November 05, 2014

Aaron Rodgers is a student of the Green Bay Packers' illustrious history, so he understands the significance of this Thanksgiving matchup with the rival Chicago Bears.

The first big part Thursday night will be the retirement of Brett Favre's jersey at historic Lambeau Field, and the second is that the Packers have a chance to even the all-time series in the NFL's oldest rivalry.

The Bears, however, are expected to have running back Matt Forte and receiver Alshon Jeffery back as they try to spoil Green Bay's festive mood in this NFC North matchup.

The Packers are bringing some closure to the career of Favre, who is their all-time leader in passing yards and touchdown passes, among several categories.

Rodgers served as Favre's backup in his first three seasons before Favre reluctantly departed and eventually caused bad feelings among Green Bay's faithful when he played two season with arch-rival Minnesota. Time has now healed those wounds, and Favre and Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr will be on the field for halftime ceremonies.

"It's great for the Packers," Rodgers said. "We won't see the halftime festivities but it'll be a great day for all Packer fans."

Rodgers' focus will be on helping the Packers (7-3) maintain at least a share of the North lead through the weekend after he guided them to a 30-13 victory at Minnesota on Sunday that ended a three-game slide and forged a first-place tie with the Vikings.

It's not lost on the reigning league MVP that the Bears lead the series 93-92-6.

"It means we're tied up, right?" Rodgers said. "That'd be pretty sweet, it's a long history."

That history hasn't been kind to Jay Cutler, who is 1-11 with Chicago against Green Bay - including one playoff defeat - and has three touchdown passes against 12 interceptions while being sacked 18 times in going 0-4 at Lambeau.

Cutler, enjoying a season in which he has produced a career-best 92.7 passer rating, isn't putting any extra emphasis on this contest.

"I know it would mean a lot to the city of Chicago, it would mean a lot to this locker room, but we play 16 games, every opponent is important to us," Cutler said. "I don't think we're in a situation right now where we can pick and choose who we want to win and who we wanna lose to."

It appears likely he will have two major weapons back in Forte and Jeffery.

Forte has missed the past three games because of a knee injury, though the five-time 1,000-yard rusher indicated Tuesday that he'll return.

"I'm excited just to get back out there," he said. "Not really a lot of fun watching the games and doing all that and not be able to help your team win, so I'm not really used to doing that. But it's going to be fun to get back out there on the field and help us out. Just looking forward to being out there."

Jeffery has been limited to five games due to various injuries and sat out Sunday's 17-15 home defeat to Denver with groin and shoulder injuries. The receiver, who has posted three 100-yard efforts, is also expected back.

Chicago (4-6) has only played twice with Forte and Jeffery both starting. Only Forte started the Sept. 13 opener in Chicago, rushing for a season-high 141 yards in a 31-23 loss to Green Bay in which Rodgers threw for three scores.

"Obviously that was the first week of the season so a lot has changed since then," Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said.

Forte averaged 67.8 yards in his next six games. Jeremy Langford has amassed 170 rushing yards in the last three games in his place.

The Packers' only blemish over the last 11 matchups came when Rodgers was injured in the first quarter and did not return in a 27-20 loss Nov. 4, 2013. That marked the only home game Rodgers lost during a 23-game stretch in the regular season before an 18-16 defeat against Detroit in the most recent game at Lambeau on Nov. 15.

Green Bay may not need to count on its passing attack since Chicago has the league's eighth-worst rushing defense, allowing 123.7 yards per game. The Bears gave up a season-high 170 to the Broncos.

"We struggled a little bit this last week against Denver versus the run, so I'm sure we'll get a dose of it on Thursday," coach John Fox said.

Eddie Lacy returned from a one-game absence with a groin injury and had a season-best 100 yards on 22 carries. James Starks has started the last two games at running back.

Rodgers is third in the NFL with 23 touchdown passes, and his three interceptions match Kansas City's Alex Smith for fewest among quarterbacks who have started every game.

"Nothing better than being at home on Thanksgiving I think, night game, Favre's going to get his number retired," Rodgers said. "It's going to be a special night."

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