Bears can win their first division title since 2010 with a win over the Packers on Sunday
The NFL's oldest rivalry will add another chapter when Chicago hosts Green Bay on Sunday. These two teams last played way back in Week 1 and plenty has happened since that game. The Bears (9-4) need just one more victory to clinch the NFC North while the Packers (5-7-1) are playing under an interim head coach following the firing of Mike McCarthy.
It's safe to say this isn't what everyone expected coming out of the season-opening matchup on "Sunday Night Football" as Green Bay stormed back at home from a 20-0 deficit to win 24-23. Khalil Mack made his Chicago debut by wreaking havoc and harassing Aaron Rodgers all night. Rodgers briefly left the game with an injury, but he returned in the second half to fuel the comeback and by the end of the night it looked like the Packers were kings of the NFC North again.
But much has changed since that Sept. 9 night. The Bears have gone 9-3 claiming victories over the Rams, Seahawks and Vikings along the way. Green Bay has won just four games over its past 12, including losing the Redskins, Lions and even the lowly Cardinals at home. Following that loss to Arizona two weeks ago, McCarthy was dismissed after 13 years as the head coach. Offensive coordinator Joe Philbin is serving as interim head coach.
While the Packers are more focused on next season, they can still play the role of spoiler with Chicago just a win away from its first NFC North title since 2010. The Bears are 6-1 at Soldier Field, while Green Bay is 0-6 on the road. But as fans of both of these teams know, you can throw out the records when these archrivals meet on the gridiron.
Green Bay at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 16 at 1 p.m. ET
Spread: Bears -5.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Bears' defense is dominant
Last week, Chicago stopped the Los Angeles Rams' offense cold. Ranked third in the league in scoring (32.7 ppg), the Bears held Jared Goff and company to just six points and 214 total yards while forcing four turnovers. Prior to this game, the fewest points Los Angeles had scored in a game was 23 (Week 6 at Denver) and its fewest total yards were 339 (Week 7 at San Francisco). Goff in particular had a rough night, completing just 20 of 44 pass attempts for 180 yards with four interceptions while getting sacked three times, one of those for a safety. Todd Gurley managed just 28 rushing yards as the Rams went 3-for-12 on third down and were held scoreless over the final 34:12 of the game.
Green Bay has had its own offensive struggles. Even though the Packers beat Atlanta last week 34-20, Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and the ground attack has averaged fewer than 92 yards over the past four games. The Week 1 victory over Chicago was all about Rodgers throwing the ball (286 yards, 3 TDs) but the Bears have allowed just one opponent since to pass for that many yards.
Chicago's defense has improved since the teams' first meeting while Green Bay has gone in the opposite direction. The Bears' defense will be looking to bring the pain to Rodgers and company (as well as snap his NFL record for the most passes without an interception) on Sunday.
2. Run Bears run
Against the Rams, Jordan Howard had his first 100-yard rushing game (101) since Week 14 of last season. Tarik Cohen added another 69 yards (plus 20 receiving yards) and the Bears finally showcased the potent one-two punch on the ground that everyone had envisioned since the start of the season. Head coach Matt Nagy may want to stick to this game plan against a Green Bay defense that's giving up 126.2 rushing yards per game (24th in the NFL) and has seen that number rise to nearly 139 over its last four contests. Running the ball is key this late in the season (and on into the postseason), and Chicago has the tools to do just that.
3. Aaron Rodgers is still Aaron Rodgers
Despite this year’s struggles, good old No. 12 continues to throw the ball consistently and accurately. He's sixth in the NFL in passing yards per game (285), has thrown at least one touchdown pass in every game this season (23 total), and hasn't thrown an interception since Week 4. In fact, last week he broke Tom Brady's record for the most pass attempts without an interception. His mark stands at 368 entering Sunday's game. Even with all of the Packers' issues, Rodgers is still feared for his ability to make something out of nothing and he's been a thorn in the Bears' side for many years. Just look at what happened in Week 1 to know how Green Bay's success against Chicago starts and ends with Rodgers.
In particular, the Bears haven't sacked him more than twice in a game since Week 7 of the 2016 season (had two in Week 1) and they haven't intercepted him since '15. Those are two things that Khalil Mack and company will try and do this time around to break a five-game losing streak to the Packers.
To no one's surprise, Chicago and Green Bay have faced each other with playoff implications on the line several times. While the Bears have failed in their last four attempts to either clinch a division title, a playoff berth or eliminate the Packers from postseason contention (twice in 2010, '12 and '13), the tide seems to be turning.
For one, most of the players on Chicago's roster were not a part of these past failures or are taking the lead of their first-year head coach Matt Nagy.
Bears first-year coach Matt Nagy on the Packers history of success against his team: "I have no idea and I don't even care." https://t.co/qqrWlSM9ct— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) December 12, 2018
Instead, the Bears are focused on winning the NFC North and getting back to the playoffs. It doesn't hurt that for the first time in a while they are the favorites heading into this game.
As long as Aaron Rodgers is on the field, he will make things difficult for the Bears. But Chicago's been near unbeatable at home while Green Bay hasn't won away from Lambeau Field this season. The Bears end their long losing streak to their archrivals and claim a division title in the process.
Prediction: Bears 27, Packers 24
— Gabe Salgado is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He's also written for NBC, Fox, The Sporting News, The Sports Journal, The Undefeated and Complex. He's a co-host of The Rewind Sports: 60. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.