GREEN BAY, Wis. — So many aspects of the NFL are changing. Defensive players are being penalized and fined for what only a couple years ago would have been considered clean and legal hits, rookie quarterbacks are transitioning seamlessly from college without needing any years of learning on the bench and it’s possible that kickoffs could soon be eliminated from the league entirely.
But regardless of how much changes, one constant has been the classic 91-year rivalry between Green Bay and Chicago: When the Packers (9-4) and Bears (8-5) meet for the 186th time Sunday afternoon in Chicago, as has so often been the case, the game will have a significant impact on both teams’ playoff situation.
For Green Bay, it’s simple: Beat the Bears and the NFC North title belongs to the Packers. It would be Green Bay’s second head-to-head win of the season over its longest-standing rival, which, combined with other tiebreakers, would officially send Chicago out of contention in the division.
“The bigger picture, in my view, is really that it’s the Packers and the Bears,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Any time we play, it’s significant. To have that division championship on the line even makes it better.”
As if McCarthy needed any reminders of the enormity of this rivalry, that point was hammered home when Packers legends such as Willie Davis began leaving voicemails for him early this week.
“We’re focused on beating the Bears down there (in Chicago),” McCarthy said. “It’s a tough place to play. We’d love to wrap up the division and hopefully be playing for more the next two weeks. But this is about the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.”
Though the Bears hold an edge in the all-time series at 92-87-6, it’s been all Packers in recent years. Green Bay has won five straight and seven of the last eight games.
At the moment, the Packers and Bears are heading in opposing directions. Green Bay, after beginning the season with a disappointing 2-3 record, has won seven of its last eight games. Unlike last season’s 15-1 Packers, this year’s team hasn’t put together many dominant performances. But, in the NFL, sometimes a win is all that matters. Chicago is finding that out the hard way right now, having lost four of its last five games and letting its firm grasp on the NFC North lead slip away.
“It’s going to be ugly at times, but the main thing is the wins,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said.
A win Sunday — ugly or not — for the Packers not only means another division title but also, at worst, a home playoff game to kick off the postseason. If Green Bay finishes as the No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NFC, it would host a game on wild-card weekend. However, a Packers win over the Bears also will give Green Bay a legitimate shot at a first-round bye as the No. 2 seed if the San Francisco 49ers (9-3-1) falter at all down the stretch.
“(Winning the) division is the first goal and getting to 10 wins, and then we can start talking about the ‘p-word,’ ” Rodgers said of the playoffs. “We can wrap things up (in Chicago); tough opponent, tough place to play, a lot on the line.”
Rodgers won’t say “the p-word” until it’s official, but beating a tough opponent (Bears) in a tough place (Soldier Field) with a lot on the line (division title) will give the NFL’s reigning Most Valuable Player all the clearance he needs to begin saying “playoffs” freely. Obtaining that vocabulary freedom against the Bears would give Rodgers’ word choice even more impact.