The last time division partners met in the NFC championship game was when Los Angeles still had a professional football team, as San Francisco knocked off the L.A. Rams 30-3 on their way to yet Super Bowl victory. For those not from the Midwest, it can be hard to understand the dislike the animosity between the fans, but it’s real. Not hatred for the person overall, but more of general disgust for that person during the football season. If by chance you hadn’t seen that person in months the first thing out of their mouth when greeting would be, “Hey, how you doin’, how about that last Packer-Bear game?” (If there team had won) The needle is always at the ready.
Two words that have come to describe Green Bay are “hot” and “dangerous”. It used to be unfathomable to consider a NFL team could win three playoff games in a row on the road. In the modern era (1990), only the Buffalo Bills pulled it off in the 1992-93 postseason to make their third of four trips to the Super Bowl and that was in part due to early season injuries. However since 2005, the Steelers of that season and the New York Giants two years later completed the trifecta.
Green Bay does have advantages. Aaron Rodgers is believed to be in the zone, will it continue, we’ll see, but he is thought to be far more trustworthy than Jay Cutler. The biggest difference in the two quarterbacks is decision-making in the pocket, where Cutler will sometimes get careless and try and make plays, Rodgers finds the open receiver or chucks the ball away. Both are dynamic out of the pocket.
The Packers receiver core depth-wise is the best in the NFL. Jordy Nelson could start for 10 NFL teams, be the No. 3 slot receiver for 18 more, but in Lambeau-land, he’s a highly productive fourth option in the passing game and is horrible matchup on third down against almost all secondaries. The rest of the pass-catchers have played with Rodgers for a number of years and are on the same page. Other than Johnny Knox (who is strong deep threat but sloppy route runner), the rest of the Chicago wideouts are among the worst in football and this group is saved in overall perception because Cutler can pin the ball on them if open and by tight end Greg Olson.
Chicago has an exceptional defense line that was refortified with Julius Peppers, who played with renewed energy in 2010. Their mission is to take away the Pack’s running game and force third and long continually and make Rodgers throw into seven deep coverage with a steady pass rush.
James Starks has provided the Green Bay rushing game with a spark, nevertheless the best running back on the field far and away is Matt Forte, who is equally adept as running or pass-catching threat and can abuse a linebacker in a hurry.
The combination Devin Hester and Danieal Manning gives the Bears decided edge in special teams, shortening the distance Lovie Smith’s club has to travel to score. This could be the difference in contest.
Each coach might have a few wrinkles, but not many surprises with how familiar they are with one another and how long Smith and Mike McCarthy have been in place. Green Bay is 14-5 and 13-6 ATS in the Windy City, but has lost three of last four on the shores of Lake Michigan. It should be noted the Bears have enjoyed or made good fortune in those games, since they were out-statted in each instance.
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