The Bears are in the playoffs with a win
It's all come down to this... the NFL's oldest rivalry will take the field for Week 17 with plenty on the line. The Chicago Bears (8-7) host the Green Bay Packers (12-3) at Soldier Field on Sunday and the stakes couldn't be higher. The Bears are looking to claim a wild-card berth while the Packers are hoping to lock up the No. 1 seed and first-round bye in the NFC bracket.
This isn't the first time that these teams have met with significant postseason implications involved. This most recently happened in both the 2013 and '10 seasons, but this week's meeting is a little different. Not only does Chicago want to return to the postseason, but the Bears also want to prove that they're true contenders. They want to be taken seriously, they want respect, and most importantly, they want some payback against their archrivals. This could be the most physical game of the season for both teams.
Green Bay at Chicago
Kickoff: Sunday, Jan. 3 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Spread: Packers -5
Three Things to Watch
1. Win and you're in
It's that simple for the Bears, although they could still advance with a loss if Arizona also loses to the Los Angeles Rams. Chicago is in this position after turning things around following a six-game losing streak. The Bears have since won three in a row and are playing their best football of the season. Both sides of the ball have been getting the job done but especially the offense with three straight games of 30 or more points. The last time Chicago did that was way back in 1965.
But while all three phases of the game have been playing well for the Bears, beating the Packers will require their best effort of the season. Green Bay has won five in a row, boasts the NFL's top-scoring offense (31.6 ppg), an MVP front-runner in Aaron Rodgers, and has won three in a row against Chicago. In fact, the Packers' current winning streak started back in Week 12 when they dropped 41 points on the Bears at Lambeau Field.
2. Plenty at stake for Green Bay too
Rodgers and company are eager for this game as well, especially since they have something to play for. A win on Sunday locks up the NFC's top seed and the coveted first-round bye that comes with it. For all of Rodgers' success during his Hall of Fame career, he has never had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
And this isn't the first time that the NFL's oldest rivalry has had postseason implications. And unfortunately, history isn't on the Bears' side in that respect.
In Week 17 of the 2013 season, the Bears hosted the Packers at Soldier Field with the division title on the line and a wild-card berth not an option. Chicago clung to a 28-27 late in the fourth quarter when the infamous "Chris Conte play" occurred, in which Randall Cobb was left wide open for a 48-yard touchdown that won the game and the NFC North for Green Bay and kept the Bears out of the postseason.
In the final week of the 2010 regular season, Chicago went to Lambeau Field as the NFC North champions with an opportunity to keep Green Bay out of the playoffs. But the Packers rose to the occasion beating the Bears 10-3 to secure the final wild-card berth. The two teams would then meet a few weeks later in the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay won again, this time 21-14 at Soldier Field, and would then beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV.
The Packers enter Sunday's game with another opportunity to deny the Bears on their own home field while Chicago can not only punch its ticket to the playoffs, but also make Green Bay's path a little more difficult in the process.
3. Quarterback spotlight
Rodgers has been a consistent thorn in the Bears' side throughout his career. He's 20-5 against Chicago, including the aforementioned NFC Championship Game victory. In 24 regular-season matchups, Rodgers has posted a ridiculous 51:10 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He had four touchdown passes in the teams' first meeting in Week 12 as Green Bay dominated 41-25 at home.
Rodgers doesn't have to do it all alone, as Aaron Jones has produced another 1,000-yard season and Davante Adams leads the league with 17 touchdown passes. But by and large, the Packers go as their quarterback does. On Sunday, Rodgers will be without left tackle David Bakhtiari, who was injured in practice this week. The team believes the three-time Pro Bowler and one of the best at his position may have torn his ACL. Pass protection and a heavy reliance on play-action have been keys to Green Bay's offensive success this season, as Rodgers has been sacked just 19 times despite him attempting more than 500 passes.
Chicago ranks in the middle of the league in sacks (34) this year and didn't record one against Rodgers in the first meeting, but you can expect defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano to pressure the Packers' reshuffled offensive line early to try and throw No. 12 off of his game.
On the other side, while questions about his future with the Bears swirl, Mitchell Trubisky has been saving his best for last. After losing his starting job to Nick Foles earlier in the season, Trubisky has tossed six touchdown passes and run for another while completing 71 percent of his passes over the last three games. He's been intercepted just twice (in 89 pass attempts) and taken just five sacks during this time, looking nothing like the quarterback who started the season.
Similar to Rodgers, Trubisky has gotten plenty of help, most notably from running back David Montgomery, who has run for 354 yards with four touchdowns in the last three games. And depending on who you ask, his future is directly tied to the outcome of Sunday's game. So like he did three weeks ago when he outplayed his 2017 draft classmate Deshaun Watson, can Trubisky once again rise to the occasion and help lead the Bears to the playoffs by knocking off Rodgers and the despised Packers?
The Packers have won three straight and 12 of the last 15 meetings with the Bears. Their first meeting this season was completely dominated by Green Bay, as once again Aaron Rodgers had his way with Chicago's defense. Both teams enter this game with momentum but could left tackle David Bakhtiari's absence be what finally throws Rodgers and the offense off of their game? The Bears may be playing their best football of the season, but the Packers, particularly Rodgers, seem to have their number. Chicago will put up a better fight this time, but it won't be enough to prevent Green Bay from locking up the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Bears will be relegated to scoreboard-watching hoping the Rams can beat the Cardinals so Chicago can still back its way into the playoffs.
Prediction: Packers 28, Bears 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 can also be heard on WGN Radio. Follow him on Twitter @GabeSalgado82.