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 and can sew up the NFC North title with a win over the Vikings on Dec. 22 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 heartbreaker 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.
Whereas the Bears’ defense remains top five or 10 in almost every significant category, most importantly fourth 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 offenses, 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.
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 1 starting running back – has been cut, top tight ends 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 more than 20% 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 Bears coach Matt Nagy which positions it could impact the most, and he said, “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.
Fifty-two 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 clearly will 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.
• Hub Arkush is executive editor of Pro Football Weekly. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter @Hub_Arkush.