Minnesota's win over the Eagles clinched a first-round bye in the playoffs for the Bears, but Chicago remains in contention for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage if they can beat the Packers on Sunday. The Bears have to get help though, too, to earn the top seed, needing the 12-3 Atlanta Falcons and the 11-4 New Orleans Saints to lose home games to Carolina and Tampa Bay, respectively.
Both of those NFC South contests will be played at noon (CST), and with the Bears and Packers squaring off at 3:15 p.m. at Lambeau Field, Chicago will know either by kickoff or very early on in the game whether it still has a shot at the top seed. But based on comments from Bears head coach Lovie Smith in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters on Wednesday, it doesn't sound like Chicago's approach to the game will change either.
"That doesn't affect us," Smith said. "We're playing our biggest rival this week. We have an opportunity to do something that has never been done in the NFC North, and that is win every game in the division.
"We want to continue to improve going into the playoffs. We for sure know that we have a bye, but nothing else has changed."
After a 20-17 win over the Packers at Chicago in Week 3 improved the Bears' record to 3-0, Chicago lost three of its next four games heading into the bye. But since their bye they have rattled off seven wins in their last eight contests, the lone loss a 36-7 defeat to New England in Week 14. With a 5-0 divisional record entering Sunday's game, Chicago is looking to become the first team from the NFC North/Central to sweep the division since the Bears last did so in strike-shortened 1987 (7-0).
Chicago has some experience being locked into a playoff position entering the season finale, and coincidentally, it came against the Packers in 2006. Heading into a New Year's Eve contest at Soldier Field with a 13-2 record and home-field advantage already locked up, the Bears played most of their starters for the entire first half, but fell behind 23-0 at the break behind four first-half turnovers (three interceptions and a fumble) by quarterback Rex Grossman. Green Bay won the game, 26-7, but the Bears went on to win the NFC Championship.
"In '06 we had some injuries too," Smith said. "There are a lot of things that goes into who plays what, but for us, it's 2010 and we plan on playing our guys this week. I don't know what else I need to tell you besides that. We're playing."
Bears Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher admitted in his conference call to being "the No. 1 fan" of the Vikings on Tuesday night as their division foe helped Chicago clinch a postseason bye, and said there would be "nothing better" than knocking another NFC North rival out of the playoffs.
"I think just the history between the two franchises, I think No. 1," Urlacher said. "Anytime you get a chance to knock someone out of the playoffs I think it's a good thing, no matter what the situation is or anything like that.
"You want to win every game you play, I know that much. It doesn't matter what the situation is. You want to go out there and win every game. It's tough playing at Lambeau Field, so we're going to have to be ready to play."
Head Coach Mike McCarthy dismissed any notion of it being a "meaningless" game for the Bears if things don't go the Bears' way in the noon games, and isn't going to let his team fall into that trap.
"That's a polluted mindset," McCarthy said. "That's what I told the team today. Leave the pollution outside the doors. We're focused on beating whoever comes out that gate on Sunday. They are going to have white jerseys on and we're going after them. That's our mindset.
"We need to get to 10 wins and we've been focused on that for quite some time. We're in position to accomplish our goal of getting into the playoffs and that's what we're focused on."
With the playoffs in sight, the Packers surely won't be lacking for motivation, and it probably doesn't hurt that they will have to knock off one of their biggest rivals to reach that goal.
"I think it's the Chicago Bears versus the Green Bay Packers," guard Josh Sitton said. "There is always going to be that rivalry to play for. I don't know what is going to happen with that, but I think it is going to be a four-quarter game."
Team is the focusEvery year there are players who have posted seasons deserving of Pro Bowl recognition, and that was no different for some Packers not named to the NFC team on Tuesday.
Green Bay had five players selected, the most since 2007, with quarterback Aaron Rodgers and cornerback Tramon Williams named first alternates. Wide receiver Donald Driver, linebacker A.J. Hawk, nose tackle B.J. Raji and Sitton were also selected as alternates.
"That's not one of the main goals at the start of the season," said Rodgers, who was named to his first Pro Bowl last season. "I think we talk about winning the (NFC) North and the team goals being more important than the individual goals, but also realizing that if you take care of your team goals then the individual goals usually follow.
"I think there are a number of guys in the locker room who are very well-deserving of being selected, but sometimes it takes winning a few more games for that to happen."
Raji has started every game this season, the only Green Bay defensive lineman to do so, and has posted career highs in tackles (62) and sacks (6.5) in his second season. The 6.5 sacks lead all nose tackles in the NFL.
"I'm happy for our teammates that made it," Raji said. "I felt like a few guys got snubbed, myself included, but that's the way it goes sometimes. Everything doesn't work in your favor. To me it will just be a good thing to learn from, that I want to get off to a faster start at the beginning of the season."
Sitton has also started every game at right guard in his second season as a starter, and according to STATS, has not allowed a sack this season.
"We're worried about our main goals as a team," Sitton said. "I think all of that type of stuff will come in due time. You do individually as the team does, so I am worried about going and beating Chicago and making a run in the playoffs.
"I really try not to worry about it; of course I think about it. It's an honor as a second-year starter just to be mentioned and to be an alternate."
Career day brings honorWhile he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl, Rodgers did receive an honor on Wednesday when he was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance vs. the N.Y. Giants this past Sunday.
It is the second time Rodgers has won the weekly award in his career, with the other instance coming earlier this month (Week 13, San Francisco).
Rodgers threw for a regular-season career-high 404 yards and matched his career best with four TD passes in Green Bay's 45-17 win over the Giants. He completed 25-of-37 passes with no INTs for a 139.9 passer rating. His 404 passing yards were the most by a Green Bay quarterback since Lynn Dickey posted 418 on Oct. 12, 1980, and it was the first 400-yard, four-TD, zero-INT performance in franchise history.
It was also the 10th time in Rodgers' career that he threw for three-plus TDs and no interceptions. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most in NFL history by a quarterback within three seasons of his first start, topping the previous record of nine set by Kurt Warner (1999-2001).
Impressive numbersThe FOX national telecast, which was mostly Giants-Packers, was the most-watched show among all programs last week with 24.3 million viewers , the 16th time in 16 weeks that an NFL game telecast has been television's most-watched program.
With their final telecasts in Week 16, both cable networks that televise NFL games completed record-setting seasons. ESPN's Monday Night Football was the most-watched series on cable television in 2010, setting the cable viewership record with an average of 14.7 million viewers. NFL Network wrapped up its fifth season of Thursday Night Football with a record average of 5.7 million cable viewers.
The Green Bay-New York contest posted a 40.2 local rating in Milwaukee.
Injury/participation updateSafety Atari Bigby (groin) and fullback Korey Hall (knee) are out for Sunday. McCarthy said it was too early to tell if their respective injuries would sideline them beyond this week if the Packers advance to playoffs, and that they would be evaluated again next week.
Defensive end Cullen Jenkins (calf), guard/tackle Marshall Newhouse (back) and linebacker Frank Zombo (knee) did not participate in Wednesday's practice. Jenkins has missed the last three games, and McCarthy said the team would need to take the week before making a determination on his availability for Sunday.
Nickel cornerback Sam Shields (knee) was added to the report on Wednesday and was a limited participant in practice. McCarthy said Shields' knee flared up on him during a workout on Monday.
Tackle Chad Clifton (knees), safety Nick Collins (ribs), linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) and center Scott Wells (back) were also limited participants.
Defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle), linebacker Erik Walden (quadriceps) and cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) participated fully.
For Chicago, wide receiver Earl Bennett (ankle), center Olin Kreutz (not injury related) and linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa (knee) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.
Additional coverage - Dec. 29