Home > Game Picks, NFL > Bears and Packers has Extra Meaning Tonight

Bears and Packers has Extra Meaning Tonight

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The Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers NFL rivalry is steeped in great tradition, dating back to the inaugural season of the Packers in 1921.  The history is the foundation of the rivalry, one of the more significant hatreds in all of sports.  This hatred is remarkable, because if you look at the history of either team, you realize that: since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, the Bears and Packers have been one of the six best teams (thus, making the playoffs) in the NFC…in just two of 40 seasons.

Think about that for a second.  If we assume perfect competitive balance in the NFC, the probability of both teams making the playoffs in any given season since the wild card was added is around 20%.  That’s just in one season.  In more than thirty years, it’s happened just twice.  This is more remarkable once you realize that the Bears and Packers have each enjoyed decade-long stretches of dominance.  It’s almost worked out perfectly that when one team is up, the other is down.

In no decade has that tendency been more pronounced than this past decade.  The Packers had a post-super bowl era swoon in 1999-2000 as they evolved as a team, but in 2001, they rebounded and went back to the top of the NFC Central, sweeping the Bears.  Of course, the Bears beat their final 14 non-Green Bay opponents that year and remain champions of the Central to this day.  That 2001 season was the last time the Bears and Packers were in the same playoff field.  The Bears dropped down to league-worst levels for the next three years, as Brett Favre and the Packers pressured the Eagles for the title of the most dominant team in the NFC then.

After four consecutive playoff appearances, the Packers suffered through an injury riddled 2005 season, and ultimately a short rebuild.  This managed to overlap with the dominance of the Bears defense, the new Monsters of the Midway, as a league-best unit that took the Bears’ hapless offense to the playoffs in consecutive years.  Then the Bears were knocked from their throne by an upstart Packers team led by the then 38 year old Brett Favre.  The Packers have been to the playoffs two of the last three years, while the Bears have come up empty, even though the year the Packers went 5-11 (2008), the Bears were a Week 17 win away from playing in the postseason.

All of these factors make this game between the 2-0 Packers and the 2-0 Bears significant.  Both teams are among the favorites to make the postseason in the NFC this year, and the winner of this game in Chicago takes a stranglehold on the NFC North division this year.  For two rivals who have never met in the NFC postseason, this could be the year where the NFC North’s wild card team is strong enough to knock off one of the weaker divisional winners and meet their rival in the divisional round in the first elimination between the teams in the modern era.

If the Bears want to avoid a potential trip to Lambeau Field in January, the first step is to defeat the Packers on their home turf tonight.  Many analysts aren’t giving the Bears much of a chance in this game, but I think they would be perceived differently as a team if they hadn’t lost defensive superstar Brian Urlacher for the whole season last year.  The Bears weren’t going to the playoffs with that offense a year ago, but they ended up at 6-10 because the defense had it’s worst season in almost a decade.  This year, that defense is back to a fierce level, and it’s a unit that is bound to give QB Aaron Rodgers some fits.

Of course, the Packers defense has been remarkably strong as well over the last year and a month, and with LT Chris Williams’ scratched for the Bears, QB Jay Cutler needs to be both decisive and accurate with his reads to knock of the Packers.  Cutler is reliably one or the other of those characteristics, but rarely is he both.  Matt Forte and Chester Taylor are ‘X’ factor backs for the Bears: they do more in the receiving game for the Bears than any other backs do for their teams.

The new-look Bears are the most exciting team Chicago has had in the last 25 years, because they throw the ball all over the yard and play stingy defense.  Those taking them lightly based on last year’s results would be wise to get over results from last year: they weren’t a good team last year and that’s not relevant.  The Packers were a great team last year, and that’s not really relevant here either.  The Bears are not the Bills.  They will outlast the Packers tonight in a showdown on the Chicago lake shore.

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