Bear Hunting – Week 17 Preview

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Alshon Jeffery gave the Packers plenty to handle last time around. Can they slow him down this week?

It seems like we’ve heard this story before. The Packers find themselves in a Week 17 struggle with the Chicago Bears with the playoffs on the line. If that reminds you of 2010, that’s great, but let the comparisons end there: this year’s version of the Packers is likely not a late season Cinderalla.

Yes, I’ll be the guy to rain on the sudden parade of optimism swelling in Packers Nation. Despite the return of Aaron Rodgers (which we’ll get to in due time), this version of the Packers is not nearly defensively competent enough to make a run like the 2010 team. The numbers easily bear that out. In 2010, the Packers allowed a stifling 15 points per game (good for fifth in the league), ranked sixth in forcing turnovers, and ninth in total yards. The 2013 Packers can’t come close, giving up a generous 26.7 points per game (24th in the league) and clocking in at 22nd in turnovers and 26th in yards. None of those stats are damning on their own, but they should paint a sufficiently bad picture.

And yet…here we are. The Packers have just received a late Christmas gift in the form of a franchise quarterback, and they find themselves on the cusp of a playoff berth. Yes, they may not be able to make a run. Yes, they can’t slow anyone down, much less stop a top-flight offense. Yes, they’re still pretty injury riddled. They might get bounced from the playoffs in the first round, they might get scorched in the second, but there’s one thing for sure: you’ll never find out what they can do unless they make it to the tournament, and despite being left for dead weeks ago (by everyone including me), they have a chance to get into the post season and at least attempt to make some noise.

That brings us to Aaron Rodgers, whose apparent sudden healing has the Packers feeling much better than they were a week ago. His return may not be all that unexpected, but if there’s such a thing as a morale boosting move, this would have to be it. The Packers defense may not be all that good, but with Rodgers under center, there’s always a chance that something good can happen. If those good things do start happening, there’s no telling how far the Packers could go.

The Countdown

5 – Games, in his eight starts this season, in which Aaron Rodgers has posted a passer rating of 100 points or better. In his four starts (and one relief appearance), Matt Flynn only surpassed that number once. So yeah, Aaron Rodgers is good. Aaron Rodgers also has his own fake Batman trailer. Aaron Rodgers is awesome.

4 – Seasons, out of five so far, in which Clay Matthews has missed at least one game due to injury. Only in 2009, his rookie year, did Matthews appear in all 16 games. Still, his loss may not be all that great. The Packers have shown they can rush the passer without him, and though he leads the team with 7.5 sacks, four other players have at least four each. Will the supporting cast step up again?

3 – Times this season Matt Forte has caught six or more passes. Though an accomplished runner (1229 yards and seven touchdowns on 267 carries), Forte is equally dangerous through the air, snagging 70 catches so far this season, just five fewer than Jordy Nelson, the Packers leading pass catcher. Though Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall might grab the headlines, Forte’s offensive versatility might actually be the key to this game.

2 – Fumble recoveries by Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery. Don’t worry guys. If there are any fumbles, Alshon will get them.

1 – Games this season in which Shea McClellin has recorded a full sack. That one game? Week Eight against the Packers…and one of them was the tackle that broke Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone. Sheamus Liam McClellin (do you think he’s Irish at all?) hasn’t accomplished all that much since the Bears picked him 19th overall in 2012, but he did knock Aaron Rodgers out for the better part of a season. McClellin gave Don Barclay all kinds of fits last time around. Hopefully he’s sorted out those issues for Sunday.

Last Time – Bears: 27 Packers: 20 – November 4, 2013

Do I really have to tell you what happened last time? All the bad things happened.

Meet a Bear – Alshon Jeffery – 6’3″, 216 lbs – WR – 2nd NFL Season

I was surprised to learn that NFL.com only lists Jeffery at 6’3″ and 216 pounds. Pro Football Reference puts him at 6’4″ and 230 pounds. Watch the tape. Which do you think is more accurate? I tend towards the latter.

Jeffery was disappointing as a rookie, but he has begun to blossom as a second year man. With a game to go, he’s posted 86 catches for 1,341 yards and seven touchdowns, only to find himself on the outside looking in when it comes to the Pro Bowl (as though you’d need more evidence that the game is a joke). That’s partially due to teammate Brandon Marshall (whose 94 catches, 1,221 yards, and 11 touchdowns are certainly impressive), and partially due to Dez Bryant, whose 12 touchdowns and perpetually childish antics apparently appeal more to voters than Jeffery’s overall excellence.

Pro Bowl or not, Jeffery would be a handful by himself, and paired with Brandon Marshall, he could be more than the Packers can handle.

The Bears will win if…

…their offensive versatility carries the day and Jay Cutler can avoid turnovers. On paper, the Packers defense doesn’t seem like it should offer much in the way of resistance to the Bears’ attack. Fortunately, games aren’t played on paper, and should Cutler decide to morph into Bad Jay Cutler, this game could swing rapidly.

The Packers will win if…

…Aaron Rodgers returns to form and matches the Bears’ attack blow for blow. Though the Bears’ run defense is miserable, quarterback play will always carry the day. If Rodgers can bring back any of what he displayed early this season, the Packers will be in good shape.

The Pick – Packers: 35 Bears: 31

How can I do anything but pick the Packers? Rodgers’ return, the NFC North title on the line, the reeling Bears’ defense…it all lines up. Or maybe I just want it to. Either way, I’m picking the Packers and sticking to it.

Tweet of the Week

Several strong contributions from the Packers this week. First, Myles White releases himself from the Packers with a typo…and is happy about it? It’s “a part” Myles, not “apart.”

Second, Jerel Worthy decides he’s Jokey McJokester. Hilarious!

Third, Josh Sitton takes us inside a heated competition in the locker room: Matt Flynn vs. Kahlil Bell for ping pong supremacy!

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