I was a bit worried when, after a Week 5 loss, the Green Bay Packers fell to a stunning third place in their division with a 2-3 record. The Chicago Bears were 4-1, as were the Minnesota Vikings. The world felt a little upside down.
The Bears have continued to streak to a 7-2 record on the shoulders of their defense. The Vikings have hit bumps in the road, but remain viable at a surprising 6-4. The Detroit Lions have their back against the wall at 4-5 and will be playing for their playoff lives when the Packers come to Ford Field on Sunday.
A Packers win, coupled with a Chicago loss on Monday night, would put Green Bay at the top of the division. Both teams would be 7-3 and the Packers have the tiebreaker after skunking the Bears in Week 2. Chicago has a tall order in going to the West Coast to take on the 6-2-1 San Francisco 49ers without Jay Cutler.
Jason Campbell is a serviceable backup, but there’s a reason he’s not a starter in the NFL. The Bears should feel good with Campbell as a placeholder – anyone’s an upgrade over last year’s backup Caleb Hanie – but if Cutler’s concussion keeps him out for more than a week, things could unravel fast for the team.
Campbell will be facing one of the toughest defenses in the league. San Fran is ranked 5th in the NFL in pass defense and 6th in rush defense. To stay competitive in the game, Chicago’s 4th-ranked run defense will have to shut down the 49ers’ 1st-ranked run game, led by Frank Gore.
The Packers jump to the top of the division is by no means in the bag, however. Chicago has found ways to score on defense and special teams, taking pressure off the offense.
Green Bay will be playing in a hostile environment against a team that knows this is pretty much a must-win game if they want a chance to recover from their disappointing start. Still, the Packers have to like their odds. Check out Aaron Rodgers’ stats from his last eight games played in domes: he’s 7-1, with a completion rate of 71%, 25 touchdowns, 1 interception, and a passer rating of 127.9. That’s why he’s the reigning MVP.
On top of that, Detroit’s secondary, which wasn’t their strong suit to begin with, is seriously depleted with injuries. Safety Louis Delmas, who has been their strongest secondary player when he’s been on the field, is doubtful with a knee injury, while safety Amari Speivey is out with a concussion. The Lions have already lost one cornerback, Bill Bentley, for the season, and though Chris Houston is expected to play, he’s battling an ankle injury.
The Packers have good news on the injury front with receiver Jordy Nelson and fullback John Kuhn returning, but they will be without the studly Clay Matthews.
All in all, things look good for the Packers. The Lions will be a challenge, but with Green Bay’s offense and Detroit’s defensive struggles, the chances of the Packers regaining their rightful spot atop the division are high.