Romilly Evans previews Thursday night's big game and fancies the home side to run out comfortable winners...
"Matt Forte sounds like Lady Gaga accusing others of being an exhibitionist"
This year's extended schedule for Thursday continues with the renewal of the league's most-contested rivalry, as the Green Bay Packers take on the Chicago Bears for the 185th time.
Of course, in Week 2, the recent history of their current campaign is somewhat less conclusive. While the Bears opened strongly, giving rookie Indianapolis quarter-back Andrew Luck a baptism of fire, the Pack were slow to wake from their seasonal slumber and botched a late rally against San Francisco.
Green Bay will be desperate to get their divisional defence back on track at home against their main NFC North competitors. Talismanic Aaron Rodgers can pick apart any defense with his laser-accurate delivery, but has never looked entirely comfortable against the patented Bears rush which challenges him to make quick decisions across fewer avenues.
The 49ers also managed to stifle Rodgers's offense for much of last Sunday before a fourth-quarter TD connection to James Jones set up a thrilling finale. Yet, this is a QB who seldom makes the same mistake twice and he will be keen to come out of the blocks swiftly in the small hours of Friday morning, with or without Greg Jennings. The star wide receiver pulled his groin and missed Tuesday training so his status remains unknown.
Either way, the jury is in on the Packers offense: they're one of the most potent. However, the jury is out on Green Bay's new defensive signings, which constituted their first six draft picks in the latest draft. After last season's anticlimax, predicated on some porous plays by their secondary, it was clear that coach Mike McCarthy had to shore things up to bolster their tag as Super Bowl favourites.
Nevertheless, his new-look defense seemed to be suffering from an old hangover in San Francisco, conceding a whopping 377 yards to the 49ers, who aren't exactly the free-rolling types. That said, those new acquisitions will have greatly benefitted from that opportunity to gel in a gameday scenario, and they did at least manage to bring some pressure with four sacks. Expect them to solidify their credentials rather than regress.
All of which spells bad news for Chicago's offensive lynchpin, Jay Cutler, who actually took many of the Week 1 plaudits. Cutler threw for 333 yards and two touchdowns and turned back the clock with his old flame, Brandon Marshall, who secured nine catches for 119 yards. Couple that to a big performance from Matt Forte, and one might opine that the Bears have grounds for optimism. Only trouble was: these numbers came against the woeful Colts. Marshall certainly wasn't getting carried away. "We're trying to build a new thing here in Chicago," said the wide receiver. "But it's going to take time and a lot of hard work."
Forte, on the other hand, could prove the very personification of that hard work. Despite a glistening new contract, a touchdown, 80 yards and rave reviews, the running-back still wasn't content - moaning that the glory plays are reserved for others. He sounds like Lady Gaga accusing others of being an exhibitionist. The pursuit of happiness is a difficult journey for anyone but Forte appears to take it to the level of a martial art. His constant bleatings have yet to affect performance but they're clearly unsettling his teammates.
Factoring in all of the above, the standard Vegas Line of a six-point concession to Chicago looks inadequate. Rodgers can guide his team home with room to spare and delight the Lambeau Field faithful. As for Total Points, play the Unders at 51. Green Bay's defense should form a more cohesive unit this week, while discretion will be the better part of valour for their offense as the clock winds down in the fourth.