Is Health the Difference?

The talent level between the division champs and the last place finisher would appear to be drastic, but good health can go a long way.

On Sunday, the Bears will be missing seven starters: LG Ruben Brown (missed seven of 16 starts), RG Rex Tucker (-11), QB Rex Grossman (-13), FB Bryan Johnson (-2), DE Adewale Ogunleye (-4), MLB Brian Urlacher (-7) and FS Mike Brown (-14). It could be argued that Grossman was the Bears' most indispensable player, and Ogunleye, Urlacher and Mike Brown would rank among their top six.

In contrast, the Packers will be missing only C Mike Flanagan (-13). The Packers six other starters who have missed a combined total of 12 starts. The Bears also have been without four other starters (CB Charles Tillman, CB Jerry Azumah, and RT John Tait) for at least three games apiece.

The Packers would be a different team if LG Mike Wahle, RG Marco Rivera, QB Brett Favre, FB William Henderson, DE Aaron Kampman, MLB Nick Barnett and FS Darren Sharper had missed the same number of games that their counterparts in Chicago did? Given the woeful state of the NFC North in 2004, it's possible that the Packers and Bears might have switched positions in the final standings.

When injuries strike as badly as they did in Chicago this season, you just have to grin and bear it. When a team is treated as kindly by injury as were the Packers this season, it's incumbent upon the club to take advantage of it.

News & Notes
Chicago is supposed to be a daunting place for any NFC North rival, but don't tell that to the Packers. Green Bay has not lost in Chicago since 1993, when the Bears registered a 30-17 victory. In that game, Brett Favre threw for a career-high 402 yards but also threw three interceptions. The Bears had three defensive touchdowns in that game, the first time they managed that feat since their 73-0 victory over Washington in the 1940 NFL championship game. Since losing at Chicago in that game, Favre has tormented the Bears by leading the Packers to 18 wins in 21 games.

--The Bears are second in the league at stopping opponents on third down. They have allowed just 63 conversions in 209 opportunities this year, limiting opponents to a 30.1 success ratio. The Bears defense has not ended a season with a sub-30 percent ratio on third down since 1984 and 1985, when the unit posted ratios of 26.3 and 29.8, respectively.

"I'm a whole different player now. I can play at that level. The more reps I get, the better I will be. This was a very good game for me, especially against their defensive line. I got a little more comfortable as the game went on. I'm not really worried about the depth chart. I'm worried about going out and playing the best I can. I think that will be good enough." -- Left tackle Marc Colombo on starting the last two games of the year against the Lions and the Packers. He did not allow a sack against Detroit and will be trying to do the same thing against Green Bay. Colombo was out for nearly two years as he rehabbed following a devastating 2003 knee injury.

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