Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011
Posted: 10:23 p.m.
By John Mullin
Bears have battled Packers since theres been an NFL; 181 games, in fact. But few have approached the magnitude of the one set to play out next Sunday in Soldier Field at 2 p.m.
It will be a game in which two NFC North powers face off with decided strengths and advantages over the other.
In a special three-part series, CSNChicago.com takes a look at the Packers No. 1 advantage; the No. 1 factor favoring the Bears; and the critical third area is virtually a coin-toss as to who really has the edge in a dream matchup.
Quarterback: Aaron Rodgers over Jay Cutler
Aaron Rodgers directed the Green Bay offense to 45 points in his first playoff game, the 2009 loss to Arizona. He one-upped that Saturday with 48 points against the Atlanta Falcons, the No. 5 scoring defense in the NFL this season, and that was without Rodgers playing most of the fourth quarter.
Rodgers is starting on a course that could well surpass what Brett Favre did in Green Bay, which was winning one Super Bowl and losing a second.
Aaron Rodgers was on fire vs. Atlanta, said cornerback Charles Tillman. If Green Bay comes out and plays like they played against Atlanta, its going to be a tough day for us.
Better vs. Bears than Favre?
Two particularly ominous aspects of Rodgers stand out as far as the Bears and the NFC Championship are concerned:
Rodgers has shown himself to be better in the biggest games. He finished this season with a passer rating of 101.2, third in the NFL, then flew past that with a 122.5 against Philadelphia and 136.8 in the Atlanta game. His 2009 regular-season rating was 103.2. Against Arizona in his first playoff game, he threw four touchdown passes and finished with a 122.4 rating.
In his three career playoff games Rodgers has thrown 10 touchdown passes, one interception and nearly 73.3 percent completions.
And he is the anti-Favre with respect to Lovie Smith. For all of his Bear-killer mystique, Favre fattened his Bears record over Dave Wannstedt and Dick Jauron teams. But Favre was a combined 3-9 against the Smith Bears playing as a Packer, Jet and Viking.
Rodgers is 4-2 against the Smith Bears. He lost once in OT in 2008 and again in the opener this season, when his team was charged for 18 penalties.
After a six-sack pummeling in Green Bay with his offense scoring just three points, Jay Cutler re-grouped against the Seattle Seahawks and got the offense dialed up sufficiently for five touchdowns and 261 passing yards. And zero interceptions.
Awesome, said linebacker Brian Urlacher. Cutler played great. I dont think he had any turnovers or anything like that. He threw the ball when he had to, threw it away when he had to, ran it when he had to. Awesome, for his first playoff start.
Cutler has improved as a quarterback, still with perceived potential of near mythical proportions in his right arm. He had a solid performance against Green Bay in Game 3 (82.5 rating) but lapsed to a 43.5 mark in Game 16 when he threw zero TD passes, two interceptions and contributed to his being sacked six times.
More to the playoff point, while he guided the Bears past Seattle in his first NFL playoff game, Cutler has never developed the reputation as a big-game quarterback. Big-play QB, yes; big-game QB, no, extending back to his time with Denver.
Cutler did win his first playoff game, so thats one place hes ahead of Rodgers. There are not many others. He cut down dramatically on interceptions, from 26 last season to 16 (in 14-12 games) and his play improved perceptibly after the off week when Mike Martz was directed to have Cutler throw the ball less.
Cutler has the potential to produce an epic performance. Rodgers, however, has a growing history of them. Advantage: Green Bay.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information