Celebrating the NFL’s 100th season, the Bears and Packers will meet for the 200th time Sunday at Lambeau Field in the league’s oldest and best rivalry.
The Packers are a near-lock to make the playoffs but haven’t clinched yet, and can sew up the NFC North title with a win over the Vikings next Sunday in Minneapolis.
Green Bay has a chance to finish anywhere from the No. 1 seed to out of the playoffs, but a loss to the Bears would put a severe crimp in hopes for a Week 1 postseason bye.
A loss to the Packers and a Minnesota win at Los Angeles eliminates the Bears from playoff contention.
Sunday is a must-win for the Bears, important but not so much for the Pack.
What can be gleaned from the opening night of the season when the Bears dropped a 10-3 heart breaker to the Packers at Soldier Field?
Virtually nothing, these two extremely different teams since then both had defensive performances that evening they have failed to come close to matching since.
While the Bears defense remains top five or ten in almost every significant category, most importantly 4th in points allowed, Green Bay is in the bottom half of the league in almost all of those categories with the exception of being 13th in points allowed.
The Bears will field one of the NFL’s worst offense’s, although it has been much more dangerous recently, while the Packers offense is average overall but claims three of the league’s most dangerous weapons this season in Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and Davante Adams.
As Matt Nagy said Friday, “For instance, last year, for the first time we were playing them, the very first night. He (Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine) has no idea what we’re going to do as an offense and we don’t necessarily know 100 percent what he’s doing.
“Even this year, they have new players on defense. So some of their scheme has changed.
“They get new players, they see things, they change, just like we do. It’s a cat and mouse game.”
The Packers have had an uncanny run of good luck with injuries this year, much like last year’s Bears.
But Mike Davis — who was the Bears' week one starting running back — has been cut, top TEs Adam Shaheen and Trey Burton are on injured reserve and Ben Braunecker, Taylor Gabriel, Bobby Massie and Danny Trevathan will all be out Sunday.
With at least five new starters, that is over 20 percent of the Bears lineup changed.
There is also a surprising new element of intrigue to this one that few expected.
The playing surface at Lambeau Field, long the gold standard in the NFL, has devolved this season into one of the league’s worst — with both the Packers and their opponents having significant issues on it in recent games.
I asked Nagy, in his experience which positions it could impact the most, and he said, “Um, there’s not one that it doesn’t. It affects every position.
“I mean, we’ve looked at the tape, there’s guys in previous games on that field where there’s long snappers that are slipping, but obviously the skill positions, the guys that are breaking and cutting, running deep – DBs, WRs — is probably where you see it the most.
“Sometimes, you can see it with edge rushers as they go to cut the corner, you can see some slipping and falling.”
We would expect Green Bay’s "Smith Brothers," Za’Darius and Preston, and the Bears' Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd to be among the biggest difference makers Sunday.
Can they still be?
Under normal circumstances, figuring this out is difficult.
52 on 52, the Bears are the slightly more talented team and they’ve played better football than the Packers over the past four or five weeks.
But no slap at Mitch Trubisky, Aaron Rodgers will clearly be the most dangerous man on the field, and he’s led other inferior Packer teams to wins over the Bears more often than many can count.
And oh yeah, they’re predicting a wind chill near zero Sunday.
I have no idea what’s going to happen, but the possibilities are endless.