Are You Ready For Pack's Encore?

Think of the Packers as that rock band that is coming off a flat performance. The lead singer was off-key and the band just couldn't find their rhythm (I'm aware that Vikings fans would prefer to look at them as that over-the-hill band still playing big venues, but one that's past its prime). Then that band takes the stage for its encore. Do they summon up their talents and bring the house down? Or do they get booed off the stage?

That's what we'll find out tonight, when the banged up Packers and Bears take the field at Lambeau to provide another reason why Thursday night football is ridiculous for everyone except the NFL and its owners. In all, 24 players have been on the injury report this week. We know the Pack will be without its top three corners, top two running backs and two wide receivers. The Bears will be without their top two corners, along with Eddie Goldman, Eddie Royal, Pernell McPhee, Jeremy Langford and former Packer Josh Sitton, whose big return was derailed by an ankle injury suffered on Sunday. Another seven Bears are listed as questionable tonight as well.

Unfortunately for the Pack, the Bears will also be without Jay Cutler, who notoriously saves his worst performances for Green Bay. Brian Hoyer has been better anyway, with four straight 300 yard games and no interceptions. He can't move around and doesn't have the strongest arm, but he gets rid of the ball quickly and makes few mistakes (don't tell Texans fans that, though).

While the Bears are moving the ball, they're not scoring much, ranking 31st in points, despite being seventh in yards. Where they're really suffering is in the red zone. The Pack will need to play close attention to Alshon Jeffery (who's still searching for his first TD) and tight end Zach Miller. Rookie Jordan Howard (from IU) has been solid in relief of Langford, averaging five yards per carry. But obviously he's no Ezekiel Elliott and the Pack's run defense should bounce back nicely.

Of course, all eyes will be on the Packers' offense to see how Aaron Rodgers responds to his recent spate of mediocrity. Mike McCarthy would like to lean on the running game, but with Lacy and Starks out, it's hard to know what to expect. Will Don Jackson get the call? Newly acquired Knile Davis? Montgomery or Cobb? Most likely, it will be a combination of all of the above. It's not a great time to lose Lacy--let's just hope some of the early reports are wrong and that he'll be back soon.

The passing game will likely be without Davante Adams (concussion) and Jared Abbrederis. Who will play outside opposite Jordy Nelson? Will Jeff Janis get a shot or will Cobb or Montgomery handle it? Whoever plays the slot should have a big night, opposite corner Cre'Von LeBlanc, a rookie free agent who is getting torched. Not to mention, he sounds like the bad guy in a Bullwinkle cartoon. The Bears' secondary is as banged up as the Pack's, and their healthy guys aren't that good. That said, they've only given up one passing play of 35 yards or more. The Pack should be able to add to that tonight as Rodgers looks to show a prime time audience that he's still got it.

This is meeting number 193 in the longest played series in the NFL, one owned by the Pack since Brett Favre arrived. If the Packers sweep this year, the series will be tied for the first time since 1933. But we all remember the debacle of last year's Thanksgiving night game. The Bears know they can win at Lambeau and know they're facing a team that's questioning itself a bit. With four of the next five on the road, the Packers absolutely must bounce back emphatically tonight. Then with ten days to get ready for the Falcons, maybe they can get a little healthier to prepare for the tough stretch ahead.

It's the 11th straight year that these teams have met in prime time, but it will be the least watched ever in Chicago, with the Cubs battling the Dodgers in a big Game 5 at the same time. It likely won't be easy for all the reasons listed above. I see an ugly game, where both offenses have a tough time getting untracked. But the Packers' defense will be the best unit on the field and I see them bouncing back well, despite playing without its top three corners.

Packers 20 Bears 14

Reminder: there will be no "Packer Preview" this Sunday, since there's no game to preview. I'm headed to Milwaukee to visit the family. The show will be back on 10/30 for the Atlanta game. I'll watch that one at the Park Tavern in St. Louis Park--our first Packer viewing party of the season. Hope to see you there.


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