GREEN BAY, Wis. (WSAU-TSN) - The Chicago Bears know they'll be playing again after this Sunday's trip to historic Lambeau Field, and that it won't be next week. The Green Bay Packers, on the other hand, have an opportunity to extend their season when the playoff hopefuls participate in one of the most pivotal contests on the Week 17 schedule.
The Packers can earn a second straight postseason trip with a victory over the NFC North champion Bears, which would give Green Bay the sixth and final seed for the conference tournament and a date at NFC East titleholder Philadelphia in next weekend's Wild Card Round. However, a loss on Sunday would require the Pack to get help from a couple of teams in order to advance.
If Green Bay comes up short in the regular-season finale, it needs both the New York Giants and Tampa Bay to suffer Week 17 defeats to make the playoffs. The Giants are at Washington on Sunday, while the Buccaneers visit postseason-bound New Orleans.
The New Orleans/Tampa Bay game will also have a bearing on Chicago's status, as a Buccaneers victory and a loss by current NFC front-runner Atlanta to doormat Carolina would give the Bears the conference's top overall seed and home-field advantage up until the Super Bowl.
Chicago has already clinched a first-round bye as one of the top two seeds by virtue of Philadelphia's upset loss to Minnesota on Tuesday.
The Bears will know their fate prior to kickoff, as both the Falcons and Saints will be competing during the early portion of Sunday's docket.
If Chicago is locked into the No. 2 position heading into the game, that would present the chance for the team to hold out a number of valued starters in preparation for the playoffs. However, head coach Lovie Smith has steadfastly stated during the week that the Bears will approach this matchup strictly with the intent to win
Chicago has done plenty of that during a turnaround campaign that has produced the organization's first NFC North crown and postseason invitation since 2006. The Bears improvement to 11-4 on the season with last week's hard-fought 38-34 triumph over the New York Jets, giving Smith's charges victories in seven of their past eight tilts.
The Packers have been less consistent over the course of the season's second half, but they've really turned it on of late. After giving AFC leader New England all it could handle in a four-point road loss behind backup quarterback Matt Flynn in Week 15, Green Bay regained control of its own destiny with a 45-17 throttling of the Giants this past Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Regular triggerman Aaron Rodgers returned from a concussion that caused him to miss the New England game and engineered an offensive explosion for the Packers, who hung up a season-best 515 total yards on the bewildered Giants en route to the rout.
Rodgers showed no aftereffects from the layoff, with the standout signal-caller amassing 404 yards and four touchdown passes without a turnover and hitting on a crisp 25-of-37 attempts.
Green Bay, which has prevailed in 10 of its past 11 outings at Lambeau Field dating back to last season, will have some additional incentive for Sunday's showdown. The Packers were dealt a stinging 20-17 defeat by the Bears in Chicago back in Week 3, in which the team squandered an initial 10-point lead and committed a franchise-record 18 penalties totaling 152 yards and had two costly turnovers, including a fumble by wide receiver James Jones in the final minutes that set up the deciding field goal.