For me, it comes down to the play of five guys that will determine whether the Packers claim the Halas Trophy and move on to the Super Bowl.
You'll notice that none of them are defensive players. I feel pretty good about this unit. They contained Cutler very well over the past two seasons, holding him to a passer rating of 55.8, with four TDs and nine picks and are playing better than they have all season.
No, it's offensively and on special teams where the Pack needs to make plays and these are the five guys that will hold the keys to victory:
1. Aaron Rodgers: no shocker here. His play last Saturday opened up everyones' eyes and launched him officially into elite status. He's played at an unbelievably high level since returning from the concussion. Despite the talent on the Bears defensively, there's no reason to believe he won't shine on Sunday. He played well in the first game there and is solid in cold weather: 7-3 in games 30 degrees or colder, 303 yards/game, 25 TDs, 5 interceptions and a passer rating of 109.4.
2. Chad Clifton: After Ted Thompson rolled the dice and paid him handsomely to keep him from the clutches of Dan Snyder, Clifton's delivered with a Pro Bowl season. But he will have his hands full with Julius Peppers, who lives for moments like these and is playing at an All Pro level. The lousy playing surface may make it tougher for Rodgers to use his feet to his advantage, so he may have to do more work from the pocket. Clifton needs to keep Peppers away from Rodgers--much easier said than done.
3. James Starks: Once again, the surface is a concern here. He's never played on a field like this and it may take a few carries for him to get used to it. There was no way he was going to follow up the Eagles performance with another huge game, but I like the way he ran against the Falcons. He has a burst that no one else on the team has, and he has the ability, like Ahman Green did, of gaining a couple of yards when he's tackled. He will need at least 20 touches in this game if the Packers are moving the ball the way they want. It's tough to run on the Bears, but even three yards per carry should be enough to complement the passing attack. Ball security is an absolute must.
4. Mason Crosby: Chicago gets a big checkmark next to them in this matchup. Who would you rather have lining up a big field goal in the fourth quarter, Crosby or Robbie Gould? Crosby scares the daylights out of me on a field like this, in conditions like these. He will no doubt be called upon at some point to make a big kick Sunday. In the previous game at Soldier Field, Peppers blocked a field goal. Crosby needs to deliver in this game or the Pack may look elsewhere in 2011.
5. Tim Masthay: Yep, a guy who never put on his helmet in the last playoff game is one of the most crucial Packers this Sunday. The Packers will have to punt the ball a number of times this week and we all know who will be awaiting those punts. There's reason for hope that the Pack has improved since Devin Hester took one to the house against them in Week 3. And after a big special teams letdown in Atlanta, the units should be on guard. That's all well and good. The truth is, we will all be holding our breath every time Masthay punts one away. How he handles punting directionally and dealing with the wind might very well be the difference in the game.
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