The Chicago Bears have lost three of four games since starting 3-0, and neither Jay Cutler nor Lance Briggs—two leaders on their respective side of the football—will be suiting up for Monday night's meeting with the Green Bay Packers.
Knowing those two factors, it's probably no surprise that oddsmakers have made the division-leading Packers an 11-point favorite over their long-standing rivals in Week 9. The Bears are beat up and sinking, while Green Bay has won four in a row to claim first place in the NFC North.
Few have provided Chicago any chance of going into Lambeau Field and leaving with an upset win.
Some don't even believe the game will be close.
One AFC personnel director told Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he expects a 34-10 Packers win.
"I'm not sure how Chicago will score without Jay Cutler, and I'm not sure how Chicago will keep Green Bay from scoring without Lance Briggs and some others," the director said. "This could get ugly in Lambeau."
According to McGinn, the Packers have been favored over the Bears by 10 or more points seven times since 1968. Green Bay won all seven of those games and covered the spread in three. One has to go back 45 years to find the last time Chicago beat big odds against the Packers.
Back in '68, Gale Sayers ran for 205 yards in a 13-10 win for Chicago. The Bears will need a much different game plan to pull off the upset in Green Bay on Monday night.
Josh McCown Can't Be Under Constant Pressure
Re-watch any of the last six games in this rivalry—all won by the Packers—and one factor continually stands out: pressure on the Bears quarterback. Cutler was especially prone to mistakes when pressured, with his seven-sack, four-interception game at Lambeau Field last September representing the low point for Chicago recently.
The Packers will be without Clay Matthews (thumb) and Nick Perry (foot) Monday night, but 11 sacks over the last three games show this defense can still pressure the quarterback. Green Bay is creative in its blitz calls, and nickel sub-packages have featured inside disruption from the likes of Mike Daniels (four sacks) and A.J. Hawk.
Once again, pass protection will be paramount for the Chicago offense. Remember, this offensive line has allowed the second-fewest sacks in the NFL. If the Bears can keep Josh McCown upright and comfortable, the veteran can continue the type of efficiency throwing the football he showed in Washington.
Ride Matt Forte
This may seem counter-intuitive, as the Packers have the fourth-best run defense in football this season. Other running backs such as Frank Gore, Ray Rice, Reggie Bush and Adrian Peterson have all tried and failed to get going against Green Bay.
Still, the Bears can't afford to get one-dimensional on offense with McCown at quarterback, and there's always other ways Chicago can keep a rare talent like Forte in the game.
Screens, wheel routes and dump-offs are all ways to incorporate Forte into the offense if traditional runs aren't working. The Bears just need to make sure the ball stays in his hands on a consistent basis Monday night. Far too many teams (see: Detroit, Baltimore, Minnesota) have abandoned the run game against the Packers, which feeds right into what they want to do on defense.
Make Good on Field Position
OK, so this might be more about special teams than offense. But the general point here still applies.
The Packers have been gashed on special teams in recent weeks, allowing at least one 38-plus-yard return on either a kick or punt in three straight games. The Bears still have that Devin Hester guy, who the record books show is a pretty good returner.
Given Green Bay's recent struggles, it's reasonable to expect Hester to give the Bears good field position on at least one or two drives. The offense, if given a short field, needs to capitalize with points. Sometimes the easiest way for an underdog to get rolling is via a big special teams play.
Julius Peppers Must Be a Factor
Peppers is 33 years old, but age shouldn't excuse his drastic dropoff in production this season. In far too many games, the defensive end has been a complete non-factor (five of seven starts with one or fewer tackles). And overall, Peppers has just one sack for a defense that is last in the NFL in the stat.
The Bears can't afford for him to be a ghost Monday night. This is a defense that is beat up in the front seven, leaving Peppers as the lone member capable of taking over a game like this. He'll need to pick up the slack for Briggs and Henry Melton up front.
In all likelihood, Chicago probably can't leave Green Bay with a win without Peppers dominating rookie left tackle David Bakhtiari. Monday night needs to be Peppers' finest performance of the 2013 season.
The Bears Need Takeaways
Chicago is currently on pace to allow more points and yards than any defense in team history. The Bears have been around a long time, so that tells you just how poorly this unit has played in 2013.
The one saving grace has been takeaways, of which Chicago has 18 this season. Only four NFC teams have more, but the Bears need to add to that total against the Packers. Green Bay has been very effective and efficient on offense despite a litany of injuries, and the Bears aren't playing well enough on defense to think Green Bay can be kept off the scoreboard by consistently making stops.
The Packers are averaging three giveaways in their two losses this season. If the Bears can get two or three in this matchup, the game might suddenly tilt Chicago's way.
Mistakes from Rookies, Safeties Have to Be Minimized
Facing Aaron Rodgers and the third-best running game in football would be difficult enough with a defense that is healthy and getting good play at safety. However, Chicago will enter this game with two rookies starting at linebacker and Chris Conte and Major Wright, one of the worst safety duos in football, still starting.
It's a dangerous combination against the Packers, who can pound the football between the tackles with Eddie Lacy and take vertical shots with Jordy Nelson. The Bears must find a way to minimize the mistakes from Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene at linebacker and somehow get Wright and Conte to play more disciplined at the back end.
If the rookies run into some first-year troubles and the safeties can't compensate in the passing game, the Packers could go wild on offense. Both positional groups need to play above expectations.