In recent years, it's been the Green Bay Packers tuning up their engines in December for a serious run in the playoffs while the Chicago Bears were wrapping up another disappointing regular season. Not this year. The tables have been turned, and now it's the Bears who are planning to mess up Christmas Day for the Packers and their faithful at Lambeau Field. The Bears are proudly sporting a 10-4 record and the best defense in the NFL. With a victory over Green Bay, they can clinch their first playoff berth and divisional title since 2001. They would also complete their first season sweep of the Packers since 1991 and compile their first consecutive victories in Green Bay since the 1999-2000 season.
It all adds up to a monumental challenge for Head Coach Mike Sherman and his beleaguered troops. The Bears defense has been winning games for Chicago all year, and last week they pummeled an impressive Atlanta Falcons team. They kept the best athlete in the NFL, Michael Vick, in check and didn't allow him to do much of anything. They forced him to throw two interceptions, and he was only able to muster 122 yards passing. Atlanta may have one of the top rushing teams in the league, but the Bears made life absolutely miserable for Falcons running backs. Warrick Dunn had to settle for 81 yards. Chicago's defense just comes after you. They've got tremendous speed as a unit and, the Bears put a physical beating on Brett Favre in the first meeting of these teams earlier this year at Soldier Field. Favre found out firsthand just how physical this Bears defense really is. As if things weren't bad enough, the Packers will have to play without Samkon Gado, who was lost for the season with a torn MCL in his right knee. Gado was the biggest bright spot in Green Bay's offense as he gave some life to the crippled running attack.
It's unfortunate because as I've discussed with fans on my radio shows this week, the Packers and the Bears are such a great rivalry. The Packers' injury situation will definitely take some of the luster out of this game, but don't expect any sympathy from the Bears. As brutal as it is, that's life in the NFL. The Bears have been waiting for this opportunity for a long, long time. Their fans are also very rabid and one thing that really has them excited is the re-emergence of quarterback Rex Grossman. Coach Lovie Smith's decision to bring Grossman in last week in place of Kyle Orton was a surprising move. Remember Orton was thrown into the starting role when Grossman hurt his leg in pre-season. Orton did a very good job for a rookie, winning 8 straight games. As the season wore on, opposing defenses were tweaking their preparation for a rookie quarterback, and that definitely affected Orton's performance. He was ineffective leading Chicago's offense, especially in passing the football, and they became too one-dimensional. When Grossman came in last week, he showed a lot of poise and he definitely brought a spark to Chicago's attack. His teammates responded and, in talking to people who are close to that situation, it's clear to me that there were many Bears players who were very much in favor of Rex Grossman being the quarterback for the rest of the regular season and heading into the playoffs.
For the Packers, once again they have an opportunity to play for pride. That's the approach Green Bay needs to take. The Bears are coming to Lambeau, and the Packers have an opportunity to play the spoiler role. Even when you're going through a disappointing season like this year, the Packers-Bears rivalry gives you an incentive to give your very best. Brett Favre's success against the Bears has been well-documented and you just know he's going to give it everything he's got to pull out a win. Who knows? This might be his last chance to play against the Bears at Lambeau Field so his competitive fires will definitely be burning brightly.
When you've got all of your starting players healthy, it's definitely a lot easier to be optimistic about a game like this. The Packers, unfortunately, don't have that luxury so, in that sense, the challenge is much, much more imposing. The Packers' frustration became very evident Monday night when they fell apart against the Baltimore Ravens. How they will be able to bounce back from such an embarrassing loss in another nationally televised game is hard to say. It's going to be very, very difficult. The Bears defense has been outstanding all year, and now with more stability at the quarterback position, Chicago figures to be an even tougher opponent.
The Packers may be saddled with a 3-11 record but the loyalty of their fans never ceases to amaze me. Lambeau Field will be filled, and it will be loud. That's what makes these fans so special. Regardless of the record or the kind of season the Packers are having, thee fans are always going to be there to support their team. The atmosphere will be rocking from the first whistle. Hopefully the Packers will come out and find a way to play competitively. Packer fans have had a flood of great memories and one of the greatest winning traditions in all of sports. A Christmas victory over the Grinch -- Da Bears -- would be mighty sweet!
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.