Of all the things that the Packers and Bears will have analyzed before today’s noon kickoff, from injuries to playoff implications, one thing stands out to me as the difference maker in this game. And it will come down to one serious question:
Do the Bears have the ability to be resilient in the face of adversity?
The Bears have lost four out of their last five games and lost their most important defensive leader (and unfortunately for them, still have their offensive leader). They have lost the last five games in the series and the last two games played in Chicago. A loss in this game means that, for most intents and purposes, the playoffs are pretty much lost. With only an advantage over Dallas in the tiebreakers, the chance for regaining the #6 seed they presently could claim would be a long shot, at best.
So, how do you respond in a case where, quite literally, every card is on the table and almost every one is against you? Well, if you’re the Green Bay Packers, that’s usually when you come to life and play your best football. Don’t forget that not only around this point in 2010 were the Packers out of the playoffs, but were under harsh criticism that they wouldn’t do much if they did make it. Injuries and McCarthy’s playcalling left most Packer fans in doubt that we’d win another game at 8-6, a story eerily similar to today’s Bears.
But that’s what defines the Packers: the team that thrives on adversity. And one could make the case that the Bears are the team that do not. In particular, as Brian Carriveau has noted in an earlier article this week, the statistics certainly prove that the Packers’ are the Bears’ Achilles’ heel–ignoring the fact that the Bears have a whole ton of other Achilles’ body parts right now to boot.
The Bears don’t play the Packers very well, especially of late. And perhaps, that’s what launched the war of words this past week from the Windy City, in what seems to be a desperate attempt to create some artificial, saccharine-based motivation to overcome what appears to be the indisputable fact that it doesn’t seem like the Bears can win.
The Packers, armed with the return of Clay Matthews, are (perhaps for the first time this season) actually in better health than the team they are playing, and with a win can lay claim to the division title and a playoff spot…then make the choice whether to rest starters for the playoffs or continue to try and gain some homefield advantage. The San Francisco 49ers hold a three-quarter game advantage over the Packers, and one win could be the difference between one game at home and two games at home.
But, the point is, either way it would be the Packers choice on whether or not to keep pushing starters 100% over their last two games.
But, imagine a parallel universe where the Bears win this game. Imagine that at the end of Sunday, the Packers and Bears stand tied at the top of the division with identical 9-5 records, a season split in head-to-head, and the Packers clinging to a one-game divisional advantage with the Vikings left on the schedule.
It’s the interested combobblication that can make your head spin. If the Packers truly thrive behind the eight ball and become complacent without something to play for, could a loss to the Bears actually work in their favor?
Humor me for a moment. Look back at that 2010 season, with the Packers on the outside looking in to the playoff picture and losers of three of their last four games heading into Week 15. The Packers went on perhaps the most improbable streak, needing to win out to take the last wildcard spot, then went on the road for every single game of the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl. Every game, the cards were stacked against them, and they came out on top.
But in 2011, it was a different story. The Packers clinched the division in Week 13 and the first-seed by Week 15. The Packers were stocked with Pro Bowlers and the season MVP. Instead of having to fight and claw in Week 17, they were able to rest their starters and played a sloppy high-scoring game against the Lions as their preparation for the playoffs.
We know the results of how the Packers hit the playoffs last years, versus the playoffs in 2010. With every advantage, including home-field, the Packers not only lost to the Giants, but lost in nearly every facet of the game. The team that seemed in complete control of its own destiny couldn’t control the ball on either side of the ball in that one important game.
Naturally, we are all going to root for the Packers to win today…and we should. We know that, logically, sealing up the division early is a good thing. We know putting away a conference arch-rival is a great momentum-builder. We know that the Packers should be in better shape the more games we host on the Frozen Tundra.
But, watch how both teams handle the pressure today. Watch how the Bears handle the adversity of seeing their entire season slipping away after a week of bravado and empty pride. Maybe it will be enough, and the Bears will prevail. Most likely, Jay Cutler and the Bears will implode in extremely satisfying fashion for Packer fans. Green Bay will hang another banner in the rafters and gun for a first-round bye if they can swing it while keeping their starters as much out of harm’s way as possible.
After all, it’s the path we’ve been taught that a team should follow. It’s logical. It makes sense.
But, as many people have told me since last year, the 2010 Super Bowl was lightning in a bottle, a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence that we can never expect to see again. But, what if this team isn’t as talented as we once thought it was, but has the ability to play beyond its expectations when its back is against the wall? What if 2010 wasn’t some anomaly, but a true reflection of perseverence in the face of adversity, a team that needs its back against the wall to play its best?
Then a loss to the Bears today might have a silver lining that could pay off in January. We’re all going to root for the Packers to win, because its how real Packer fans roll.
But if for some reason, the Bears pull off the upset against all odds, it just might be the motivation for the Packers to do the same when it really counts. If you don’t believe me, just go watch last year’s 15-1 Packers, rested after a bye, take on the bottom wild card New York Giants at Lambeau Field in a conference semi-final game.
C.D. Angeli is a longtime Packer fan and a feature writer at CheeseheadTV.Com. Catch him as co=host of Cheesehead Radio at PackersTalk.com or harass him on Twitter at @TundraVision.