Playoff implications are on the line when the Green Bay Packers visit the Chicago Bears on Sunday, Jan. 3, to close out the regular season.
Green Bay (12-3) can clinch a first-round bye and the No. 1 seed in the NFC with a win or a tie against the Bears. The Packers, who already have clinched the NFC North, also can get a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if the Seattle Seahawks (11-4) lose or tie against the San Francisco 49ers.
Meanwhile, Chicago (8-7) can clinch an NFC playoff berth with a win over its longtime division nemesis. There are two other pathways for the Bears to secure a postseason spot -- if the Arizona Cardinals (8-7) fall short to the Los Angeles Rams (9-6), or if the Bears and Cardinals each finish with tie scores.
Bottom line: Expect a dramatic showdown at Soldier Field when the teams meet for the 202nd time -- the NFL's oldest rivalry. Green Bay leads the series 100-95-6.
Packers coach Matt LaFleur has not had any trouble motivating his players heading into Week 17.
"The guys are dialed in," he said. "There's a lot to be motivated about. There's a lot, obviously, at stake."
The same is true in Chicago, which has had a roller-coaster season in coach Matt Nagy's third year. The Bears opened the season with a 5-1 record, then lost six games in a row to fall to 5-7, then won three straight.
Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky has played a key role in the late-season turnaround. He was benched for veteran Nick Foles during a Week 3 game against the Atlanta Falcons, but he reclaimed his starting job in Week 12 and has posted a 99.3 passer rating since then with 1,243 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.
"Everything I've experienced this season has just made me stronger and a better person and player," Trubisky said. "Just what I've had to deal with and everything we've had to overcome as a team, to see where we're at now, it gives you confidence.
"All the distractions and everything you have to deal with throughout the season and playing within a pandemic, it does make you mentally stronger as a person. And you're able to deal with a lot more."
As Green Bay's defense looks to limit Trubisky -- and perhaps more importantly, running back David Montgomery, who has been even more impressive over the past five games -- Chicago's defense will take on a steeper challenge. The Bears must find a way to slow down Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
At age 37, Rodgers is putting up MVP-caliber numbers with 4,059 passing yards, 44 touchdowns and five interceptions. He has a 119.4 passer rating, which leads the league and is the second best of his storied career, trailing only a 122.5 passer rating that he finished with in 2011.
Green Bay won the first meeting this season 41-25 on Nov. 29, as Rodgers passed for 211 yards and four scores at Lambeau Field.
Reports: Packers LT Bakhtiari sustains serious knee injury
The Green Bay Packers' playoff hopes took a hit Thursday, Dec. 31, when Pro Bowl left tackle David Bakhtiari sustained a serious knee injury in practice, according to multiple media outlets.
The injury is believed to be a torn anterior cruciate ligament, NFL Network reported.
The news comes at a bad time for the playoff-bound Packers (12-3), who would clinch a first-round postseason bye with a Sunday win at Chicago (8-7) or a loss or tie Sunday by the Seattle Seahawks (11-4) against the San Francisco 49ers (6-9).
Bakhtiari missed three games at midseason due to broken ribs, and Billy Turner moved from his normal spot on the right side of the offensive line to man left tackle. Another option to replace Bakhtiari could be second-year left guard Elgton Jenkins, who was just selected to the Pro Bowl.
Bakhtiari, 29, was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time in his eight-year career this season. Selected by Green Bay in the fourth round of the 2013 draft out of Colorado, he has missed only nine of a possible 127 games. Bakhtiari was selected to the All-Pro team in 2016.
In mid-November, Bakhtiari signed a four-year, $103.5 million contract that made him the highest-paid offensive lineman in league history.