LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Clinch the NFC North championship and beat a hated rival to do it? The Chicago Bears couldn't have asked for a sweeter scenario.
That's exactly the opportunity they're staring at when they host Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday afternoon.
"It would be very exciting," Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky said. "We know this is a big week for us, and a lot comes with it."
With six wins in the past seven games, the division championship and a playoff spot are just about in hand.
A win over the Packers (5-7-1) would clinch the North for the Bears (9-4). So would a loss by the Vikings to Miami. And ties by both the Bears and the Vikings would do the trick, too.
Even if they don't clinch the division, they could still secure a playoff spot on Sunday. In that case, a tie against Green Bay — or a tie or loss by Washington against Jacksonville — would send Chicago to the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 team won the NFC North.
Of course, with a victory comes this added bonus: beating Green Bay. It would also give the Bears a measure of revenge for that season-opening gut punch at Lambeau Field, when Rodgers got carted off the field with a left knee injury and came back to lead the Packers from 20 down to a 24-23 victory.
"It's a special moment in my career," Rodgers said. "It is the Bears, and the injury I was dealing with and the pain and 20-0 and coming back and winning that game. It seems a long time ago, standing here in Week 15, but that was a good moment for us. It's a better moment when you parlay those into big-time winning seasons and championship runs, but it was a special moment for sure."
The teams' fortunes sure have changed since.
The Bears have emerged as a force in the NFC in their first season under coach Matt Nagy after four straight last-place finishes. The Packers fired Mike McCarthy in his 13th season two weeks ago and made offensive coordinator Joe Philbin the interim head coach, hoping to jolt a team in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight year.
The Packers won his debut, beating the Atlanta Falcons 34-20. The Bears beat the NFC West champion Los Angeles Rams 15-6 last week, with their defense squashing one of the NFL's most prolific offenses.