GREEN BAY—This odyssey all began with what appeared to be a harmless third-down sack that forced the Packers to accept a field goal and a 3-0 lead with 12:24 to play in the first quarter of a Monday night game almost everyone believed the Packers would win.
They didn’t win the game. In fact, they wouldn’t win the next four games, and by the time November had graduated to December, the 5-2 record the Packers took into that Monday night game against the Bears was 5-6-1 and the Packers’ season was looking like toast.
In any of the NFL’s other seven divisions, it would’ve been toast, but not in the NFC North. Just as the Packers went winless in November, the Lions have done the same in December and the Bears are 2-2 so far this month.
How bad is the NFC North? Well, since the night Shea McClellin attempted to ruin the Packers’ season by breaking Aaron Rodgers’ collarbone, the top three teams in the NFC North are a combined 8-14-1 and none of those three teams has a winning record down the stretch.
One team, however, will claim the division title and the home playoff game that accompanies it. Both will belong to the winner of this Sunday’s game between the Packers and the Bears at Soldier Field.
Here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Bears and continue their dominance of the NFC North.
1. Run the ball—The Bears are last in the league in run defense. It’s how you beat the Bears.
2. Stop the run—The Packers are No. 26 against the run, which means it’s likely the Packers’ No. 1 way for beating the Bears is also the Bears’ No. 1 way for beating the Packers.
3. Make Jay Cutler beat you—He’s had difficulty doing that to the Packers, as his 1-6 record would suggest.
4. Play fast and loose—There’s no reason to be tight for this one. The Packers should feel lucky to even have this opportunity. This is a gift. Take it and run.
5. Rally ’round the quarterback—He’s the story of this game because the Bears’ impact on that position changed the Packers’ season.
6. Win special teams—The Packers lost special teams against the Steelers and lost the game. That’s how important “teams” are at this time of the season, when weather conditions make for big plays and big mistakes.
7. Press Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery—The Packers played them too softly in the first game. Cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams are playing their best football of the season right now. They’re up to this challenge.
8. Step up on defense—The Packers did that when they were first without Clay Matthews, in Baltimore. They’ll be without him again this Sunday and the Packers defense will need to play above the X’s and O’s as a unit to make up for the loss of their playmaker.
9. Win time of possession—TOP involves everything in the game plan. When you win TOP, you win the battle of field position, the battle of turnovers, the battle of third-down conversions, the battle of rushing yardage and almost certainly the battle of the line of scrimmage. Win TOP and win the game.
10. Sense your destiny—Fate has been your friend. He has plans for you. Don’t disappoint him, or her, whatever the case might be. Additional coverage - Dec. 26