NFC North Notes

While the Chicago Bears have the better record and the winning streak on their side, the Packers have a long history of beating the Bears in most of their last 22 meetings. It's an important game for the Vikings' playoff implications.

CHICAGO BEARS

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.

"It's Green Bay," Smith said. "That's all you have to know. It doesn't matter what our records are. It's a team that's had our number for quite a few years. It's our rival, (and) they're a good football team. As far as we're concerned, we both have the same record, and it'll be a battle. We'll get their best effort this week, I'm sure of it."

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."

SERIES HISTORY: 170th meeting. The Bears lead the most frequently played rivalry in NFL history 85-78-6, but the Packers have dominated over the past 11 years, winning on the road every year and taking 19 of 22 games overall.

NOTES

  • Defensive end Wale Ogunleye can't be blamed for the Bears' shortcomings against the Packers. He's played in the rivalry just once, and the Bears won that game 21-10 in Week 2 last season. Ogunleye was on injured reserve for last season's finale with the Packers, but he's heard all the talk about the Bears' losing streak at home against the Packers and quarterback Brett Favre's 12-1 career record as a visitor against the Bears.

    "I haven't been a part of that, so I could care less about how many he's won," Ogunleye said. "I'm just hoping that he's not going to be able to get this next one."

    Bears coach Lovie Smith said he doesn't have to provide much motivation to any players this week, regardless of how few games they've played in the rivalry.

    "Believe me, we know about the 11-game streak they have going against us right now," Smith said. "It's Packer week. We know everything that that entails. We need to beat them; we realize that. 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."

  • Smith has always expressed great admiration for Packers quarterback Brett Favre, but that only goes so far.

    Smith was asked if he would be sorry to see Favre go when he retires.

    "What do you think?" Smith said with a smile. "He's a good football player. He's meant an awful lot to our game. He's a great competitor; good for our division. Brett has had his share of success against us and other people. Once he leaves, it will be a sad day, but I'll call him and thank him for leaving."

  • Defensive end Alex Brown earned his second career NFC defensive player of the week award for last week's two sacks, four pass breakups and one forced fumble.

    "It means a lot to me," said Brown, who said he's having the most fun of his four-year career. "We're winning. You can't have fun if you're 5-11 (2004) or 4-12 (2002). There's no fun in that. We're 8-3, and it's a lot of fun."

    It was the second consecutive honor for a Bears defender. Cornerback Nathan Vasher earned defensive honors in Week 11. Brown's first award came last season, when he had four sacks against the Giants on Nov. 7.

    BY THE NUMBERS: The Bears have scored more than 20 points just once in the past nine weeks and not at all in the last six of their seven straight victories.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: Asked if he would compare Bears rookie QB Kyle Orton to a young Brett Favre, Bears WR Muhsin Muhammad responded: "Seriously?" Pressed on the matter, Muhammad said: "They're both in the black-and-blue division. Is that it? I think that's going to sum it up right there."


    GREEN BAY PACKERS

    Mark Tauscher isn't ready to anoint the Chicago Bears defense as the greatest he's seen in his six years as a pro, much less one of the best in NFL lore.

    The Packers right tackle said Wednesday that game film can reveal only so much about a group's merits. He'll be a better judge of the Bears' talent after he sees them up close Sunday at Chicago.

    For the here and now, what Tauscher does know is if the Packers remain in their season-long funk of running the football, they'll be the latest punchless victim for the insatiable Bears.

    "I'm going out on a limb and say if we can't run the football, it's going to be tough. We're going to need to be able to do that in order to move the ball," Tauscher said.

    The Packers haven't done much advancing of late. They've mustered a grand total of 31 points in losing back-to-back games to Minnesota and Philadelphia - and just three of those points have come in the second half.

    Now, they get to tangle with the Bears' top-rated defense, which has permitted only one touchdown in its last three games and all of four TDs during their seven-game winning streak.

    Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who's had Chicago's number with a 21-5 record and piled up numerous passing yards (6,136) and touchdowns (51) at its expense, painted a bleak outlook.

    "I'd like to think we can go in and be able to score two or three touchdowns," he said. "If that happens, great. But, realistically, it may be 10 points that we score."

    How proficient, or deficient, the Packers are Sunday will hinge a great deal on the play of Favre. The notorious gunslinger has been his own and the team's worst enemy by occasionally making inane passes into double and triple coverage, as he did last Sunday in a 19-14 loss at Philadelphia.

    Favre counted two interceptions, hiking his league-leading total to 19. That matches his touchdown output.

    On Wednesday, Favre acknowledged he's been negligent in protecting the football. A cardinal sin, exacerbated by the fact that Favre has been robbed in this injury-marred season of the playmakers who have bailed him out in years past.

    "His mentality is to try to win the football game. That has been his mentality, and that doesn't change," said Sherman, who danced around questions about having to rein in Favre.

    Throwing the ball up and hoping an Antonio Chatman or an Andrae Thurman will come down with it against the Bears is inviting more trouble in an already ugly 2-9 season.

    "Patience is a key word going against a defense like this," Favre said. "As opposed to playing an Indianapolis, where you feel like you have to score every time you take the field."

    Getting into scoring range figures to be a chore for the Packers, however.

    Even with two 100-yard games by unheralded rookie Samkon Gado in the last three weeks, the rushing offense still is hovering near the bottom of the league rankings. For every 33-yard touchdown run by Gado, there's a multitude of negligible runs of 1 yard, zero yards or minus yards that have invariably put the Packers in unfavorable second- and third-and-long situations.

    Right up the feisty Bears' alley. They haven't allowed more than 285 total yards in 10 straight games. The Packers' offensive output the last two games - 236 and 292 yards.

    "They get you into negative-yardage situations with negative-yardage runs or sacks on the quarterback," Sherman said of the Bears.

    Despite its inadequacies in run blocking, the Packers' revamped offensive line has done a solid job of protecting Favre. He's been sacked only 14 times, second fewest in the league.

    Keeping Favre upright will be a tall order with the frequency the Bears stunt and zone-blitz their way into the pocket. Of course, getting the running game on track can be the great neutralizer to those backfield incursions.

    "We're not a team that's going to sit back and wing it 50, 60 yards and do it that way. We have to be crisp and in rhythm," Tauscher said. "When you're not running the ball, you can't get in a rhythm with your play-action and your keeps (bootlegs). Our keep passes and play-action have been pretty much null and void for a lot of (the season) because teams aren't respecting us running the football."

    NOTES

  • The Packers have lost only once in 13 games with Brett Favre at quarterback as the visiting team against the Bears, and that rarity occurred Dec. 5, 1993 - a 30-17 setback at Soldier Field, where Favre completed a team-record 36 passes in 54 attempts for a personal-high 402 yards.

  • Having won the last 11 annual meetings with the Bears in Illinois, the Packers on Sunday will try to equal the NFL record of 12 straight road wins against the same opponent. The record is shared by the Los Angeles Rams (against San Francisco from 1969 to ‘80) and San Francisco (against the L.A./St. Louis Rams from 1987 to ‘98).

    Ten of the wins in the current streak for the Packers took place at Soldier Field. The other triumph was in Champaign in 2002, when the Bears played their home games at the University of Illinois during the renovation of Soldier Field.

  • Since taking over as the Packers' starting quarterback early in the 1992 season, Favre is 11-1 at Soldier Field. It's the most wins he's compiled at a road venue, and they're topped only by the 77 victories he's registered at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

  • Favre is 21-5 all-time against the Bears. He's thrown a touchdown pass in all 26 games, the longest streak in NFL history against one opponent. Favre has amassed 51 TD throws at Chicago's expense, the most he's had against one opponent. The total ranks third in league history.

  • WR Donald Driver needs a catch Sunday to extend his streak to 60 games with a reception, which would tie RB Edgar Bennett for second place on the team's all-time list. WR Sterling Sharpe holds the record with 103 straight games.

  • Favre needs one touchdown pass to extend his NFL-record streak of consecutive 20-touchdown seasons to 12. He also needs 286 passing yards for his 14th 3,000-yard season, which would break a first-place tie with Dan Marino in league annals.

  • The NFL's oldest rivals are finally meeting for the first time this season. The Dec. 4 matchup is the latest the division foes have played their first game since Dec. 13, 1998. The rematch will be Christmas Day in Green Bay.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 2 - Times the Bears, who are yielding a league-low average of 10.9 points per game this season, have held the Packers to as few points in 26 meetings since 1992 with Brett Favre at quarterback. In games contested at Green Bay, the Bears won 21-10 in 2004 and prevailed 30-10 in 1992, Favre's first start against them.

    QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm sure Bears fans across the country don't feel sorry for the Packers. We've been on top a long time. It is what it is. It's the hand we've been dealt this year. We've had a chance to win a lot of games this year and didn't. I don't see this week being any different. We'll play hard and give them our best and hopefully we find a way to pull one out. But, we haven't been able to do that. I give them a lot of credit - they have a great season going. They're winning games that they have to win. Something we haven't done. They're going to go on in the postseason, and we're not." - Packers QB Brett Favre on how the fortunes have been reversed for 2-9 Green Bay and 8-3 Chicago this season.


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