The only game on Christmas Day is an ancient rivalry as well as a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship and a close Week 3 battle. This game could have been a lot more interesting had Jay Cutler and Matt Forte not been injured earlier in the year, but the Chicago Bears, who are still fighting to keep their slim postseason hopes alive, will have to go on without them. In the midst of a four game losing streak, they are coming off a 38-14 home loss to the Seattle Seahawks, who they beat there last January in a playoff game.
The Green Bay Packers are coming off a much more shocking loss to the Kyle Orton-led Kansas City Chiefs, their first loss of the season. The injuries the defending champs have endured haven’t been as devastating as the Bears’ injuries (starting QB and starting RB), but they have made QB Aaron Rodgers’ health going forward a concern; they lost two right tackles just last week, are currently on a backup left tackle, and Rodgers suffered two concussions last season. So neither squad is anywhere near 100% healthy.
Fortunately for the viewers, the Packers loss last week means they still have to win to secure the #1 NFC Playoff spot, so they won’t be able to rest their starters in this Sunday Night Football game unless the score gets out of hand. Which of course is a real possibility.
Julius Peppers vs. Marshal Newhouse
Despite the four game losing streak, Julius Peppers continues to prove his worth, grading green overall in all of those games, including recording four sacks. In fact, Peppers only truly bad game (-2.2) was against these divisional rivals, where he did get a sack and a pressure, if little else, including no stops. Peppers, who more often than not lines up at DRE, will likely have a better opportunity against rookie Marshal Newhouse than he did against veteran Chad Clifton, who has been out with injury for most of the year.
Newhouse has not usually been a liability, with his +2.3 performance against the Lions (and Kyle Vanden Bosch in particular) on Thanksgiving being his best, and his -12.4 grade against the Giants being by far his worst. While last week’s performance wasn’t anywhere near as bad as that matchup with Jason Pierre-Paul (who may still be haunting Newhouse in his dreams) was, he was still the weakest link by a significant margin with Tamba Hali beating him for a sack and five pressures. If the 13 point underdogs do indeed pull off the upset, Peppers taking advantage of an obvious weakness on the Packer’s offensive line will likely play a prominent role.
With a nice rookie outing in 2009 (+8.5 receiving grade) and a solid start to 2010 (+5.5 in 212 snaps) before getting injured, many believed this was the year for Jermichael Finley to join that upper echelon of tight ends. Well, that hasn’t happened: his run-blocking is terrible (-7.3) and his 11 drops lead all tight ends in the NFL, including two last week (not to mention a few other passes that were in his vicinity). He’s also graded red overall in three of the last five games.
There’s reason to believe Finley can find redemption Sunday night against the Bears’ defense, mainly because they couldn’t cover him in the first game: Finley caught seven of eight passes thrown his way for 85 yards, including three TDs. He did this damage against both safeties and three different linebackers (including Brian Urlacher), proving just how difficult he is to cover when he brings his A game. With Greg Jennings still out with a knee injury though, the Bears may be able to put more focus on containing him this time around. He also had his only green-graded run-blocking performance in that game; with Rodgers’ pass protection a concern, his effort in helping the run game work may be more important than his work as a receiver.
As of Friday, it looks like Josh McCown will be starting instead of the 0-4 Caleb Hanie; while Hanie has been bad (-6.9 overall), McCown hasn’t started a game in four years. Whoever plays will have to face a Green Bay defense looking to prove that last week’s subpar performance – including just one QB hit, three pressures and no sacks – was an aberration. The Bears’ offensive line woes are highly documented, with LT J’Marcus Webb (-11.5 pass blocking) and RT Lance Louis (-15.2) being the worst. The two tackles will be matched up with Clay Matthews, who leads 3-4 OLBs with 20 QB hits, and Erik Walden, who’s 14 QB hits are fourth most among that group. A bright spot on the Bears’ O-Line lately though has been LG Edwin Williams, who has been perfect in pass protection the last two weeks against the Broncos and Seahawks. With his +1.1 overall pass protection grade thus far, he’s been the only bright spot actually, as all the other O-Lineman have graded negatively in terms of protecting their QB.