The Green Bay Packers are on a roll.
A 24-20 win over the Detroit Lions Sunday was their fifth in a row and improved their record to 7-3 on the season. Meanwhile, in San Francisco on Monday night, the Chicago Bears dropped to 7-3 after losing 32-7 to the 49ers.
The Packers now sit atop the NFC North, having defeated the Bears in Week 2 to hold the tiebreaker.
The Lions and Minnesota Vikings are fading out of contention, leaving the Packers and Bears to fight for the division title. With six games remaining, the Packers appear poised to win the NFC North for the second-straight season.
Both teams have two games left against the Vikings and one against the Lions. The Packers will also face the New York Giants and Tennessee Titans, while the Bears will battle the Seattle Seahawks and Arizona Cardinals. The Bears will play host to the Packers in a crucial Week 15 matchup.
Green Bay is a well-rounded squad reminiscent of the team that won the Super Bowl in 2010.
Coming off an MVP season, Aaron Rodgers is once again among the best quarterbacks in the league.
Rodgers has the best passer rating in the league at 107.3, a completion percentage of 67.2, 2,619 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes. He has spread the ball around well, as seven of his wide receivers and tight ends have at least 10 receptions on the year.
It’s been a group effort in the run game as well, where Alex Green and James Starks have taken over for the injured Cedric Benson and helped the Packers average over 99 rushing yards per game.
On defense, the Packers secondary does tend to give up big chunks of yards, but they also do a good job preventing teams from reaching the end zone.
The Packers have 12 interceptions, five of which have come courtesy of cornerback Casey Hayward, a second-round pick out of Vanderbilt. The pass rush has also had an impact and currently ranks fourth in the league with 33 sacks.
In total, the Packers have 16 takeaways and nine giveaways for a respectable plus-seven rating in the turnover department.
The Packers special teams has not been a point of pride over the last couple seasons. However, this year, Randall Cobb has been consistent in the return game, and punter Tim Masthay has done well pinning the opposition deep.
Who will finish first in the NFC North?
With that said, Mason Crosby is the biggest storyline in Green Bay right now—for all the wrong reasons. Crosby is 11-of-18 on the year and has struggled greatly of late. However, this is his sixth year in the NFL, and he has never hit less than 75 percent of his field-goal attempts in a season.
Crosby should break out of his slump immediately, but if he doesn't, this could be the one issue that holds the Packers back.
The Packers have had a number of key players miss time due to injury this season, and yet, the team has continued to perform well.
Charles Woodson is recovering from a broken collarbone, while Cedric Benson hopes to return in Week 15 after suffering a Lisfranc foot sprain in Week 5. Clay Matthews, Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, B.J. Raji, Sam Shields and many others have also missed time.
Finally, the offensive line will be without Bryan Bulaga for the rest of the season after he injured his hip against the Cardinals.
The Packers have showed great resolve working through these injuries, especially those on defense in Sunday's game against the Lions. It was the same scenario in 2010 when the Packers won the Super Bowl despite missing starters.
If they can get healthy down the stretch, Green Bay could be even more dangerous heading into the playoffs.
This team has the experience of both winning a Super Bowl in 2010 as underdogs and of losing a home playoff game in the divisional round after going 15-1 with a dominant offense.
Expect the Packers to be well-prepared and to play smart, disciplined football as the season goes on. Mike McCarthy, the coaching staff and the players understand what has to be done to not only make the playoffs but to get to the Super Bowl as well.
The Bears came close in 2010, but they lost to the Packers at home in the NFC championship game 21-14. In fact, the Packers have gone 8-2 against the Bears in their last 10 meetings.
The Bears once again face the same problem they did in that tough NFC championship game, and that is the loss of Jay Cutler. The Bears have an outstanding defense, but they weren’t able to win without Cutler last season or this year against the Texans and 49ers.
If Cutler is healthy, the Bears should have no problem making the playoffs, but it will likely be as the No. 5 seed.
The Packers have already beaten the Bears once and had no problem going to Houston and handing the class of the AFC their only loss of the season. Green Bay has the momentum heading down the stretch having won five straight, while the Bears are on a two-game skid. At worst, the Packers should win the division with an 11-5 record.
With that said, Bears fans shouldn’t necessarily be worried. The Giants snuck into the playoffs last year with a 9-7 record and won it all, while the sixth-seeded Packers hoisted the Lombardi Trophy the year before.
Regardless of how they get there, a rematch of the 2010 NFC championship would be great to see.