1) Can the Packers overcome all of their injuries?
It won’t be easy – even against the winless and touchdown-less Bengals. I hate using injuries as an excuse, but sometimes injuries are an excuse. The Packers figure to be without six starters (left tackle David Bakhtiari, wide receiver Randall Cobb, defensive lineman Mike Daniels, corner Davon House, outside linebacker NIck Perry and inside linebacker Jake Ryan) and a key backup (safety Kentrell Brice). That’s a lot of talent. Fortunately, the injuries are spread out and aren’t decimating a single position. Of course, that could change if right tackle Bryan Bulaga and/or wide receiver Jordy Nelson don’t play. Both veterans are listed as questionable.
2) Is this the week Josh Hawkins gets a chance to play?
The injury to House makes this a possibility, but I’m still not holding my breath. Second-round pick Kevin King, who played well against the Falcons, will likely move into the starting lineup. My guess is that both Damarious Randall and Quinten Rollins will stay ahead of Hawkins in the pecking order – at least to begin the game. But if the two third-year players continue to struggle – they gave up 10 completions for 130 yards a week ago – Dom Capers may have no choice but to turn to his most athletic corner. Hawkins is still raw, but as this video from last season shows, he possesses fluid hips and an impressive closing burst:
3) Can the defense slow down All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green?
With star tight end Tyler Eifert out with an injury, the Bengals have one legitimate weapon in the passing game, and as great as Green is, any defense should be able to control a single player. Capers needs to double Green all over the field and hope his other defensive backs can handle the likes of Brandon LaFell, Tyler Boyd and Cody Core. ESPN analyst stooge Tedy Bruschi predicted Green would have over 200 yards against the Packers. Considering how badly quarterback Andy Dalton is struggling and how little talent the Bengals have at tight end and wide receiver, that seems highly unlikely – even with Capers calling the shots.
4) Will the high-powered Green Bay offense come to life?
I heard many people predict the offense would be unstoppable, but the Packers have scored only 42 points in two games, and a third came in garbage time vs. Atlanta. And while the Bengals have a solid defense, it’s time for Aaron Rodgers & Co. to get things rolling. Based on Cobb being out and matchups, look for Nelson – assuming he plays – to spend a lot of time in the slot. He should find success there. It’s also important to get the run game going. Ty Montgomery is averaging only 3.1 yards per carry, but that’s more on the line. If the Packers can control nose tackle Geno Atkins, there should plenty of holes between the tackles.
The pick: The Bengals will come to Lambeau Field a well-rested and desperate team. That’s always a dangerous combination, especially with the Packers missing so many key players. Plus, Capers has no clue what to expect from Cincinnati’s new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor (I probably could’ve ended that sentence after the first five words).
I don’t expect this to be a cakewalk, but I also don’t expect the Packers to lose at home as long as Nelson and especially Bulaga play. And while it’s still September, a 1-2 start would likely end any realistic hope of earning a top-2 seed in the NFC and the bye that goes with it. Winning twice in the next 11 days is essential and step 1 is this afternoon. GREEN BAY 31-22 (*Season record: 1-1)