Bears Taking Nothing for Granted

Lake Forest - Normally, the 8-3 Bears wouldn't expect to have much trouble handling a paltry 2-9 opponent, especially at home, but Sunday's apparent mismatch is against the Packers, who have humbled the Bears in front of their home fans 11 years in a row.

Green Bay has beaten the Bears 19 times in 22 games overall since 1994, two years after Brett Favre became the Packers' starting quarterback. That's partly why the home team is only a seven-point favorite, even though it currently is the No. 2 team in the NFC, while the Packers are tied for No. 2 in the race for next year's first draft pick.

"I know they're not having the type of year that they planned on having," Bears coach Lovie Smith said, "but whenever you have No. 4 (Favre) leading your team, you have a chance to beat anyone."

The Packers have had a chance to win almost every one of the nine games they've lost this season. Their last eight losses, in order, have been by 2, 1, 3, 3, 7, 10, 3 and 5 points. Despite their record, the Packers have outscored their opponents 232-223 this season.

This does not appear to be a game in which the favorite will overlook a supposedly weaker opponent.

"We need to beat them, we realize that," Smith said. "We're not going to have to give a lot of George Halas speeches this week to get the guys ready to go. We realize what's at stake."

Beating the Packers was the first goal Smith listed when he became the Bears' head coach before the 2004 season, and that was accomplished in his second game, a 21-10 Bears victory at Lambeau Field. Smith's other goals were winning the NFC North and the Super Bowl, and a victory Sunday would move the Bears a step closer to both.

But as recently as Jan. 2, in last season's finale, the Packers romped over the Bears 31-14. The Packers outgained the Bears 327-136 through the air, even though Favre didn't play the whole game. He was rested for the following week's playoff game after torching one of his favorite patsies for 196 yards and two touchdowns on just nine completions and 13 passes. That was the latest in a long line of embarrassments for the Bears in the most frequently played rivalry in NFL history. All of the Packers' last six victories over the Bears have been by 10 points or more.

But Smith anticipates a different ending in the 170th meeting between the teams.

"They dominated us here the last game of the season last year," Smith said. "But we're a different football team right now."

Different enough to consider playoff possibilities, including home-field advantage and an opening-round bye, which they could earn in the coming weeks and which has been a huge advantage to teams in the past. Last year and in 2002, all four teams that had a first-round bye were victorious in the second round against opponents that had to play in the wild-card round. In 2003, teams with a bye were 2-2 in the next round, and in 2001, the Bears were the only bye team that lost in the next round.

Smith said he's not ready to look that far ahead yet.

"I'm sure it probably would help if you get in that position," he said, "but right now we're a long ways from that.

"Right now I can only look as far as Green Bay. If we continue to win, good things we'll happen to us later on. It's been a long time since we've won around here. So right now we have tunnel vision looking at that next game coming up, and luckily it's Green Bay. This is a team that (beat us recently). There's a lot of history behind this game, and we're anxious to play it."

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