CHICAGO, Ill. (WSAU-TSN) - The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have faced one another more than any other two teams in NFL history, but never has a matchup between the bitter rivals meant more than this Sunday's showdown in the NFC Championship Game.
The longtime division foes will square off at Chicago's Soldier Field with a Super Bowl berth on the line in only the second-ever postseason encounter in this storied series. The first came all the way back in 1941, when the Bears posted a 33-14 win at Wrigley Field in a Western Division Playoff.
Though the circumstances on Sunday will be far different than usual, these fellow NFC North inhabitants are certainly quite familiar with each other. As they've done in every non-strike year since 1934, the Bears and Packers met two times during the regular season, with the clubs splitting the 2010 home-and- home set.
Chicago rallied past a mistake-laden Packers squad for a 20-17 victory in the Windy City in Week 3, capitalizing on a team-record 18 Green Bay penalties and forcing a pivotal fumble by wide receiver James Jones in the final minutes to set up kicker Robbie Gould's deciding field goal. The Packers got their revenge with a much-needed 10-3 triumph at Lambeau Field in the regular-season finale, a result that earned the Green and Gold a postseason spot as the NFC's final Wild Card entry.
The Packers have followed up that critical win with two highly-impressive road efforts to advance to Sunday's conference title game, besting NFC East champion Philadelphia by a 21-16 count in the Wild Card Round before humbling top-seeded Atlanta in a 48-21 shocker last weekend at the Georgia Dome.
Green Bay used a near-flawless performance from quarterback Aaron Rodgers and its offense to overwhelm the Falcons, piling up 442 total yards and scoring touchdowns on five straight possessions at one point to build a commanding 42-14 lead. The Packers held their own on the other end as well, limiting Atlanta to a mere 194 yards and inducing four turnovers, including a back- breaking 70-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Tramon Williams to close out the first half.
Rodgers completed a crisp 31-of-36 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns while also running in a score, becoming the first signal-caller in NFL history to both throw for three touchdowns and record a passer rating of 120 or better in each of his first three postseason starts.
Chicago, which finished a game ahead of the Pack in the NFC North standings to claim the conference's No. 2 seed, also received a big-time showing from its quarterback during the Divisional Round. Jay Cutler's playoff debut was a smashing success, with the sometimes-erratic triggerman accounting for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing) and not committing a turnover to lead the Bears to a 35-24 ousting of surprising Seattle last Sunday.
Repeating that sharp effort could be essential to Chicago's hopes of reaching the Super Bowl for the second time in head coach Lovie Smith's seven-year tenure. Cutler threw two interceptions, the last of which came in Green territory in the closing seconds, in the Week 17 loss at Lambeau, and he's been picked off nine times in four bouts with the Packers since joining the Bears in a trade with Denver prior to the 2009 campaign.
Green Bay will be vying for its first Super Bowl invitation since 1997 and is participating in the NFC Championship for the first time since 2007, when the Pack dropped a gut-wrenching 23-20 overtime decision at home to the New York Giants in what turned out to be Brett Favre's final game with the franchise.
That Giants team stands as the only NFC member to get to the Super Bowl by winning three times on the road in the playoffs, an achievement the Packers can match by prevailing on Sunday. Green Bay is also seeking to join the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers as the only sixth seeds to advance to the Big Game.
The Bears' last NFC Championship appearance came in 2006, when it defeated New Orleans by a 39-14 score at Soldier Field to move on to Super Bowl XLI.