As we look ahead to the first game of the week, the question to ask is the same every week – what’s the outlook for Thursday? This week it’s the Chicago Bears travelling to Lambeau Field to take on the Green Bay Packers. Here’s the tale of the tape:
Green Bay Packers 0-1
Injuries: Wide Receiver Greg Jennings is the key injury concern for the Packers in this game with a groin injury that has troubled him for a while. Given the short week, he is unlikely to take the field. Also doubtful is running back James Starks although head coach Mike McCarthy noted Starks is progressing quicker than expected from his toe injury but noted he didn’t think the #2 back would play. Finally, backup inside linebacker Terrell Manning is out with a concussion, starting defensive end C.J. Wilson is expected to play after limping off the field in week 1 with a groin injury but returning to practice mid-week, depth cornerback Javon House is unlikely to play but is close to returning from a dislocated shoulder sustained in preseason and backup inside linebacker Jamari Lattimore should be available to play although limited in his return from an ankle injury.
Three Keys To Victory: First of all, the running game. In his Packers debut, former Bengal Cedric Benson got almost completely shut down by the 49ers defense last week. While San Fran has arguably the best run defense in the league, the run game was a real concern in 2011 and the Packers need it to be at least semi-legit to help with pay-action.
Next for me is the play of second year WR Randall Cobb. With Greg Jennings out, Cobb will need to step up his game and give Aaron Rodgers a solid receiving option. Cobb has game-breaking speed and agility that can change the momentum of the game. This brings me to the other reason he is important – his ability as a return man has already been shown as elite. While his PRTD should have been disallowed last week but wasn’t due to a referee’s blunder, it just shows how this element of his skill-set can change a game.
Lastly but perhaps most importantly, the Packers makeshift secondary has got to shut down the Bears passing game. The Pack had the worst pass defense in the NFL last season and they got burned at times last week against an attack that doesn’t pass a lot. The Bears on the other hand are a high flying attack and if the corners in particular play as poorly as they did in week 1, you’re going to see Jay Cutler throw for at least 3 TDs.
Fantasy: With Greg Jennings out, this gives a slight lift to Jordy Nelson but ultimately you are starting him in all leagues anyway. Owners of Randall Cobb should consider him as a definite flex possibility, especially if your options are questionable. I would bench Cedric Benson for now and see what he does this week against another tough defense. Aaron Rodgers and Jermichael Finley are of course definite starters. For deep leagues, you might want to start James Jones who had a very good game last week and warrants consideration as a reasonable gamble.
Chicago Bears 1-0
Injuries: Brian Urlacher is listed as probable with his banged up knee and looked comfortable in practice so expect to see him out there in his normal capacity. After leaving week one’s game with a leg injury, top cornerback Charles Tillman is listed as questionable but earlier this week head coach Lovie Smith indicated he was optimistic Tillman would play. The last player to mention is run blocking depth tight end Kyle Adams is questionable with a shoulder injury and may not dress.
Three Keys To Victory: Last week, the Cutler to Marshall connection was the biggest reason the Bears got out to an early lead and while a repeat performance should be on the cards against the poor Packers secondary, Cutler will need help from the rest of his receivers as while Marshall had 9 receptions against the Colts none of the others had more than 3.
Secondly, they have to contain Aaron Rodgers and rush the passer effectively. While the Bears have one of the better rushing units in the league, for one reason or another they haven’t done particularly well at slowing down the Packers QB. The usual suspects – Idonije, Peppers, Briggs – will need to play well but it’s been shown that getting to Rodgers starts with having good pressure up the middle and this falls squarely on the inside DL rotation of Melton, Toeaina and Paea.
The third key is the Bears offensive tackles and their ability to hold out blue chip rusher Clay Matthews. Second year right tackle Gabe Carimi had a fantastic game against Indianapolis last week. Matthews is a much stiffer challenge – he was the NFL’s sack leader last week and, although he was well contained in the last encounter between these two teams, remains a force to be reckoned with. Both Carimi and left tackle J’Marcus Webb will have their hands full.
Fantasy: Despite the touchdown to Michael Bush last week, Matt Forte remains a RB1 in all leagues as he’s practically guaranteed to get high yardage numbers and doesn’t really on short yardage TDs anyway. Bush is worth considering also as a mid-level flex play. At QB, I’d continue to leave Jay Cutler on the bench for now. If he is on your free agent wire though I’d get him while you can as I doubt he’ll still be there come the bye weeks. Brandon Marshall is a strong starter here although rookie Alshon Jeffery still has plenty to prove – leave him on your bench for this week unless you’re desperate. For deeper leagues, Earl Bennett is my sleeper pick with the upside to get 2-5 receptions, 50 yards and a TD.
Betting Odds: Depending on who you bet with, the Packers are a 5-6 point favorite on most sites. For me, that’s a little too high – give me the Bears to cover.
Final Score: I’ll give the edge to DA Bears in this one 30-24.
So what’ll be the outlook for Thursday? Your guess as good as mine!