The Green Bay Packers were never going to take it easy on their biggest divisional rival, even if they had managed to clinch the No. 1 playoff seed in the NFC over the past weekend.
The Packers (12-3) began Week 16 with an outside shot at clinching a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the postseason but missed out after Seattle prevailed over the Los Angeles Rams. To some fans in Chicago, that might have seemed like a missed opportunity, as there was some speculation that the Packers would rest Aaron Rodgers and some of their other starters if their fate had been sealed ahead of time.
Turns out, sitting one out was never in the cards for Rodgers. Here’s what he told reporters in Sunday’s postgame about the Packers’ plan heading into Week 16:
Even if L.A. had won today, the plan was to play. Now that that scenario is out, business as usual. We would have wanted to play either way. We have gone different ways over the years when we’ve had a one- or two-seed locked up, haven’t played or played. I think the sentiment was to play, so now that that’s out of the question, we’ve got to win to get the one-seed. It feels like the playoffs started really last week, but obviously that wasn’t a great football team we played record-wise. This is a team that’s in the playoffs. Next week it’ll be a team that’s got a chance to be in the playoffs, so we know what kind of game it’s going to be down there in Chicago.
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Playoff Implications for Bears & Packers
For the Packers, the road to the No. 1 seed is simple: Defeat the Bears and enjoy the benefits of watching the first week of the playoffs from the comforts of their homes.
If they lose, things get a little more complicated. The New Orleans Saints (11-4) can take back the top seed if they defeat the Carolina Panthers in the final week and finish in a three-way tie with the Packers and Seahawks at 12-4. That scenario would eliminate Green Bay’s head-to-head tiebreaker and force the decision to conference records, where New Orleans prevails.
Meanwhile, the Bears (8-7) are also in control of their own destiny heading into Week 17. A win over the Packers guarantees them a place in the playoffs, the product of a late-season surge under quarterback Mitchell Trubisky after a midseason losing streak of six games. Chicago can also withstand a loss to Green Bay and still make the cut, but only if Arizona loses its game against a struggling Rams team that will likely be without Jared Goff.
Packers-Bears Have Kept it Close in Chicago
The Packers have gotten the better of the Bears in each of their last three matchups, including all of them under head coach Matt LaFleur, but the games that have been played in Chicago follow a similar, close pattern in recent years.
The Packers haven’t won a game at Soldier Field by more than seven points since the 2015 season — an eight-point win in the season opener — and lost there as recently as Dec. 16, 2018, when the Bears last clinched the NFC North division title. Of course, the Packers have also had some spectacular moments in Chicago, including their last-second touchdown to clinch the division in 2013.
The Bears will host the Packers at 3:25 p.m. CT Sunday for their regular-season finale.