Jay Cutler looks on from under center while taking on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field on Jan. 23 in Chicago.
The Bears are playing the Packers Sunday, and there really doesn't need to be anything on the line for this game to be special. But there is plenty on the line, as the Bears will be facing the Packers for the third time in nine months. The last two games were losses that gave Green Bay the momentum they needed to win the Super Bowl. Every Bear who played a part in the NFC Championship loss still has a bitter taste in his mouth and wants revenge. Here's what you need to know heading into the game.
Can Jay stay upright? The Bears offensive line has been a question mark for years, but that question mark turned into an exclamation point against the Saints, as Cutler was planted again and again. Gabe Carimi, the rookie who showed promise in his first two games at tackle, will not be playing due to a knee injury. Will Frank Omiyale and J'Marcus Webb get the job done, or will we sit through another game wondering when, not if, Cutler will get injured?
Will the secondary give up big plays? The Saints touchdowns came on big plays, with the most notable coming in the first half as Devery Henderson burned Major Wright and Chris Conte for the score. Injuries have hampered the secondary. Chris Harris missed the last game, and Major Wright was knocked out of the game with a head injury. Though Harris is likely to start, Wright is not. The Bears promised a rotation of Brandon Merriweather and Craig Steltz to fill in for Wright, but they will have to play the game of their lives to get a step on Greg Jennings.
Which receiver will step up? Roy Williams has practiced most of the week and looks likely to return, but Earl Bennett will not as he is still suffering the effects of a chest injury. Johnny Knox and Devin Hester combined for three catches last Sunday. Three. The Bears have yet to figure out who their top receiver is, and that's because the available options all play as if they don't want the job. Someone needs to step up and make the big catches, because the Bears' best bet to score is the long routes with a Cutler bomb. Green Bay is too efficient in the red zone for Chicago to rely on short yardage gains.
Better balance for calling plays: Mike Martz justifiably came under fire for calling a ridiculous amount of passes, particularly in the second half when Cutler was getting nailed on nearly every play. He has taken blame for the lack of balance and promises things will change this Sunday, though he may be tempted by Green Bay's effective run defense. Actions speak louder than words, Mike. If the only play he knows how to call is "pass to Forte and hope he makes it to a first down," then the Bears need to start thinking about making a change.
Stopping Rodgers: Aaron Rodgers is one of, if not the best, quarterbacks in the league. Every statistic -- QB rating, yardage, touchdowns -- backs that up. The Bears front four -- Julius Peppers in particular -- has to keep Rodgers on the run.
Can the defense create turnovers? It's a Bears' tradition: When the offense is in state of flux, the defense steps up to create short fields and even score. That tradition really needs to continue Sunday. A Harris interception, Tillman forced fumble or Briggs pass deflection could be exactly what the Bears need to win.
Kickoffs are key: One of the Bears' biggest failings on Sunday was in special teams, an area that Chicago normally thrives in. Hester and Knox need to step up here, and the Bears have to stop Randall Cobb, who has averaged 45.8 yards per return in the young season.
Tidbits: The Bears will wear their orange jerseys on Sunday. ... If you don't yet have tickets, be prepared to pay a pretty penny. StubHub reports that the Bears/Packers game is the biggest-selling game on the secondary-ticket market this week. ... Recently-enshrined Hall of Famer Richard Dent will receive his Hall of Fame ring at Sunday's game. ... This will be the 183rd meeting of Green Bay and Chicago. The Bears hold the edge 92-84-6.