Packers Clinch Division; Bears Left With More Questions than Answers

A few weeks ago I made the case that the Packers were “too legit to quit”. Admittedly it was a stretch at the time and a case of some serious wishful thinking. Well, Packers fans had their holiday wishes fulfilled in a wild week 17 match-up between the rival Packers and Bears at Soldier Field.

It was a game that had a bit of everything and then some. The refs were on the hook for some bad calls even with the opportunity to review and get it right, some very odd and improbable touchdowns and an emerging running game out of Green Bay that should concern opponents that will face them in the playoffs.  Before getting into the Packers, first let’s look at the Bears and what they left on the field.

There are as many as 30-35 quarterbacks in the NFL today that could start for the Chicago Bears and excel in the position. With Matt Forte in the backfield and quality receivers like Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, any Chicago quarterback is surrounded by enough talent to mask any level of mediocrity.  Jeffery and Marshall both turned the Green Bay secondary into turnstiles all night making ridiculous catches look easy. When they weren’t breaking free downfield, they were catching jump balls that the Packers defensive ends never had a chance of competing on. At times it just doesn’t look fair, given some of the size advantages that are tilted towards the Bears.  And combine that with Forte’s ability to move the ball, throw in a few turnovers from Green Bay, it is amazing that the Bears didn’t run away with this game. I’m not blaming Cutler for the loss, but looking back at the game, it just seemed inevitable that the Bears would secure the division on the backs of the talent that surrounds their quarterback.  It wasn’t to be.

On Green Bay’s side of the ball, Randall Cobb had a huge game in his return finding the end-zone twice.  Aaron Rodgers had two early interceptions and was on the hook for some bad passes in all four quarters.  From interceptions to incompletes, he regularly was throwing behind his receivers and missing the target. But when the game was on the line, trying to convert on a fourth down at the Bears 48 yard-line, McCarthey does what he always does and goes for it.  It amazes me how the Packers consistently catch teams off-guard with this. The team needs a few yards to pick up the first down and they lay it on the line by going for it, catching the defense unprepared and a wide-open Cobb showed it again.  He literally had to stop and wait for the underthrown pass and still had time to make it into the end zone for the score after making the reception.

For Chicago, an 8-8 season and another missed playoffs, they are left with more questions than they have answers.  I’m still left convinced that dismissing Lovie Smith after last season’s 10-6 finish missing the playoffs was enough for him to keep his job, regardless of how many years they had missed the playoffs.  With the talent they have on offense, the Bears are left with a decision to make what to do at the quarterback position. They’ll most likely invest long-term in Jay Cutler, it’s the most obvious and safest decision to make but few Bears fans will be lining up for a parade route any time soon with that news.  When you consider the New York Jets finished 8-8, the Miami Dolphins finished 8-8 and the New York Giants were 7-9, the Bears are too damn good to be in this company.

Now the Packers have done the unthinkable and managed to remain afloat in what proved to be a bad division and had their quarterback return in time to win the division. Next week they’ll host the San Francisco 49ers in a match-up that may not excite Packers fans, however it gives them a chance to redeem a week one loss to last year’s NFC champs.

And finally, in the spirit of getting ahead of themselves, Packers have certainly been drawing parallels to their Super Bowl winning season. That run started with a week 17 win in Chicago where they clinched a playoff appearance. They came in under the radar and embraced the underdog role. Wild card byes have done little to benefit this generation of Packers teams.  I won’t go as far to say or think the team currently could compete with Seattle or Carolina, but either of those teams are still a few weeks away. The Packers are a team that could make a bit of a run, getting healthy at the right time.

 

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