Soldier Field Beckons, Pack's Home Away From HomePosted:Dec 16th, 2016 4:48 pm
The Packers make their annual visit to their home away from home, Soldier Field, on Sunday. It's being billed as possibly the coldest game ever played there, with the temp at around zero and wind chills approaching 20 below. Wonderful. At least the Pack will feel right at home. They usually do on the Spaceship by the Lake, winning the last five and 19 of the last 23 games played there.
On days like this, the conditions determine everything. How motivated will the 3-10 Bears be to face the cold, even though a win could could knock their biggest rivals out of the playoff hunt? How will their Southern California quarterback deal with the coldest day he's ever faced? How many of their fans will show up, knowing they can turn on the fire, grab a blanket and add whatever they want to their coffee at home?
The biggest storyline coming from the Bears' locker room is which guys will choose to play the game sleeveless. Surprisingly, Josh Sitton isn't leading the charge, though you know he's geeked to face his former teammates for the first time.
As you know, the Bears have played competitively of late, taking the Lions to the final snap on the road last week. They beat the Vikings at home and have been in virtually every game they've played in the last six weeks. Barkley has done a pretty good job of keeping them in games, though they've relied too much on the passing game and not enough on the run, where rookie Jordan Howard has proven to be the future. He destroyed the Vikes and will likely get a heavy dose on Sunday, a day where throwing the ball will likely be a challenge.
The Packers run defense will need to be at its best against Howard. The Seahawks were pretty productive on the ground last week, but they had multiple weapons like Rawls, Wilson and Lockette. The Bears are not as multi-dimensional. Wide receiver returns from a four game suspension on Sunday and the pending free agent will no doubt be looking to make up for lost time. Expect Barkley to toss some jump balls his way, testing the matchup against the Pack's up and down corners.
The Pack's path to success always runs through Aaron Rodgers, who will be dealing with a bad calf on one one leg and a tight hamstring on the other--and the frigid cold will do nothing to help either injury. The fact that he suffered the calf injury on the third play last week and was able to gut it out the rest of the way says all you need to know. The Pack held him out of practice this week to let both injuries calm down as much as possible.
He will no doubt be tested by Vic Fangio's defense, which has been very good against the pass all season. The Bears boast some solid pass rushers like Akiem Hicks, rookie Leonard Floyd (who stripped Rodgers in the end zone for a TD at Lambeau), Willie Young and Pernell McPhee. A less than mobile Rodgers will have to rely on the line and a gameplay that gets the ball out quickly, to keep those guys at bay.
The running game will likely consist mostly of Ty Montgomery (with a little Rip thrown in to give him a rest), with the news that James Starks suffered a concussion in a car accident this week and Christine Michael has been too sick to practice. Montgomery appears to officially be a running back now and going forward. He can make a significant statement on a day like this, when the Pack will undoubtedly need to rely on the running game.
After a revelatory performance like the one against the Seahawks, the Packers are suddenly that dangerous team that nobody will want to face in the playoffs. Of course, they only have a 40% chance of getting there, thanks to their midseason swoon. That win over Seattle will mean very little if they can't follow up with a win against the 3-10 Bears. I think this one will be tough, closely contested and a bit dangerous.
The conditions should take away the home field advantage and there will likely be many more Packer fans in attendance than usual. That works to the Pack's favor as does the significant edge at QB, even with the injuries to A Rodge. He said he expected the Pack to run the table and they're halfway there. I'm inclined to believe him at this point.
Packers 20. Bears 14