The Green Bay Packers (9-4) can clinch a second consecutive NFC North title by beating the rival Chicago Bears (8-5) Sunday in Chicago.
To stay alive in the division race, Chicago needs to snap a recent run of poor performances against the Packers. The Bears haven't beat the Packers since Sept. 2010 in Chicago—a string of five straight games.
In the following slides, we'll break down the five matchups that will help determine whether the Packers are division champions in 2012 or if the Bears even up the standings with two games left.
In the first meeting, Clay Matthews was the difference. The Packers' Pro Bowl pass-rusher sacked Jay Cutler 3.5 times (a career high) and hurried him on two other plays. The complete dominance from Matthews resulted in four interceptions and a brief encounter between Cutler and J'Marcus Webb on the sidelines.
More than likely, Matthews will be on a snap count Sunday as he returns from a hamstring injury. But if the Bears can't do a better job of accounting for him when he's in the game, Cutler and the offense could again struggle. Webb has to be better for the Bears to have a chance.
Despite the Bears' elite ability to stop the run over the last handful of seasons, Green Bay has been able to establish an identity in most of the recent matchups. In fact, in three of the last four meetings, the Packers have rushed for 100 or more yards.
The Bears will be without several big-name defenders Sunday, including middle linebacker Brian Urlacher. His injury has had a ripple effect on the run defense, which has allowed over 170 yards in back-to-back games. That could be a problem once again.
The Packers, once a high-flying passing offense, has relied more and more on the run in recent weeks. Over the last three games, Green Bay is averaging over 130 rushing yards.
Chicago simply can't afford the Packers to be a multi-dimensional offense Sunday, especially with some of the key injuries on defense.
There has been a lot of pre-game talk about Brandon Marshall and the Packers' scheme to stop him in Week 2. But regardless of scheme, or any perceived lack of respect from either side, Green Bay's ability to take Marshall out of the offensive game plan will again be one of the deciding factors in this matchup.
Marshall is leading the NFL in catches this season, and it's clear that Cutler is working the ball to his top receiver any chance he can get. It's clear Marshall is the first true receiving threat Cutler has had since coming to Chicago.
In the first meeting, Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers tilted coverage Marshall's way. That should be expected again.
The Bears need to scheme ways to beat trail coverage (cornerback playing underneath leverage, safety bracketing over the top) and get Marshall the football without Cutler having to force things into double and triple coverage. Tramon Williams and the Packers thrived in bracket coverage in Week 2.
In the first meeting, Green Bay held the Bears to just 94 rushing yards. Part of that success came from the scoreboard, and part of it was the result of Forte leaving the contest early with an ankle injury.
The Bears will likely feed a now healthy Forte the football early and often Sunday. Considering the Packers have allowed over 500 rushing yards the last three weeks, that plan would seem to be a smart one.
However, Green Bay has historically fared very well against Forte. In nine career games against Green Bay, Forte does not have a 100-yard rushing game. In the last meeting in Chicago, the Packers held Forte to just two yards on nine carries.
The splits don't add up for Forte, but the Bears have to get him involved early Sunday. Considering the pass protection issues still present, Chicago can't afford to become one-dimensional on offense.
While a myriad of factors have contributed to his struggles, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has been the deciding factor in most of the Packers-Bears matchups of recent years.
And for Chicago, his deciding impact hasn't been a good one.
Cutler has a career passer rating of 60.5 against the Packers, including a completion percentage of 55.1 and 15 interceptions. In his last three games against Green Bay—all losses—Cutler has thrown eight interceptions.
Pressure, schemes from Capers and bad decision-making have all contributed to Cutler's struggles in this matchup. Until he breaks the Packers' lockdown on him, Cutler and the Bears will find it difficult to beat Green Bay.