It's here. One game with a berth in the Super Bowl at stake. The Packers meet the Chicago Bears Sunday at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship game, the NFL's oldest rivals playing to reach the greatest stage in American sports. Before a breakdown of the game and matchups, some end of week football news. The team declared Frank Zombo out with a knee injury today, the only Packer unable to go. The rest of the final injury report had two additions but neither is believed to be serious. A.J. Hawk is probable with a bruised knee and Erik Walden is probable with a shoulder injury. Only one player has been deemed questionable, Jason Spitz who did not practice on Friday. The rest of the players on the list are all probable for Sunday, Diyrall Briggs, Chad Clifton, Cullen Jenkins, John Kuhn, Patrick Lee, Clay Matthews, Ryan Pickett and Charles Woodson.
Considering the Packers managed only three touchdowns in two meetings while the Bears offense was able to produce but one, it's a pretty safe bet the two defenses will rule the day once more. Both have their strengths. Chicago chokes off the run and rallies to ball that is more often than not, thrown underneath their 2 shell or three shell secondary. The pass rush with Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije can get home without blitzes and the Bears have made a living on stripping out fumbles or forcing mistakes. They dare teams to drive 80 yards in 10 plays for points but the Packers led the league this year in scoring posessions that lasted more than five minutes. Aaron Rodgers has been patient enough to find safe targets in the pocket, or move outside to keep plays alive. Any semblance of a running game will help keep the Packer offense in rythym.
Green Bay's defense must neutralize Matt Forte. He's the most consistent producer on Chicago's offense and has run very well of late. If Green Bay gets favorable down and distance situations on second or third down, coordinator Dom Capers will start dialing up the exotic blitz packages that brought Matt Ryan down five times last week, and Jay Cutler down 6 times in the regular season finale. The Pack's coverage team can handle the Chicago wide receiving corps, Sam Shields included. Forcing Cutler to beat the Packers is an attainable goal. The linebackers must be wary of Greg Olsen who caught three huge passes last week including a 58 yard touchdown on the game's third snap that got the Bears rolling.
The special teams is all about Devin Hester, kick it where he can't run with it and close down any alley quickly if he does run with it. Mason Crosby has had a hard time in Soldier Field, just four of 8 field goal tries have gone through and he's had one blocked in each of the past two games there. This remains the most concerning area of the team that must hold its own.
I like the Packers to win, for a couple of reasons. First, they've competed awfully well on the road against a pair of division winners and higher seeds already. The Bears will see a serious jump in the level of competition from Seattle to Green Bay. Which quarterback is more apt to make the big turnover mistake? My money's on Cutler, sacked 50 times, picked three times by the Packers in two games and don't forget about the two interceptions he threw wiped out by penalty back in September that would have clinched the win. Great rivals, great stakes, great story, Packers 17, Bears 13.
Here's a roundup of quotes from the locker room in advance of the NFC final.