Kickoff is roughly an hour away from Lambeau Field, so here’s a quick rundown on what matters most heading into the first Packers-Bears showdown of 2013:
NFC North race
The NFC North will look one of two ways after tonight’s game, and those two ways are quite different.
If the Packers win, Green Bay would remain atop the division at 6-2, one game ahead of Detroit (5-3) and two ahead of Chicago, who would fall to 4-4.
If the Bears win, all three contenders would be tied for first place at the season’s halfway point, at 5-3.
WR, others return
Packers WR James Jones returns to the field tonight following a two-game absence due to a knee injury. Also returning to action after missing recent games are TE Ryan Taylor and LB Brad Jones.
In the passing game, the Packers are now one step closer to being back at full strength, but WR Randall Cobb and TE Jermichael Finley remain sidelined.
At LB, Jones’ return is an interesting development, given how well his replacement, Jamari Lattimore, has played the past three weeks. With Jones, Lattimore and A.J. Hawk all healthy, it will be worth watching which inside LBs are playing in which defensive packages.
Taylor’s return could prove helpful on special teams, where he’s a leader on the coverage units. Without Taylor the past two games, the Packers have allowed three long kickoff returns, of 56 and 86 yards to Cleveland, and of 109 yards for a TD to Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson. Keep in mind also that the last game Taylor played, in Baltimore, he blocked a punt.
With Brian Urlacher retired and Lance Briggs injured, the Bears are turning to two rookies in their linebacker corps. Jon Bostick is the second replacement this year for Urlacher following D.J. Williams’ season-ending injury, while Khaseem Greene is filling in for Briggs.
It’s been a long time since the Packers faced a Bears team that had neither Urlacher nor Briggs on the field (to see exactly how long, click here).
The Bears are also starting veteran Josh McCown at quarterback in place of the injured Jay Cutler. McCown started for the Bears against the Packers back on Christmas night in 2011.
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