Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Does anyone else have the feeling the Packers are the bare feet and the Bears the wine grapes about to be stomped?
Does anyone else have the feeling that, regardless of whether Jay Cutler, Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers play a lot or a little today, the Bears are going to get their helmeted heads handed to them on platters?
I can’t shake the feeling. I realize I’m in the minority in Chicago, which is suddenly in full froth about its football team. But something doesn’t feel right. Maybe it’s the fact that the Packers are a very good football team with incentive.
Yes, that probably would be it.
Now, I’ve been really, really wrong about the Bears this season, so this might be another example of my brain cells deserting me.
But the Packers will be playing for so much today and the Bears, well, not for so much. That’s the public perception, at least. Coach Lovie Smith is saying all the right things: His starters will play hard today. His team wants to sweep the NFC North. He wants his team to keep improving, and the only way to improve is by playing.
If he follows through on that, good for him. His defense needs to rediscover itself, and his offense could benefit from more time on the field.
But even if the Bears try hard, it’s impossible to see them having the hunger the Packers have. Even if pigs grow wings today and the Panthers shock the Falcons to help give the Bears a shot at a No. 1 seed, the Packers will be playing with desperation.
Only one desperate team
No matter what happens today, the Bears are assured of a bye and a home game in the postseason. That’s not desperation. That’s satisfaction, if not feet up on the coffee table. That’s human nature.
If the Packers lose today, they would need help to get into the playoffs. They don’t want their fate resting in someone else’s bent fingers. And they’d like to prove to everyone that this season has been a bit of a fluke.
The Packers are a very good team that hasn’t had a very good season. Who cares? Your record reflects exactly who you are, as Bill Parcells likes to say.
But the Packers have Aaron Rodgers, one of the best quarterbacks in the league. They have the best group of wide receivers in the league. They have playmakers in the secondary.
If you’re the Packers and think your 9-6 record is a big, fat lie, you very much want to put a butt-whipping on the Bears. You want to win to get into the playoffs. You want to set a tone. You want to beat the heck out of your archrival in front of your fans at Lambeau Field. And you want to send a message to the Bears that, should the teams meet in the playoffs, there’s a team from Green Bay that is your equal, no matter what the NFC North standings say.
‘Hit them in their mouth’
The Bears obviously believe that having the option of resting their starters is a good thing. It means they had a good enough season to be able to coast into the playoffs.
That’s the age-old debate: Do you coast if you can? Or do you charge into the postseason with an edge that comes with recent hard effort?
If the Bears lose today, they’ll be able to say it was a meaningless game. Smith will be able to take the same stance he took after their 0-4 preseason: It doesn’t mean squat.
He’ll be a genius if he plays/rests his starters today and the Bears play well in the playoffs. He’ll be a fool if he plays/rests his starters today and they lose in the playoffs. That’s the way it is. Nobody really knows which approach will work.
Smith eased off the pedal against the Packers in the 2006 season finale, losing when an unprepared Rex Grossman chalked up a 0.0 passer rating. That Bears team reached the Super Bowl anyway.
This time around, Smith is using the chance to go 6-0 in the division as a motivational tool, but it’s thin gruel. We’ll find out today if that battle cry was something real or something to keep players motivated during the week.
The Packers don’t have to concoct motivation.
“I’m expecting their best,’’ Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop said. “Once you line up between the lines, all that playoff stuff doesn’t matter. It’s mano a mano. We’re trying to hit them in their mouth, and I’m sure they’re going to try to swing back.”
The question is whether there will be long-lasting effects if the Bears lose — and lose badly — while playing their starters. The answer? We might be about to find out.