packers offensive guard Elgton Jenkins (74) provides pass protection while blocking Chicago Bears linebacker Isaiah Irving (47) during the third quarter of their game Sunday, December 15, 2019 at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis. The Green Bay Packers beat the Chicago Bears 21-13.

The Packers offensive line will have its hands full on Sunday night. In Week 10, Dalvin Cook ran 30 times against the Bears defense and only gained 96 yards. Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks were dominant forces up front, and linebacker Roquan Smith, who now leads the NFL in tackles for losses (15), made play after play behind them. It's a deep pass-rushing group, too. The Bears have seven different players with at least 10 pressures along their defensive front, according to Pro Football Focus. Right tackle Billy Turner is going to see plenty of Mack, and although Corey Linsley (back) might play, Hicks is going to be a big challenge inside. This might be the best front the Packers play all year.

Third down

AP Photo/Zach Bolinger

The game might be won or lost on third down. Consider this: The Bears offense is ranked dead last in third-down conversion percentage (31.1), but the defense is ranked first (33.3). Getting off the field with third-down stops shouldn't be an issue for the Packers defense, but keeping drives alive might be. You can bet the Bears are going to center their entire defensive game plan around getting the Packers into difficult passing situations. As important as third down will be for Matt LaFleur's team, the performance on first and second down might be just as telling. Few offenses are going to survive on third-and-long against this Bears defense.

Prediction: Packers 23, Bears 16 (6-4)

The last five games in this series have been decided by an average of six points, and all five games were one-score games, so the easy prediction here is to pick another close finish. The quality of the Bears defense should ensure this one stays relatively even for much of the contest. Still, it's hard not to like the Packers, especially after how well the offense played for most of last week in Indianapolis and also considering what the Bears are dealing with at quarterback. Chicago isn't bringing enough firepower to Lambeau Field to pull off the upset. Remember, style points don't count against the Bears; all wins in this rivalry are pretty wins. The Packers will labor through a few scoring drives and get a few important turnovers to beat the Bears, helping LaFleur's team secure a commanding lead in the NFC North with the franchise's 100th all-time victory over Chicago.

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