Last year, it seemed like the NFL Network couldn’t get the Thursday night games right. It just seemed like one dud game after another. The first NFL Network game of 2012, however, is a real treat for NFL fans. The Green Bay Packers are set to play host to their division rival Chicago Bears, a game that already has pretty big divisional implications.
If the Bears are able to win on the road, it will not only be a big division win, but it will give them a two game lead over the Packers, which is a very solid advantage considering how well the Packers played last season. Green Bay has already matched its 2011 season loss total, so I think they will be really focused for this game. Can they lose two in a row? Here are some keys to tonight’s game, and some things to watch for.
Impact of No Greg Jennings
The Packers have a very deep group of wide receivers, so losing Greg Jennings might not hurt as much as we think, but Jennings is a big time player. Green Bay will rely on James Jones, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, and Jermichael Finley to carry the load if Jennings can’t find a way to get on the field, which will be a decent advantage for the Bears. Aaron Rodgers will still find open receivers, but the Bears won’t have to worry about number 85 running around.
Bears’ Revamped Offense
The Bears’ offense hasn’t been this good for as long as I can remember. Jay Cutler is healthy, and the re-signing of Matt Forte provided the Bears with an elite running back weapon to go along with arguably the best backup in the league, Michael Bush. Not only that, but Chicago was able to completely revamp their wide receiver group by adding Brandon Marshall–a Pro Bowl candidate–and Alshon Jeffery, who had a nice rookie debut. The Packers’ defense is full of holes right now, and I could definitely see this Bears crew being a problem for them.
Who Can Force More Turnovers?
The Bears’ pass rush is led by sack artist Julius Peppers and inside linebacker Brian Urlacher. Those guys appear to be ageless. Green Bay’s defense is led by Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson, two defensive player of the year candidates. As a group, I think both defenses have some real holes but that doesn’t mean they can’t force turnovers and make big plays. Which team makes more of those big plays will determine who wins this game.
QB: Aaron Rodgers, Jay Cutler
RB: Matt Forte, Michael Bush
WR: Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery
TE: Jermichael Finley