By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — It’s going to be important for the Bears to open their season with two straight home wins. But as much as the win would mean to the Bears, a loss for the Vikings would put more than a crimp in their season with an 0-2 start.
Few teams have the wherewithal to make the playoffs after dropping the first two games of the season, but the Vikings are not the only NFC North team that could find themselves in that position Sunday.
The Packers played with plenty of heart in their opener against the San Francisco 49ers, but they lost that game and come home to face the determined Washington Redskins.
A loss in that game would leave the Packers in that same nasty 0-2 hole. Unlike Minnesota’s shaky Christian Ponder, Aaron Rodgers has the skills to lead his team out of that kind of hole, but it’s still a scenario the Packers will want to avoid when Robert Griffin III comes to Lambeau Field.
The Packers have plenty of issues in this game. They are deficient when it comes to playing against a mobile quarterback. Colin Kaepernick torched them in the season-ending playoff loss last year and the season opener last week (412 passing yards), and now they face the combination of RGIII and power running back Alfred Morris.
RGIII sat out throughout the preseason and was nothing close to his best in the Redskins’ season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Redskins could not seem to find their offensive flow during the first half and by the time they were able to get it going in the second half, the game was nearly out of hand.
What makes this game dangerous for the Packers is that RGIII was much better in the second half and that improvement nearly always follows in the second game of the season.
When you are coming back from ACL surgery, you are not going to come back at top speed right away. The Redskins did not play RGIII during the preseason because they wanted to protect him. Head coach Mike Shanahan decided there was no point in risking his top asset in a meaningless preseason game, so he didn’t join the battle.
There’s little to argue about, but no young quarterback is going to be at his best without any prep time. RGIII got his feet wet last week and he’s going to be a lot sharper in Week Two.
The Packers’ defense has plenty of issues coming into this game. Defensive backs Morgan Burnett and Jarrett Bush are both nursing hamstring injuries, and that’s not a good thing if you are chasing a mobile quarterback. Linebacker Nick Perry (neck) is questionable, and even if he can play, he will be limited.
That puts an even bigger burden on Clay Matthews, who was fined $15,000 for his late hit on Kaepernick last week. It’s not the money that will be a big deal for Matthews, it’s the scrutiny that he will get from officials. When a player gets a reputation for late hits, it can have a chilling effect on the way he plays the game.
That may not be likely with Matthews, but he will have to be watched by the coaching staff early in the game. If there’s any sign that he is not flying around the field, head coach Mike McCarthy and defensive coordinator Dom Capers are going to have to get in his ear quickly.
RGIII has a decent receivers in Pierre Garcon, Santana Moss and Leonard Hankerson. While Moss is capable of a big play, they are not gamebreakers. But if the Packers can’t pressure RGIII and he is allowed to get comfortable in the pocket, this game could turn out to be a back-and-forth scorefest.
The longer the Redskins stay in this game, the more the game tilts in their favor. More than anything, RGIII was feeling his way in his first game back last week. If he can get started early and the Packers don’t pressure him, he could quickly get back to the form that made him a sensation in 2012 with 3,200 passing yards, 20 TD passes and 815 rushing yards.
The Packers can’t afford to lose their home opener and fall to 0-2, especially with a tough road game against Cincinnati coming up in Week Three.
They are under pressure to get off to a fast start defensively and keep RGIII in check. If they don’t, the Vikings may not be the only team in the division that starts 0-2.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.