The performances of the respective quarterbacks will be under scrutiny in today's win-or-go-home showdown pitting the Packers and Bears that's expected to be a shootout despite a forecast that calls for plummeting temperatures at Soldier Field.
"Obviously, the quarterback is always the focal point," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "That's undeniable. But it's a team game. It's going to take everybody, and I think our guys are up for the task."
Past performance clearly favors Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, who is 9-2 when he plays the entire game against the Bears. Jay Cutler as a Bear is 1-7 against the Packers, including the 2010 NFC title game when he was sidelined by a sprained knee just before halftime.
Cutler downplayed the idea that the game could be personal vindication for him after a trend of bad performances against the Packers. But Trestman acknowledged the importance of the quarterback.
"He's the guy who really flies the plane," the Bears' coach said. "It's not on autopilot. He's got to fly it in all different kinds of weather. So it's extremely important that he plays efficiently from a standpoint of all 10 other guys. He's got to put those guys in position to succeed, and they've got to help him to do that as well.
"It's a team game, but it is a quarterback-run game. The quarterback is always going to be the focal point, and that's because he has more to do and more responsibility on his shoulders because of all that's involved in the position."
Feeling run down:
Considering how poorly the Bears have defended the run this season, it may not matter how much Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy (1,112 yards, 10 touchdowns) is able to play today on a sprained ankle. Backup James Starks has averaged 5.2 yards per carry this season. Only three running backs in the NFL with more than 70 carries have a higher average.
The Bears have allowed an average of 161.5 rushing yards per game, 25.6 yards more than the next worst team. The Bears have allowed 5.4 yards per rush, the worst in the league since 1961.
"They have two very good backs, and we know that," Bears coach Marc Trestman said. "We had two good weeks where we continued to ascend, and we certainly went backward last week (allowing 289 rushing yards to the Eagles). We've made every effort to clean that up and put ourselves in position where we're fitting better, tackling better, and have a collective discipline with our football team.
"We've got to be in the right place first before we can stop them."
In the first meeting with the Packers, Lacy rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries (6.8-yard average) and Starks added 40 on 6 attempts (6.7-yard average).
Follow the leader:
Aaron Rodgers' presence in the Packers' lineup is so profound that the betting line in Las Vegas shifted by 6 points when he was announced as the starter for today's game.
The Bears were favored by 3 points when the line opened, but the odds have flip-flopped so that the Packers are now 3-point favorites.
Conversely, point spreads on Bears games have not differed much whether it was Jay Cutler or Josh McCown at quarterback. Bears players don't believe Cutler has to carry them to victory today -- he just has to do his job.
"We just need Jay to be Jay and do what he can do," guard Matt Slauson said. "Lead the team and make the throws that he can make. The great thing about (Marc) Trestman's offense is that he would never ask anyone to play above what they can because it's impossible."
The quarterback position demands a certain level of leadership, but several other players in the Bears' locker room are also considered team leaders.
"It isn't like one guy has to stand out and be the hoo-rah guy," Slauson said. "It's been the same thing all year, with Jay taking some of it, (Matt) Forte taking some of it, Roberto (Garza) taking some, and Lance (Briggs) and (Julius) Peppers. We have a lot of incredible guys in this room."
Many happy returns:
Devin Hester's first choice would be to notch his 20th career return touchdown today against the Packers, which would break the deadlock he's in with Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for the NFL record.
But if it doesn't happen today, Hester would like to remain a Bear as he continues to chase sole possession of the record. Along with 29 other teammates, Hester will be a free agent after the season -- but he wants to return.
"It would be sad to go somewhere else and break the record," he said. Even if the record doesn't happen, I want to retire as a Bear.
I've spent eight years here. This town, the fans the coaches and everybody have opened their arms to me and made me feel at home."
Back for more:
Fullback Tony Fiammetta agreed to a two-year contract extension Saturday.
This season, his first with the Bears, Fiammetta played in all 15 contests with seven starts, helping Matt Forte rush for 1,229 yards. In five NFL seasons, including stops in Carolina (2009-10), Dallas (2011) and New England, the 6-foot, 250-pound Fiammetta has 11 carries for 26 yards and 12 receptions for 130 yards.