Pack-Bears III: The Early Read

Next Sunday, we'll watch the most significant Packers-Bears game of our lifetime. For just the second time in 182 meetings, these ancient rivals will meet with a title on the line. Who could have imagined before the season that we'd get an all-NFC North title game and that the Vikings wouldn't be one of the teams playing in the game?

Both QBs are playing at their highest levels. Rodger dismantled the Falcons like a surgeon. Cutler was more like a boxer, delivering punches--even a couple with his feet. The reason these teams are playing for a Super Bowl berth is because their QBs stepped up in a big moment on a big stage and were the best players on the field in the divisional weekend.

Both teams also have defenses playing at a championship level. The Bears rely on crafty veterans like Urlacher, Peppers and Briggs, while the Pack has one Yoda guy in Charles Woodson, and a bunch of precocious kids in Matthews, Williams, Raji and Bishop.

When divisional rivals meet for a conference championship, you expect a close game. You expect each team to try something they haven't shown in the first two meetings. The Packers will look to take Devin Hester out of the equation (of course, if Tim Masthay gets to stay on the sidelines like he did in Atlanta it's a moot point) and keep Matt Forte from making big plays. The Bears will spend the week trying to find a scheme that will cool off Rodgers.

Weather might be the ultimate factor next Sunday. Rodgers admits he likes playing indoors. I'm pretty sure Soldier Field and it's soft squishy surface will feel a whole lot different than the carpet at the Georgia Dome.

We have all week to consider this historic matchup. For one team, a ticket to Super Bowl XLV. For the other a devastating knockout blow, delivered by their oldest rival, one that they'll have to live with the whole offseason.

The stakes couldn't be higher. The wait couldn't be more agonizing.

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