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4 things to watch in Bears-Packers game


The Bears (8-7) will look to record their fourth straight win and secure a playoff berth Sunday when they host the Packers (12-3) at Soldier Field. Here are four storylines to watch in the regular-season finale:

(1) Will the Bears complete one of their biggest regular-season turnarounds in franchise history and make the playoffs?

The Bears season was on life support after they blew a late 10-point lead to the Lions Dec. 6 in losing their sixth straight game and falling to 5-7. But they resiliently rebounded to win their next three contests, not only climbing back into playoff contention but putting themselves in control of their own destiny heading into Sunday's finale at Soldier Field.

The Bears will earn a wild card berth with a win over the rival Packers or a Cardinals loss to the Rams in Los Angeles. Both games will kick off at 3:25 p.m. (CT). Green Bay has already clinched the NFC North title but needs a victory or a Seahawks loss to the 49ers to secure the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye in the playoffs. So the Packers won't be resting star quarterback Aaron Rodgers or any of their other key players Sunday.

The Bears are seeking to become just the third NFL team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to make the playoffs after losing six consecutive games in a season. The 1970 Bengals won their last four contests to win the AFC Central with an 8-6 record, while the 2014 Panthers won their last seven games to capture the NFC South with a 7-8-1 mark.

The Bears would secure the No. 7 and final seed in the playoffs with a win or a Cardinals loss. They can also claim the No. 6 seed, but only with a victory and a Rams defeat to the Cardinals. Because the Bears want their players to focus 100 percent on the task at hand, they likely will not show the Rams-Cardinals score on the scoreboard. "We've got to worry about us," said coach Matt Nagy, "and we've got to do everything we can to win this game."

(2) With a playoff berth at stake and their season on the line, can the Bears reverse a negative trend against their fiercest rival?

The Packers have dominated the NFL's oldest rivalry over the last decade, winning 18 of 21 meetings with the Bears since 2010, including nine of the last 10 at Soldier Field. There would be no better way to ring in 2021 than with an upset of the NFC North champions.

The last time the Bears had a chance to clinch a playoff berth against Green Bay was in Week 15 of the 2018 season when they responded by winning the NFC North title with a 24-17 win at Soldier Field. In that game, Mitchell Trubisky threw two touchdown passes and the Bears defense recorded five sacks of Rodgers.

Two years later, it won't be easy to replicate that performance against a red-hot Packers team that has won its last five games by an average margin of 14.2 points. Green Bay has scored at least 30 points in five of its last six games and has committed only one turnover in its last five contests.

"From the start to the finish, there's no slowing down," said safety Eddie Jackson. "There's no excuses. It's none of that. It's win or go home. It's been like that for the last, what, four weeks for us? So we know what's at stake for us. We've got a lot to lose and a lot to gain as well. So you've got to go out there and lay it on the line."

(3) Will the Bears defense be able to contain Rodgers?

Like so many NFL defenses, age has failed to slow down the Packers' future Hall of Fame quarterback. At 37, Rodgers appears to be primed to win his third league MVP award. He leads the NFL with 44 touchdown passes—one shy of his career high set in 2011—and a 119.4 passer rating. During Green Bay's current five-game winning streak, Rodgers has thrown for 15 touchdowns and just one interception.

"He's a master of their system, No. 1," said Bears outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino. "No. 2, he's extremely talented. No. 3, he's got rare football IQ and feel for their passing game. And I think that their staff there does a great job of giving him enough freedom down-to-down to get them out of a good play and into a better play. He's playing really, really well. I haven't seen Patrick Mahomes on tape, but I know this guy's playing as good as any quarterback that I've ever seen."

Rodgers has won 17 of the last 19 games he's started and finished against the Bears and has thrown 30 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in his last 12 contests versus Chicago.

The Bears are hoping to generate consistent pressure on Rodgers like they did in his last two appearances at Soldier Field, when they recorded five sacks in each contest: the aforementioned division-clinching win in 2018 and a 10-3 loss in the 2019 season opener. In the first matchup between the teams this year, Rodgers threw four touchdown passes without being sacked or even hit in a 41-25 win over the Bears Nov. 29 in Green Bay.

(4) Will the Bears offense continue to shine?

The Bears have made a remarkable, 180-degree about-face on offense over the last month or so. They're the only NFL team that has scored at least 30 points in their last four games, a feat they've accomplished for the first time since 1965. Since the Bears reinstalled Trubisky as their starting quarterback and reconfigured their offensive line during their bye week, they've generated 19 touchdowns in five games and averaged 33.0 points and 387.4 yards. In the seven previous contests, they were limited to nine TDs and averaged 16.7 points and 272.1 yards per contest.

Trubisky has helped fuel the resurgence, completing 68.0 percent of his passes for 1,243 yards with 10 touchdowns, four interceptions and a 99.3 passer rating in five games since regaining his starting job. "With everything that has transpired, he has been through a lot," said passing game coordinator Dave Ragone, who has worked with Trubisky since he was drafted by the Bears in 2017. "He has shown resiliency. He has shown a no-quit, a fight that I think a lot of us who are close to him know that he has."

The night-and-day difference with the running attack has also played a vital role in the offense's vast improvement. In the last five games, David Montgomery has rushed for 529 yards and six touchdowns on 94 carries, more than doubling his output in his first nine outings. "It's trust between the offensive line and David, and David and the offensive line," said running backs coach Charles London. "Having the same starting five for a couple weeks, I really think that's helped. They get a feel for how he runs. He gets a feel for how they block certain plays. We've got a consistent five and they're really starting to feed off each other."

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