Been a while since Packers-Bears at Lambeau meant this much

Rivalry clash No. 200 important for both teams

QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Aaron Rodgers

GREEN BAY – So many things about this game are absolutely fitting for meeting No. 200.

It's December, at Lambeau Field, where it'll be cold, and a lot is at stake for both teams.

The Bears (7-6) have won three straight and four of five, and they're fighting to stay in the NFC playoff hunt and make the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since 2005-06.

Meanwhile, the Packers (10-3) are trying to end their first two-year playoff drought since those same '05-06 seasons, and they're currently in control of both the NFC North and a shot at a first-round bye, though precariously with three weeks to go.

It's a great scenario as the NFL's oldest rivalry reaches another milestone.

"I feel like we've been in must-win mode every week," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "That's the NFL. I don't think there's any time to have some silver-lining losses. It's about winning in this league and we know where we're at and we know the opportunities in front of us.

"We do control a good amount of our fate. These are the games you've got to win. I always say it – I say it to you guys in April, say it throughout the season – you want to be playing your best in the wintertime and put yourself in position to host some playoff games.

A lot of the current headline names aren't steeped in Packers-Bears history, though that's not their fault. Coachers Matt LaFleur and Matt Nagy, Khalil Mack, Aaron Jones, even Davante Adams … they're all relatively new to the rivalry.

Then there's Rodgers, who will be starting his 24th Packers-Bears game on Sunday. He's 18-5 to date, with one of the losses coming in a game he exited with an injury in the first quarter. He's closing in on predecessor Brett Favre's 22 wins over the Bears, most by any Packers QB. Favre went 22-10 from 1992-2007, and he was 20-4 until his last four years in Green Bay.

The Favre-Rodgers era has turned a 22-game deficit in the all-time series into a three-game lead for the Packers in a little over a quarter century. It's actually the first time the Packers have ever been three games up in the rivalry's history.

From 1928-30, the Packers won seven straight (they played three times per year back then) and stretched it to nine of 10 midway through 1931 to grab a 10-8-3 lead. It took 178 more clashes for the Packers to push the advantage to three games, which they did by beating the Bears 10-3 back in Week 1 at Soldier Field to kick off the NFL's 100th season.

"It means this rivalry's been around a long time before I got here, and it's going to be around a long time after I'm done, I bet," Rodgers said. "But it's been fun to be a part of so many of them."

As for the high stakes, the 2010 win-to-get-in and NFC Championship games, along with the 2013 division-title showdown, rank the highest in the past decade. December 2016 amidst "run the table" and last year's NFC North clincher for the Bears are in there somewhere, too.

Strangely, all of those but the '10 regular-season finale were in Chicago, so it's been a long time since a Packers-Bears game at Lambeau meant this much, and that one was actually meaningless to the Bears.

For both teams to have so much riding on a game in Green Bay? You probably have to go back to December 2001, when the Bears were 9-2, the Packers were 8-3, and the home team completed a season sweep. Both teams made the playoffs – Chicago at 13-3 (with two losses to the Packers), Green Bay at 12-4 – but neither got out of the divisional round.

This time, the Packers can clinch a postseason berth with a win and a loss by the Rams in Dallas. The Bears are looking to run their win streak to six by the end of the month to get to 10 victories and see where the chips fall.

LaFleur said the Packers are "anticipating a very intense, very physical football game" with an "electric" atmosphere in the stadium.

The 200th installment of Packers-Bears deserves as much.

"I don't think our guys need a whole bunch to motivate them," LaFleur said. "I think we all know what's kind of on the line here.

"You've got a team that's really hungry right now and they're talented and they're on a roll. I know they're going to be coming in here with a lot of confidence. They took it to us a little bit the last game. I think our guys, their minds are in the right place and they'll be ready to play."

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