Chicago Bears (11-4) at Green Bay Packers (9-6)
Kickoff: Sunday, 3:15 p.m.
At stake: Chicago has a shot at the No. 1 overall seed, but Atlanta would have to be upset by lowly Carolina. Green Bay gets into the playoffs as the No. 6 seed with a win, and could get in through the back door if the Giants and Buccaneers lose. TV: FOX, Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Pam Oliver
Series history: 180th regular-season meeting. Bears lead series, 91-82-6. The league's oldest rivals will be playing in Wisconsin to end the regular season for the first time. The Bears rallied for a 20-17 win on a 19-yard field goal by Robbie Gould with four seconds left in the teams' first meeting this season, Sept. 27 at Chicago. The last four meetings have been decided by no more than seven points, with both teams winning twice. The Packers have won the last two encounters at Lambeau Field, where the Bears had won four straight since the start of Chicago coach Lovie Smith's tenure in 2004.
Number to note: 15 — Average margin of victory for the Packers in the 15 wins they have in their last 16 regular-season finales since 1994.
Inside the numbers
Packers: Eighth on offense (22nd rushing, fifth passing) and ninth on defense (19th rushing, fifth passing). Bears: 30th on offense (tied 24th rushing, 27th passing) and 10th on defense (third rushing, 17th passing). Turnovers: Packers are tied for fifth at plus-10; the Bears are tied for 10th at plus-4.
Keys to the game: Bears RB Matt Forte has at least 13 carries in seven of eight games since Chicago's bye, when offensive coordinator Mike Martz made a tangible shift toward more balanced game plans. But Forte and QB Jay Cutler could have their playing time reduced if Atlanta beats Carolina and renders this game meaningless for Chicago. Defensively, the Bears' Cover-2 will keep completions in front of them and force Green Bay to string together long drives. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers will attempt to get over the top with a handful of vertical routes, but he's mostly going to need to show patience. Down the seam, MLB Brian Urlacher will be a popular target when in coverage.
Bill Huber has a Packers-Bears history lesson and his three keys to the game, one each for offense, defense and special teams, at Fox Sports Wisconsin.
Inside the Bears
Aside from eliminating a dangerous team from the playoffs, another good reason for the Bears to go all-out against the Packers is that the defense needs to return to the elite level it played at earlier in the season.
That defensive dominance has disappeared in recent weeks.
Through the first 10 games the Bears allowed just 13.6 points per game, which was tied for No. 1 in the NFL. But, in the past five games, they have allowed 26.0 points per game, and they've slipped in every other meaningful category except sacks, where they've seen a slight improvement.
In total yards allowed, the Bears have fallen from No. 3 to No. 10. They've dropped from No. 1 in third-down efficiency to No. 9, while getting pasted by the Patriots 36-7 in Week 14 and allowing 34 points against the Jets in a 4-point victory last week.
"It was poor," six-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs said of the performance against the Jets. "Usually it's better than you think it is when you look at the film, but it definitely wasn't. That's not the kind of football we need to play in order to win in the postseason. This is a good chance for us to just be more sound and be more who we are."
That will be a challenge against a Packers team that is playing for its postseason life, while the Bears are virtually locked in to the No. 2 seed.
The Packers scored 72 points the past two weeks in a 31-27 loss to the Patriots, in which they were without quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and a 45-17 shellacking of the Giants, with Rodgers playing magnificently after sitting out one week with a concussion.
Despite a 101.9 passer rating, the second best in the NFC, Rodgers was snubbed in Pro Bowl voting.
"They're a big-pass offense," Briggs said. "With Rodgers at quarterback they can do a lot of things with the ball (and), make no mistake, their pass sets up their run."
Rodgers threw for 316 yards against the Bears in Week Three, completing 34 of 45 passes in the Packers' 20-17 loss. More recently, the Bears were strafed for 351 yards in the air by the Patriots and, two weeks earlier, 293 by the Eagles. Last week the Bears allowed the Jets 269 yards through the air, and they failed to sack quarterback Mark Sanchez even once.
"We didn't play our best game the last time out," coach Lovie Smith admitted. "As far as getting it back, one of the things that we haven't been pleased with is just the amount of takeaways. This time of the year, you know that turnover ratio is big. We haven't taken the ball away enough. Hopefully we can get back to that this week."
The Bears, who are tied for 11th in turnover edge at plus-4, got 5 takeaways in their rout of the Vikings two weeks ago. But in the other five games they've played since Nov. 18, the Bears have a total of just 4 takeaways. In their first 10 games, the Bears took the ball away 24 times.
Barring the Bears receiving a double dose of good news in the early action Sunday with losses by Atlanta and New Orleans that would give them a shot to claim the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs, conventional wisdom is Chicago will treat this like a preseason game. Never mind that coach Lovie Smith says he's not inclined to rest some of his starters even if the Bears have nothing to play for by being locked in as the No. 2 seed in the postseason.
Not having to face the red-hot Jay Cutler and instead having the defense bear down on 39-year-old Todd Collins or third-year neophyte Caleb Hanie would make Green Bay's pursuit of the win that would ensure it a playoffs berth a lot easier. If Cutler does play for any significant amount of time, the onus will be on defensive coordinator Dom Capers to be more liberal with the pressure packages against a feeble offensive line. Capers dialed that down some in the teams' first meeting and allowed Cutler, who threw only one interception and was sacked just three times, to rally the Bears to victory in the second half with downfield throws. Minus Cutler, the Packers will key in on bottling up Matt Forte if he's allowed to play and/or Chester Taylor in the run game.
Depending on what personnel the Bears trot out on defense, running the football effectively could be out of the question for Green Bay's offense. That should mean plenty of pitch-and-catch for Aaron Rodgers and his band of receivers after their big outing of 400-plus yards against the Giants. Head coach/play-caller Mike McCarthy no doubt will be cognizant of getting Rodgers to the 307 passing yards he needs for a third straight 4,000-yard season.
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.