1:00 PM ET, December 16, 2012
Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
A two-month run of success has the Green Bay Packers in position to claim their second straight NFC North title.
That scenario still seemed unlikely until recently, as the now-reeling Chicago Bears spent most of the season controlling the division.
The surging Packers look to clinch the North with a sixth consecutive victory over the archrival Bears on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Until last week, Chicago (8-5) held either sole possession or a share of the North lead. After Week 5, the Bears were 4-1 while Green Bay was 2-3.
The Packers, though, have won seven of eight while the Bears have dropped four of five since their outstanding first half. Green Bay took the outright division lead with a 27-20 win over Detroit and Chicago's 21-14 loss at Minnesota last weekend.
The Packers, winners of two straight at Soldier Field, have outscored the Bears 116-65 in the last five meetings. Green Bay last won consecutive division championships during a three-year run from 2002-04.
"The division is the first goal," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We can wrap things up (Sunday). It's a tough opponent, a tough place to play, a lot on the line."
The Bears hope facing their biggest rival will provide them with enough of a spark to avoid a third straight loss and strengthen their postseason chances. Chicago holds the conference's final wild-card spot, but Washington, Dallas and Minnesota are one game back.
"If you need a game coming up to really motivate you to play your best football, it should be your rival with Green Bay coming in," coach Lovie Smith told the Bears' official website.
With a roster ravaged by injuries, Smith knows the challenge that awaits against a Packers team that has found ways to win despite trailing in five of its last seven victories.
Green Bay has been able to do so thanks in large part to outstanding fourth-quarter defense. The Packers, who fell behind 14-0 to the Lions on Sunday, have given up 21.0 points per game over the last eight but yielded three total field goals in the fourth quarter of the past six.
Aaron Rodgers has averaged a modest 228.5 yards while throwing four touchdowns and three interceptions in the last four games, but his 27-yard TD run gave the Packers their first lead Sunday.
"I don't get caught up in statistics," McCarthy said. "We've got nine wins. That's the only statistic I worry about."
Green Bay has succeeded while playing without defensive back Charles Woodson for the last six games and star linebacker Clay Matthews the last four. While Woodson has been ruled out along with wide receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) and defensive end C.J. Wilson (knee), Matthews is expected to return after recovering from a nagging hamstring problem.
"I thought he looked good all week," McCarthy said of Matthews. "I look for Clay to play and make an impact in the game."
Injuries at running back also have plagued Green Bay, but Alex Green has rushed for 127 yards on 25 carries in the last two games. Former practice squad member DuJuan Harris recorded 31 yards and a TD on seven rushes versus Detroit.
Chicago hasn't been nearly as effective in overcoming its health issues. With linebacker Brian Urlacher out for the regular season, the Bears lost kicker Robbie Gould this week to a season-ending calf injury. Veteran Olindo Mare will take his place.
Cornerback Tim Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, has been ruled out for the second straight week along with receiver Earl Bennett. Chicago also has lost key special-teams contributors Craig Steltz and Sherrick McManis for the season.
Quarterback Jay Cutler is expected to play after suffering a neck injury last week.
Despite the mounting injuries and current slide, the Bears remain optimistic even though they might need to win their final three games to make the playoffs.
"The confidence is not wavering," defensive end Julius Peppers said. "We're fully confident that we can do that."
The offense will likely need to improve for Chicago to have a chance to win out. The Bears have totaled 72 points in five games since a 51-20 victory over Tennessee on Nov. 4.
Also, a once-opportunistic defense that scored seven touchdowns in the first eight games has none in the last five. Chicago allowed an average 71.0 rushing yards in the first six games and 141.0 in the last seven.
"The pressure we're feeling right now is on our performances," Smith said. "Improving, it's on us."
Cutler has thrown four TDs and five INTs in his last four games. He has seven touchdowns and 16 interceptions while posting a 53.1 passer rating in going 1-6 against the Packers as a Bear.
Cutler threw four picks in a 23-10 loss to Green Bay on Sept. 13.
Brandon Marshall leads the NFL with 101 receptions and is second with 1,342 yards, but was held to two for 24 in the loss at Lambeau Field.
Rodgers has thrown nine touchdowns and two interceptions in his last three games versus Chicago.
More from ESPN.com
Cobb doesn't expect to miss game for Packers
Randall Cobb thinks his sprained right shoulder will be healed enough to play in 12 days when the Packers open the regular season against the Bears.
Packers-Bears: What to watch
After watching film of both teams, Scouts Inc. breaks down key elements of the Week 15 Packers-Bears matchup.
• Continue with balance offensively: The Packers have run the ball (108 yards per game) better in 2012. The Bears haven't been as stout defending the run, especially in recent weeks. Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher is still out with a hamstring injury, which further weakens the team's ability to defend the run. Look for Packers coach Mike McCarthy to continue with a more balanced approach (good mixture of runs and high-percentage passes on early downs) in this matchup.
Recent Blog Posts
Green Bay Packers
- Packers cut Matt Blanchard, should keep three QBs
- Randall Cobb says shoulder still has swelling but will be OK for Week 1
- Bart Starr wants to be at Lambeau for Brett Favre
|Avg Points Allowed||20.9||17.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||GB|
|Rush Yds Allowed||GB|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|Green Bay leads 17-8|
|Sep 13, 2012||GB 23, CHI 10|
|Dec 25, 2011||GB 35, CHI 21|
|Sep 25, 2011||GB 27, @CHI 17|
|Jan 23, 2011||GB 21, @CHI 14|
|Jan 2, 2011||GB 10, CHI 3|
|Sep 27, 2010||GB 17, @CHI 20|
|Dec 13, 2009||GB 21, @CHI 14|
|Sep 13, 2009||GB 21, CHI 15|
|Dec 22, 2008||GB 17, @CHI 20|
|Nov 16, 2008||GB 37, CHI 3|
|Dec 23, 2007||GB 7, @CHI 35|
|Oct 7, 2007||GB 20, CHI 27|
|Dec 31, 2006||GB 26, @CHI 7|
|Sep 10, 2006||GB 0, CHI 26|
|Dec 25, 2005||GB 17, CHI 24|
|Dec 4, 2005||GB 7, @CHI 19|
|Jan 2, 2005||GB 31, @CHI 14|
|Sep 19, 2004||GB 10, CHI 21|
|Dec 7, 2003||GB 34, CHI 21|
|Sep 29, 2003||GB 38, @CHI 23|
|Dec 1, 2002||GB 30, CHI 20|
|Oct 7, 2002||GB 34, @CHI 21|
|Dec 9, 2001||GB 17, CHI 7|
|Nov 11, 2001||GB 20, @CHI 12|
Jay Cutler was 2-of-11 with a touchdown and two interceptions on throws more than 10 yards downfield against the Packers in Week 2 this season. Since joining the Bears, Cutler has thrown four touchdowns and 11 interceptions on such throws against the Packers.[+]
Jay Cutler Passing More Than 10 Yards Downfield - Since Joining Bears
Aaron Rodgers went 21-of-29 (72.4 percent) with a touchdown against the Bears' four or fewer man pass rush in Week 2 this season, his best against Chicago since the Bears acquired Julius Peppers. Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception against such pressure from the Bears since 2010.[+]
Aaron Rodgers Facing 4 or Fewer Pass Rushers - Last 3 Seasons vs Bears
Undrafted rookie Don Barclay has taken over as right tackle in the Packers' last two games, and the Packers have been running behind him. More than half of the Packers' rushes (excluding kneel downs) have been to the right in those games, compared to 33.6 percent of the team's rushes in the first 11 games of the season.[+]
Packers Rushing by Direction - Last 2 Games
ESPN Stats & Information