You bet this is a big game. I'm not going to argue it's anywhere near as big as the NFC Championship last January. That was the biggest game in the 90-year history of the rivalry.
But this one is big. Make no mistake about that.
If you're saying it's only Week 3, look back to last year. The Bears finished 11-5, the Packers 10-6. Chicago won the NFC North title by virtue of its victory in, that's right, Week 3 at Soldier Field. The Packers committed 18 penalties and the Bears won on a last-second field goal.
Sure, it all worked out for the Packers in the end, getting a wild-card playoff spot and becoming postseason road warriors, but winning the division and getting home games in the playoffs, plus a possible bye, no doubt increases the odds of playoff success. Think about it this way: Playing at home in the NFC Championship, after a week off before their playoffs began, the Bears – with a third-string quarterback – came within 29 yards of sending last winter's conference title game to overtime. Playoff positioning does matter.
There are more reasons to call this a big game. The Bears, I think, desperately need this one. They're 1-1 and trying to find themselves after dominating Atlanta but falling flat in New Orleans. The Bears do not want to drop two games behind the Packers this early, not with Carolina's Cam Newton looming the following week, plus games against much-improved Detroit and additional playoff contenders Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, San Diego, and another contest with Detroit again, all before Thanksgiving. Lose this one and the Bears might be playing uphill for the next two months.
It's big for the Packers, too. Many experts have pegged Detroit as the biggest threat to Green Bay in the NFC North, and that may be true, but the Lions and Packers don't meet until Thanksgiving. This is Green Bay's most significant division game until then.
The news that safety Nick Collins is out for the season, I think, heightens the importance of this game for the Packers as well. Last year the injury situation was at its worst following Week 5 at Washington. The Packers lost the following week at home to Miami in overtime and they were fighting for their playoff lives pretty much the rest of the season.
As the defending Super Bowl champs, the Packers must send a message immediately that the Collins injury won't deter them, and there's no better opportunity to do that than against the archrival Bears. Lose the first game following Collins' injury and I think the Packers' opponents will smell vulnerability. They'll sense the champs are slipping and won't be able to overcome injury two years in a row. I think that psychological edge as current king matters for the Packers, and if you don't, just ask the Panthers, who led 13-0 just 12 seconds into the second quarter but then didn't find the end zone again until the game's final minute.
One dominant quarter didn't sink the Packers, and they have to show that one critical injury won't either.
The fervor Packers fans feel for this game is because the opponent is the Chicago Bears. Please, you can't have a big game in Week 3.
This rivalry is such that the notion of losing is so repulsive to both teams and their fans that every game seems to take on a life-or-death quality, but the simple fact of the matter is that the loser of this game will not have neither expired nor taken an uncorrectable wrong turn at an early-season crossroads. Why not? Because there are no crossroads games this early in the season.
Hey, the leaves are still on the tree. The pumpkins aren't even full grown (I really don't know that, but it sounded good).
Crossroads games, watershed moments, simple big games are for late in the season, like on Christmas night in Green Bay. That's when big games are played, if you know I mean. Yeah, baby.
I'm not saying the Packers should go down there and play paddy-cake this Sunday, I'm just saying that it is too early in the season for this game to be considered a tipping point, and that's what I need to be able to regard a game as big. I need for it to represent a tipping point in the season.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking that the Packers lost in Chicago in Week 3 last season and had they won that game they would've won the NFC North. You're right, but had the Packers merely won in Detroit last season, they would've won the NFC North so that means the game in Detroit was every bit as big as the game in Chicago. So, did you regard that game in Detroit with the same fervor with which you regarded the one in Chicago?
You wanna big game? I'll give you a big game: 2010, Week 17, Bears at Packers, win and in, lose and out. That's a big game.
So why do I feel so strongly about not getting over the top on games this early in the season? Because it's important for teams to pace themselves and not shoot all of their emotional bullets with 13 games left on the schedule.
Look at the Ravens. They were playing a big, big game against their hated rival, the Steelers, in Week 1, right? Oh, baby, they ripped the Steelers. I mean, they lit them up and rubbed it in and danced and laughed along the sideline. With the game out of reach, they ran a fake-kick, two-point conversion. They were giddy. They all but crowned themselves AFC North champions.
A week later, they're 1-1 following a loss in Tennessee. The Steelers are also 1-1, and really looking forward to their return match with the Ravens at Heinz Field on Nov. 6. Mike Tomlin will probably go for two in that game. Why? Because he can't go for three.
See what I mean? It's too early to get carried away. You could make the point that this is a big game for the Bears, since it's a home game for them, but nobody gets dirt thrown on them after Week 3.
Play hard, play well and move on. That's what's most important. Neither celebrate in victory nor despair in defeat. It's too early for that stuff.
Now, if this was Christmas week, I would be of a very different opinion.
What do you think?