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'Monday Night Football': Five things to watch

Week 9 was a wild ride, but we're not out of the woods just yet.

Tonight's "Monday Night Football" tilt between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears is the slate's only meeting between a pair of teams with winning records -- and the NFC North implications are clear.

First-place Green Bay (5-2) holds a one-game lead over Chicago (4-3), but the Bears enter Lambeau without their No. 1 quarterback. A groin injury has sidelined Jay Cutler and propelled Josh McCown into the top spot against a Packers defense that's allowing just 276 yards per game during the team's four-game win streak, which is second best in the NFL during that stretch.

The Bears haven't beaten the Packers in five straight regular-season tries. Do they have a shot tonight?

Here's what we'll be watching for:

  1. We were encouraged by McCown's handiwork in relief of Cutler in Chicago's 45-41 loss to the Washington Redskins in Week 7. With the bye week to prepare, Bears coach Marc Trestman has vowed the game plan won't change with McCown at the controls. He's 13-20 as an NFL starter (1-1 with Bears) and averages just 37.4 fewer passing yards per game than Cutler. McCown is a career backup, but what we saw against the 'Skins suggests Trestman's quarterback whispering has helped more than just Jay.
  1. Expect the Bears to lean heavily on featured back Matt Forte. He's on pace for career highs in rushing touchdowns, receptions and receiving yards. Still, Forte hasn't had a 100-yard game all season and will face an ascendant Green Bay defense. After allowing 458 yards per game over the first two weeks of the season, the Packers gave up 314 yards from Weeks 3 to 6 before growing downright stingy over the past two games (229.5).
  1. That plays into Green Bay's offseason vows about playing more physical football, as does the emergence of rookie running back Eddie Lacy. On pace for 1,019 rushing yards, Lacy leads the league on the ground since Week 5 and became the first Packers runner with 80-plus rushing yards in four straight games since Ryan Grant in 2008. The more balanced offense has been a godsend for Aaron Rodgers, who rolls in with a 108 passer rating and 12 wins in his last 13 games inside the division. Rodgers has thrown an outrageous 31 touchdowns to just four picks against the NFC North during that stretch.
  1. Chris Wesseling pegged Jordy Nelson as the league's second-best wide receiver, and the tape backs it up. The Packers wideout makes sensational, eye-popping grabs on a weekly basis, and his 75 percent catch percentage is the second-highest among receivers who have at least 40 targets, per Pro Football Focus. Bears corners Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman never make it easy -- the latter has allowed 50-plus receiving yards to the Packers only once since 2008 -- but Chicago has been a disaster on defense in 2013. The Bears are on pace to allow the most points (29.4) and yards per game (391.0) in franchise history. Chicago isn't getting to the quarterback, either. Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin own a combined 1.5 sacks on the season.
  1. One player to watch: Bears receiver Alshon Jeffery. He comes in with the second-most receiving yards per game in the NFL since Week 4 (114.3), only behind Calvin Johnson. Jeffrey has been more effective of late than Brandon Marshall -- who's been dealing with a hip issue -- and Jeffery's performance on "Monday Night Football" looms as critical if Green Bay jumps out to a lead.

We recapped every one of Sunday's games in our Week 9 "Around The League Podcast."

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