GREEN BAY — The holidays are rapidly approaching, but most NFL teams are anything but jolly. That's because squads are facing the pressure of a playoff push, and most spots are up for grabs.
Matchups across Week 15 will have direct implications about which teams will be staying home when playoffs start in January and which will be fighting for the ultimate prize of a Super Bowl trophy.
The 200th edition of NFL's oldest rivalry will play a part in NFC playoff picture.
Things looked grim for the Chicago Bears after Week 11. The team had just lost their fourth straight game, rival Green Bay sat atop the conference, and the Minnesota Vikings resided in second place. After that loss, Chicago offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich admitted being a little weary: "It's frustrating ... It's all of us ... identifying all these problems that have been pointed out. Now we have to coach better and execute."
It seems the Bears have identified the problems, ripping off three straight wins following that week 11 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Part of that could be Chicago's strong second-half starts, but it could also be the Bears' competition. Of those three wins, only one was against a potential playoff team, and that team was the Dallas Cowboys, who are barely clinging to life in the NFC South.
Against the Packers, the Bears will need to step up their play against one of the league's best teams. For Chicago safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, a former Packer, it's a chance to catch up with old teammates on the field: "Being able to compete against your friends, it makes the game a little more fun, a little more competitive."
Clinton-Dix is known for making former teams pay, recording two interceptions against his last club, the Washington Redskins, earlier this season. But Clinton-Dix doesn't expect a similar performance against his team from 2014 to 2018.
"If Aaron Rodgers decides to bless me and throw me the ball twice, I'll be happy as hell," he said. "Unfortunately, A-Rod doesn't work that way. He's the best quarterback in the game."
But this 200th meeting of two of the league's premier franchises has a little extra meaning for Rodgers and the Packers. The Bears eliminated Green Bay from playoff contention last year, and this year, the shoe is on the other foot. Packers running back Aaron Jones knows it: "They kind of sent us home last year ... You don't forget those kinds of things."
Last year, Chicago eliminated Green Bay at Soldier Field. This year's contest is at Lambeau Field, and as Jones said with a smile: "I knew we could end their postseason." Whether the Pack can do so is a question for Sunday.