LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Clinch the NFC North championship and beat a heated rival to do it? The Chicago Bears couldn’t have asked for a sweeter scenario.
That’s exactly the opportunity they’re staring at when they host Aaron Rodgers and the fading Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon.
“It would be very exciting,” quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. “We know this is a big week for us, and a lot comes with it.”
With six wins in the past seven games, the division championship and a playoff spot are just about in hand.
A win over the Packers (5-7-1) would clinch the North for the Bears (9-4). So would a loss by Minnesota to Miami. And ties by both the Bears and the Vikings would do the trick, too.
Even if they don’t clinch the division, they could still secure a playoff spot on Sunday. In that case, a tie against Green Bay — or a tie or loss by Washington against Jacksonville — would send Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 team won the NFC North.
Of course, with a victory comes this added bonus: beating Green Bay.
It would also give the Bears a measure of revenge for that season-opening gut punch at Lambeau Field, when Rodgers got carted off the field with a left knee injury and came back to lead the Packers from 20 down to a 24-23 victory.
“It’s a special moment in my career,” Rodgers said. “It is the Bears, and the injury I was dealing with and the pain and 20-0 and coming back and winning that game. It seems a long time ago, standing here in Week 15, but that was a good moment for us. It’s a better moment when you parlay those into big-time winning seasons and championship runs, but it was a special moment for sure.”
The teams’ fortunes sure have changed since.
The Bears have emerged as a force in the NFC in their first season under coach Matt Nagy after four straight last-place finishes. The Packers fired Mike McCarthy in his 13th season two weeks ago and made offensive coordinator Joe Philbin the interim head coach, hoping to jolt a team in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Packers won his debut , beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-20. The Bears beat the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams 15-6 last week, with their defense squashing one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses.
Here are some things to know with Chicago on the verge of securing a playoff spot and Green Bay’s hopes fading:
STREAK VS. STRENGTH
It’s a case of a streak vs. strength when Rodgers faces Chicago’s turnover-happy defense.
The Bears are first in the NFL in turnover margin at plus-13. Rodgers hasn’t thrown a pick since Week 4, when his pass over the middle for Jimmy Graham was deflected twice before being intercepted by Bills safety Jordan Poyer on second-and-4 from the Packers 49. It’s the only interception this season for Rodgers.
Since then he’s had 368 straight attempts without an interception to set an NFL record.
“Yeah, you know hopefully it stays that way,” Philbin said as he knocked on a wooden podium for good luck. The Packers are plus-2 in turnover margin, tied for 14th in the league.
With an 0-6 road record and eight straight losses dating to last season, the Packers sure have experienced difficulties away from Lambeau Field. That’s something they hope to change against Chicago.
The Packers have won nine of the past 10 meetings overall. They also have an eight-game winning streak at Soldier Field, counting the postseason.
COMFORT AT HOME
While the Packers have struggled on the road, the Bears are 6-1 at Soldier Field.
That gives them their highest win total at home since going 6-2 in 2008. And if they beat Green Bay, the Bears would finish 7-1 at home for the first time since 2005.
Also, Nagy’s nine victories are the most by a coach in his first season with the Bears since Paddy Driscoll led the 1956 team to a 9-2-1 mark.
Speaking of turnovers, the Packers’ defense has been hit or miss when it comes to takeaways. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland accounted for both of Green Bay’s takeaways last week with an interception return for a touchdown and fumble recovery, though the latter came on a botched shotgun snap.
Still, the win over the Falcons ended a two-week stretch without a takeaway.
The Bears would certainly welcome a better showing from Trubisky. He struggled against Los Angeles after missing back-to-back games because of a right shoulder injury, with a season-high three interceptions and a 33.3 rating that was his lowest of the year.
One positive for the Bears’ offense: Jordan Howard running for a season-high 101 yards.
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