Last year was a tale of two regular seasons for these NFC North foes. The Packers stormed through the league on their way to a 15-1 record. The Bears looked like a sleeper Super Bowl contender before an injury ended quarterback Jay Cutler’s season, turning a 7-3 start to an 8-8 final record. A year later, Chicago’s back to looking like an early Super Bowl contender, while the Packers are coming off a somewhat-surprising Week 1 loss to the 49ers. Let’s dig a little and see what we have in store for Thursday Night Football in Week 2.
Other teams may have been satisfied running back a 2011 roster that looked well on their way to the playoffs before an injury to the QB1. Would you have blamed them? Any team that loses its starting QB can generally call it a season, and the Bears’ collapse was particularly brutal, as Caleb Hanie exhibited none of the intrigue of the 2010 playoffs en route to the team dropping five straight games after the injury, four of which Hanie started.
Not only did the Bears not bother standing pat, they went all in with a quartet of upgrades at backup quarterback, running back and both wide receiver spots. No matter how the season pans out, you can’t say they didn’t tried.
Cutler picked right up where he left off in 2011 last week against the Colts, shaking off an early INT return TD by the Colts to put together four scoring drives in the first half (three TDs and a FG). The interception was his only major mistake on a day where he completed 21 of 35 passes (60 percent on the nose) for 333 yards and two TDs. Cutler has the ability and the supporting cast (more below) to elevate to surefire top-10 QB on a weekly basis, so if you feel a little weak at the position, I’d make a run at him now before his owner sees it too. The Bears imported Jason Campbell to back Cutler up, and with his solid pedigree, he’d be an immediate add if something were to happen to Cutler again. Owners in deeper leagues should consider rostering Campbell for the entire season if Cutler is the fantasy team’s QB1. Start him against Green Bay — the game could turn into a shootout very quickly.
Last season, Cutler was stuck throwing to Johnny Knox, Roy Williams and Dane Sanzenbacher at wideout. After Matt Forte’s team-leading 52 receptions, those were the Bears’ top-three pass catchers last year, with Knox and Williams splitting the lead with 37 catches. It was clearly a position of weakness, and the Bears went out and made two upgrade, one of which was pretty massive, to help Cutler out.
Brandon Marshall has somewhat of a history of excellence with Cutler from their Denver days. After putting up solid fantasy seasons in Miami despite weak surrounding talent, Marshall gets to enjoy a more developed Cutler in 2012. They clicked immediately in Week 1, with Marshall catching nine of his 16 targets for 119 yards and a TD. Even taking into account the low quality of the opposition last week, it’s hard not to imagine Marshall having a huge season and posting WR1 numbers.
The other WR import comes from the draft, as the Bears spent the 45th overall pick to lock up South Carolina’s Alshon Jeffrey. Early returns on Jeffrey this offseason said that he was pretty raw and may take a little time to make an impact. However, the rookie enjoyed an excellent debut, catching three passes for 80 yards and a garbage-time 42-yard TD that still counts for six on the fantasy scoreboard. Owners rushed off to grab Kevin Ogletree and Stephen Hill off the waiver wire this week, but don’t forget about Jeffrey, as he should see single coverage 100 percent of the time with the team surrounding him and appears to have some big-play ability. Owners in PPR leagues will have far less use for him than those in standard leagues. He’s worth a look on Thursday only if you’re dealing with injuries and suspensions at the position.
The final key piece of the Bears’ offseason plan is Michael Bush, a running back brought in to keep Matt Forte fresh and save him from the pounding of inside runs near the goal line. While Forte’s fantasy owners hate the reduced looks at the goal line, Sunday proved that both backs can reach the end zone on a given day, as Forte finished with an excellent 18-point line of 120 yards and a TD while Bush managed two TDs on his 42 yards from 12 carries. Both were owned in all leagues heading into the week, so there’s not much action you need to take at this point. With the 49er running game slicing up Green Bay in Week 1, I’d say both are safe starts on Thursday.
Green Bay Packers
A 49ers/Packers matchup was the highlight of the week heading into the weekend of football, but the 49ers surprisingly looked in a different class than the Packers, taking a 23-7 lead into the fourth quarter of a game that had a respectable final score only thanks to a punt return TD. While Aaron Rodgers gave about what you expect from him (30 completions, 303 yards, two TDs, one INT), the lack of a running game doomed the Packers in this one.
Cedric Benson picked up a little preseason buzz after signing with the Packers and after James Starks fell completely off the radar, but with a shortened offseason thanks to his late signing and with a matchup against one of the toughest defenses in the league hands down, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that Benson could only rack up 18 yards on nine carries. The Packers kept a gimpy Alex Green active, but he didn’t even play one snap.
That’s because the third-down back for the Packers was, shockingly, wide receiver Randall Cobb. He played nearly 40 percent of his snaps lined up in the backfield for the Packers, leading to him catching all nine of his targets for 77 yards (with his punt-return TD thrown in for good measure). It’s still too early to say if Cobb-at-RB is a long-term strategy the Packers will employ this season or whether he’ll head back to WR exclusively when the RBs are healthy, but he definitely did enough Sunday against a great defense that he should be plucked off all waiver wires by this point. With such a short turnaround time for Thursday’s game, I’d expect more of the same for Cobb’s role this week. Feel safe using him in all leagues.
Benson feels like a stay-away unless you’re desperate. Donald Brown’s Week 1 line of nine carries, 48 yards and a TD (with no receptions) is about as much as you can possibly expect from Benson, and the final line could be far worse (see: Week 1).
Moving on to receivers that actually stayed at the receiver position, Greg Jennings came out of Sunday’s action with a groin injury after catching just five passes for 34 yards. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him inactive on Thursday, especially with the depth the Packers have at receiver. He didn’t practice Monday or Tuesday, and he would need to hit the field today to even be a candidate to suit up, I would think. You’re best avoiding him.
That means Thursday could be the James Jones and Jordy Nelson show at receiver. Jones caught a 10-yard TD late in the fourth quarter to give him a nice 4-81-1 line on the day, while Nelson managed 64 yards on five catches. You’re playing Nelson in Week 2 regardless, but Jones could be in for a huge fantasy day based on two factors: the availability of Jennings and Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman, the latter of whom is nursing a leg injury. If both players are deemed inactive, scoop Jones off the FA list and stick him into your lineup. Otherwise, he’s a little dicey but may be worth starting depending on your other options.
As far as fantasy defenses go, I would try to use neither this week. The over/under is at 51, so Vegas is expecting a lot of points. There are potentially two top-tier QBs starting this game, and neither defense has much time to gameplan for its opposition in this shortened week. I have the Bears defense in several leagues, and I’ll be looking for a Week 2 replacement on Wednesday after waivers clear.
R.J. White is the head editor at the Cafe and contributes to CBSSports.com's MLB Rumors blog. He has previously written for FanHouse, Razzball and FanDuel. Catch up with him in the forums under the name daullaz. Follow him on Twitter; don't follow him in real life.
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