Packers-Bears: 5 keys to victory

Before the kegs get tapped and the wings hit the deep fryer, here are five things to watch for during Sunday’s NFC Championship game in Chicago.

1. Green Bay must convert on third down

If the most explosive offense left in the playoffs wants a chance to hoist the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Dallas two weeks from today, they’ll have to come up big on third down. Through two playoff games, the Packers have converted a ridiculous 64% of their third down opportunities (16/25). To put into perspective how impressive that number truly is, keep in mind that the NFL’s best third down team in 2010 (New Orleans) moved the sticks just 48.8% of the time in 16 regular season games.

In their 12 wins this season (including the playoffs), Green Bay has converted 49.3% (75/152) of their third down opportunities. Not surprisingly, that number plummets to 37.6% (29/77) in the Packers’ six losses.

2. Matt Forte must have 15 or more touches

Matt ForteICONForte needs to get his touches.

The third-year running back out of Tulane concluded the regular season ranked 10th in the NFL in scrimmage yards (1,616) and tied for fifth in scrimmage yards per touch (5.6) among running backs with at least 100 carries. If the Bears want to get by their hated rivals Sunday at Soldier Field, Forte must have a featured role in the offensive gameplan.

Including last Sunday’s playoff win over Seattle, Chicago is 11-2 this season when Forte touches the ball 15 or more times in a game. However, when the dual-threat back is given the ball less than 15 times, the Bears’ record drops to an unimpressive 1-3.

3. The turnover battle

This one speaks for itself:

When Green Bay wins the turnover battle: 8-0

When Green Bay loses the turnover battle: 3-5

When Chicago wins the turnover battle: 7-0

When Chicago loses the turnover battle: 4-2

4. Green Bay must run the ball 26 or more times

Aaron RodgersICONRodgers is the star, but the Green Bay running game must be featured as well.

This won’t be easy considering the Bears ranked second in the NFL in run defense during the regular season (90.1 yds/gm), but keep in mind that Chicago went 2-4 in 2010 when opponents recorded 26 or more rushing attempts. The number “26” also holds some magic for the Pack as well, as Green Bay is currently 9-1 (including the postseason) when amassing 26 or more rushing attempts in a game.

Even if James Starks and Brandon Jackson are held to limited gains, the Packers have to pound the ball between the tackles repeatedly on Sunday. Otherwise, you can kiss the play action passing game goodbye.

5. Jay Cutler must post a QB rating of 100.0 or higher

This one isn’t a necessity for the Bears, as Cutler has won 13 games since his rookie year (2006) when recording a QB rating of less than 100.0. But keep in mind that in 69 career starts, the Chicago signal-caller is a staggering 22-0 when posting a passer rating of 100.0 or higher.

Defense seems to be the theme of the weekend, but the Bears mortgaged the farm to acquire Cutler’s services back in April of 2009.

It would be fitting if the former Bronco delivered on the biggest stage when the city of Chicago needs him the most.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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