At first glance, it doesn't seem that the Bears could gain much by defeating the Packers in Green Bay on Sunday.
Coach Lovie Smith's team is locked in as the NFC's No. 2 playoff seed unless the Falcons find a way to lose to the 2-13 Panthers on Sunday and the Saints beat the Buccaneers. But, by knocking off their oldest rival, the Bears would eliminate the Packers from the playoffs, as long as the Giants or Bucs win. And that could be huge, because the Packers are playing better football than most of the teams that still could qualify for the postseason, specifically the Rams, Seahawks, Eagles, Bucs and Giants.
Last week, the Packers destroyed the Giants 45-17. A week earlier, they lost by just four points at New England despite playing without starting quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The Rams are 3-4 in the second half of the season. The Seahawks have lost seven of their last nine games, and the Eagles lost 24-14 Tuesday night to the 14-point-underdog Vikings and third-string quarterback Joe Webb.
The Bucs have lost three of their last five games and four of their last seven. Even though the Giants manhandled the Bears 17-3 in Week 4, they have dropped back-to-back games, allowing 83 points and treating the football as if it were a live grenade.
If the Packers win Sunday, they're in. They could even lose and still get in, as long as the Giants lose at Washington and the Bucs lose at New Orleans, but that would be difficult.
"The Packers are a great team, and I don't want to continue to keep facing the Packers," Bears Pro Bowl return specialist Devin Hester said. "So I'm hoping that we can go out and eliminate another good team. I give them credit. They're a good team, and I don't want to see them three times in one year."
Good point, considering the Packers have won three of the last five meetings. The Bears have won two of the last three meetings at Soldier Field, where a playoff game would occur.
Eliminating the Packers from the playoff mix is the best reason for the Bears to go all-in this week. Smith said that's the way he would approach Sunday's game, even before the Vikings upset the Eagles on Tuesday night and gift-wrapped the No. 2 seed for the Bears.
"Lovie said prior to that game that we were going to be playing. We were going to be full-go on Sunday," quarterback Jay Cutler said. "So that's what we expect. I expect to play the whole game. That's how we're preparing at this point."
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz left no doubt that it would be business as usual Sunday.
"Here's the deal," Martz said. "This is just a one-time deal. I'm not going to dwell on this. We've asked our players to get better every week. That's how we coach, and that's how we play, and that's what we're going to try to do this week. This is a very important game for us, pure and simple."
According to Smith, it doesn't matter if the Falcons and Saints win early-afternoon games, leaving the Bears locked in at the No. 2 seed before Chicago's game kicks off.
"We're trying to win the game," Smith said. "None of that has anything to do with what we're doing. This is the last team on our schedule. We had planned on playing them the entire time, so nothing has changed. For us, we're trying to win the football game, period."
NOTES AND QUOTES
Despite his reputation as a passing-game wizard, Martz's unit has run the ball 238 times since the bye week, while it has 231 pass plays. Very few expected that kind of balance when Martz was hired on Feb. 1, but Smith says he isn't surprised.
"I've been with Mike before, and I knew we could run the football," said Smith, who was Martz's defensive coordinator with the Rams from 2001-03. "In Chicago, you have to be able to run the football. Late in the year, you go through the elements. All those things were said back then by us. When you have a player like Matt Forte, why wouldn't you want to run the football? And the job that our line did this past week, [that's the] best they've done all year." ...
Because of next week's bye, players who sit out this week – there aren't expected to be many – would go three weeks between game action. Players say that isn't the best preparation for the intensity of playoff football.
"We don't want to sit out three weeks," Hester said. "That's a long time for a player to sit out and not really get in a game atmosphere and the conditions. So, even if all the starters play this week, we know we have a bye the following week to heal bumps and bruises. I would love to play the whole game."
Cutler doesn't want to risk having the offense lose the edge it's developed while scoring 78 points in the past two games.
"We're playing really good football right now, and we want to continue that," Cutler said. "So we want to go out there, and hopefully we can keep playing at the level we're playing."
QUOTE TO NOTE
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