NFL Preview - Green Bay (9-4) at Chicago (8-5)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A reeling Chicago Bears team is all that stands between the Green Bay Packers and a second straight NFC North Division crown.
The Packers enter Week 15 with a one-game lead over the beleaguered Bears and searching for their sixth straight win over Chicago as well as their 12th consecutive triumph in division play.
"We're 9-4 right now and we're in first place in the division by a game," said Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. "We've put ourselves in good position, not only for the division, but potentially a first-round bye. The division is the first goal."
The Pack put themselves on the precipice of NFC North bragging rights by winning for the seventh time in eight games last Sunday after DuJuan Harris rushed for a tiebreaking touchdown in the fourth quarter, as Green Bay earned a 27-20 victory over the Detroit Lions.
Rodgers also ran for a score while completing 14-of-24 passes for 173 yards. The Green Bay quarterback did not throw a touchdown pass at Lambeau Field for the first time since Sept. 21, 2008, snapping a streak that had reached 35 games.
"It's going to be ugly at times, but the main thing is the wins," Rodgers said.
Randall Cobb had 102 yards on seven receptions for the Packers, who moved one game ahead of Chicago in the North standings after the Bears fell to the Vikings earlier in the day.
Adrian Peterson had a pair of first- quarter touchdowns in Minneapolis as the Vikings handed the Bears a 21-14 loss at Mall of America Field.
Brandon Marshall caught 10 passes for 160 yards and a score in the losing cause while Jay Cutler threw for 260 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-44 passing but was picked off twice as Chicago fell for the fourth time in the last five weeks.
"We knew we had to play our best football on the road in hostile environments such as this place," said Chicago head coach Lovie Smith. "If you want to be successful in the NFL you have to do that, and we didn't."
Cutler also had to leave the game late after being high-lowed by Minnesota's Jared Allen and Everson Griffen. Cutler suffered a neck injury but is expected to play on Sunday for the Bears, who still currently hold one of the two NFC Wild Card spots despite their recent struggles.
Chicago will be without defensive leader Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and proven kicker Robbie Gould (calf) this week, however.
"It's now about a three-game season and this next game," said Smith. "That's going to dictate what happens with us. We're still in position to accomplish all of our goals that we set out early on."
The Packers have dominated the Bears in recent years, winning two straight at Soldier Field and trouncing Chicago by a margin of 116-65 during their current winning streak in the series.
This is the longest and most extensively played rivalry in NFL history, dating back to 1921 with the Bears leading overall 91-84-6. The Pack won at Lambeau back in Week 2, a 23-10 decision where Rogers threw for 219 yards and a score, while Cutler was picked off four times.
"If you need a game coming up to really motivate you to play your best football, it should be your rival with Green Bay coming in," Smith said.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Many have chalked up Chicago's recent woes to injury concerns but Green Bay has had similar problems and handled them much better. Urlacher is likely out for the rest of the regular season, while Gould, one of the steadiest kickers in the NFL, was placed on injured reserve this week and replaced by veteran Olindo Mare.
The Bears have also lost key special-teams players Craig Steltz and Sherrick McManis but star cornerback Tim Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, hopes to be back this week after sitting out in Minnesota with a shoulder issue.
The Packers have had as many if not more key injuries and could get defensive back Charles Woodson (broken collarbone) and linebacker Clay Matthews (hamstring), along with receiver Jordy Nelson (hamstring) back this week.
Matthews returned to practice for the first time in more than a month on Wednesday but Nelson and Woodson were still absent.
Injuries have also mounted at running back for the Packers with both Cedric Benson and James Starks gone for the season. Alex Green, however, has stepped up, running for 127 yards on 25 carries over the last two games and old standby Ryan Grant was brought back.
Early in the season Chicago was relying on its opportunistic defense, which scored seven touchdowns in the first eight games but has gotten none since. The Bears run defense has also faltered badly recently, allowing 141 yards over the last seven contests.
"The pressure we're feeling right now is on our performances," Smith said. "Improving, it's on us."
Since Rodgers is likely play a clean game, Cutler and the Bears offense must find a way to get things clicking. Chicago has scored just 72 points overall in five games since racking up 51 in Tennessee on Nov. 4, thanks in large part to a shaky offensive line.
The Bears' Brandon Marshall leads the NFL with 101 receptions and is second with 1,342 yards, but rarely gets any help outside the numbers.
Green Bay last won consecutive division championships during a three-year run from 2002-04 but that's likely to change this weekend.
Rodgers has thrown nine touchdowns and just two interceptions in his last three games versus Chicago. Conversely Cutler has thrown seven touchdowns and 16 interceptions while compiling a dismal 53.1 passer rating and 1-6 record against the Packers since arriving in the Windy City.
Translation -- another NFC North title belt for Mr. Discount Double Check.
"The division is the first goal," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "We can wrap things up (Sunday). It's a tough opponent, a tough place to play, a lot on the line."
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Packers 24, Bears 14
12/13 13:30:04 ET