After a win as dominant and important as last Sunday's over the Los Angeles Rams, it would be understandable if the Chicago Bears had to guard this week against a letdown.
Considering it's Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers they face, it's safe to say the mental edge will remain sharp. And the chance to win an NFC North title with a victory is sufficient added icing for their cake.
"We hate the Packers, with all of us," Bears wide receiver Anthony Miller said. "I know the fans, they hate them, as well.
"So when we go out there it's going to be like a playoff environment, I think. It doesn't matter what their record is. I think it's just going to be a huge game."
Green Bay's long-shot playoff bid received a major shot in the arm last week when it beat the Atlanta Falcons and four teams ahead of them in the playoff chase lost.
Now comes the biggest challenge.
Soldier Field might as well have been Lambeau Field South over the last quarter century. Starting with the 2010 NFC Championship Game, the Packers have won eight consecutive games in Chicago. Going back even further, they're 21-4 in their last 25 trips to the Windy City.
"We've won eight in a row. I'm not talking trash to their squad or Akiem (Hicks, the Bears' star defensive lineman) or anything, that's just the facts," Rodgers said.
This, however, will be a much, much bigger challenge. The Packers are only 5-7-1. They haven't won a road game in more than a calendar year and haven't won back-to-back games all season. Chicago, on the other hand, is 9-4. Defensively, the Bears (9-4) are once again the Monsters of the Midway. They demolished the high-flying Rams' offense in last week's 15-6 victory.
"They've got good players at every level of the defense," interim Packers head coach Joe Philbin said. "It will be a great challenge for us. If you look at the NFL, they put out those comparables and they rank 15 stats for offense and defense, and you can look at it in a straight vertical line and you look at their defense and it's a bunch of a single digits all the way down -- and a lot of them low."
For Green Bay to spring a major upset, Rodgers is going to have to play his best game of the season. In a 24-23 victory over Chicago in Week 1, Rodgers returned from a knee injury and sliced and diced the vaunted Bears defense in a 20-point second-half comeback. Rodgers probably hasn't played that well the rest of the season, though.
Having not beaten the Packers in Chicago since 2010 only adds to the frustration of the Bears.
"Now guys like myself, Danny Trevathan, Kyle Fuller, we've experienced those moments where we felt like we should have won against the Packers at home," Hicks said. "So we've got to have that chip on our shoulder as far as the guys that have been there before, but for everyone else it's a new experience, right? And they get to approach it like it's another team and go out there and play our best football."
Special teams ace Sherrick McManis, who must play nickel corner now with Bryce Callahan done for the year with a broken foot, recalls plenty of disappointments against the Packers at home or away. He's been around since the Lovie Smith era and is the Bears player with the longest tenure.
"It'd mean a lot," he said of beating Green Bay for the division title. "It's something I haven't done since I've been here."
The hard part is getting past Rodgers.
"You always remember all your losses, way more than you remember your wins," Chicago head coach Matt Nagy said. "And they sting. Especially when you have the lead like we did and we didn't finish like we needed to.
"They remember that, they feel it. And I want them to remember that. Because sometimes when you go on through the season and you have success like we've had, you can forget that sting. And I don't want them to forget that sting because we've got a ways to go yet here."
Rodgers has played through the knee injury and has thrown just one interception all season in 495 attempts.
"That's impressive," Nagy said. "That's hard to do. He's a guy that's seen a lot of different defenses. He's been in that offense for a long time so the game has slowed to him.
"And he's got that extreme talent. He has one of the best arms that this game has ever had. So he's got a great mentality, he goes about this game in the right way. But it doesn't surprise me one bit."
Rodgers, who turned 35 two weeks ago, appears to have stoked the flames for the Bears heading into this game with comments just after Thanksgiving.
"We're going to have to find a way to win a game on the road," Rodgers said. "We're 0-6 on the road. So we've just got to ... go to Chicago -- a place we've won a number of times -- beat them, go to New York around Christmas, beat them and then come home against Detroit, beat them. Get a little help."
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