First Place on Line Sunday

For the first time in a long time, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will meet with a lot at stake – first place in the NFC's Central Division. The two teams haven't played for first place this late in the season since 1995 when the Packers went on to win their first division title in 23 years.

The Bears, who have won their last two games in overtime with magical come-from-behind rallies, are sitting at 6-1. The Packers, coming off a 21-20 comeback victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, are 5-2.

"I think they feel, as they should, that they are a good football team," said Packers coach Mike Sherman. "You can be humbled very quickly but you can also get confidence by how you play. They're playing with a lot of confidence right now. ... I think they believe in themselves, their coaches, their schemes and they're doing the very best with it."

The Bears lead the series 84-71-6. But the Packers have won a series road-record seven straight times against the Bears at Soldier Field, where the noon (CDT) game will be played this Sunday.

This will be the Packers' third straight NFC Central Division game while the Bears will be playing the first of six straight Central Division games. Thus far, the Bears have played just one division game, beating the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 23 to ignite their six-game winning streak and their best record since 1990. The Packers are 2-2 in the Central.

"They're 6-1. Every week they're being tested," Sherman said. "They've responded very admirably. To be 6-1 at this point is tough. I don't care whether you play inside the division or outside the division. Obviously, when you start divisional play, things pick up and it's more of a must-win situation every single week you play within the division."

The Packers won 10 straight games against the Bears from 1994 to 1998, then split with their longtime rival in each of the last two seasons. The two teams will be meeting for the 161st time in a rivalry that dates back to 1921. But in the 1990s it has become somewhat stale because of the Packers' dominance over the Bears. Some feel the Packers-Vikings series is now the big rivalry, but Sherman couldn't disagree more.

"When we go down to Soldier Field, it's special. I know when they come up here it's special. I think one reason why we had success down there and they've had success up here is because we play in a similar environment. If you go to Minnesota it's different. If they come here it's different. You go down to Tampa, it's different. They come here it's different. Soldier Field and Lambeau Field are very similar in their history and tradition, and also their playing surface."

Many of the Packers players feel the same way. They also know the Bears have gathered a ton of steam, possibly from unknown sources.

"They've got more Chicago ghosts going on there than we've got here at Lambeau," said Packers safety Darren Sharper. "The way they won those last couple games, and (Mike Brown) getting those two intereceptions like that to win the games, that's something you'll probably never see again in the NFL. I'll tell you what, they've got a good little roll going right now."


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